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Seabeck llama rescue: More than a feeding — Nonprofit asks for donations to build a heated barn and to buy hay
Llama spit smells like rotting vegetables and depending on which of the three stomachs it comes from, the smell can linger in the air. Chela Grey, founder of StillPointe Llama Sanctuary in Seabeck, has never been spit at but is all too familiar with the stench.
“I get caught in the crossfire. It smells bad — it’s terrible,” Grey said earlier this month. “But, it’s one of the few defenses they have.”
Although typically born with a good temperament, mistreated llamas can turn aggressive and spit at people. The sanctuary that Grey runs with her husband, Mark Kuehn, is a nonprofit llama rescue where those that have been abused or abandoned are taken in.
The spitting is kept to a minimum at the Seabeck sanctuary where the llamas have transitioned from being in neglected or sometimes abusive situations to one of love and care. Now, the spitting is typically among each other over food or when the males taunt the females, Grey said.
There are 34 llamas that consider the sanctuary home, but having the money to keep everything up and running isn’t always easy for the couple.
“We’re always scrambling,” Grey said, adding that they were pinching for money to buy hay feed to last the entire winter.
Now they hope to build a heated barn on their 17-acre property. With a “300 for $10” campaign, they point out that if 300 individuals donate $10 to the sanctuary, the $3,000 will go toward creating the barn and buying more hay for the llamas. Currently the llamas do not have any type of indoor shelter, with the exception of a few covered stalls on a nearby two-acre lot that Grey and Kuehn rent from friends.
And although money is tight now, it all started with one visit to the Puyallup Fair in 1987 — and one llama.
“I got to pet one and look into its eyes. And that was it. I had to have one,” Grey, 67, said.
A year later, she purchased a llama with the intention of using it as a backpacker — llamas can carry 60 to 100 pounds when trained — since she enjoys hiking in the Olympics and North Cascades. As she researched more on the camelids and met more owners, she started to notice llamas that had been neglected by people who assumed raising llamas would be easy and would make them quick money.
“It’s a lot of work. You can’t just throw hay and water at them and hope they are OK,” she said. Grey started the llama rescue in 2000.
For Grey and Kuehn, working at the rescue is not their only responsibilities. Grey teaches ballet twice a week in Silverdale and Kuehn works as a coffee roaster in East Bremerton.
Grey said it takes about three hours a day to clean the llamas’ stalls and to feed them. For the older llamas — in general the animals have an 18 to 25-year life span — who have weak teeth, or none at all, Grey feeds them a pulp mixture of hay that she whips up herself. Unlike horses, llamas do not have hooves and are rather two-toed animals. Their toenails grow just like humans and Grey trims them about once a month.
Aside from all of the feeding, grooming and cleaning, llamas also require yearly vaccinations that Grey administers herself to save time and money. A healthy llama costs about $400 a year to care for, Grey said, adding that nursing a llama’s broken leg costs about $3,000 — she’s had three broken legs to tend.
With the poor economy and older people not wanting to care for them, Grey said that she sees more owners giving up their llamas because they do not have the money to invest in them.
“It’s pretty common. A lot of people are getting out of it. They just can’t take care of them anymore,” she said, adding that she is grateful for the help of one family that comes by twice a week and volunteers at the rescue, but is always looking for more help.
Although the Kitsap Humane Society has not received any llamas in the past year-and-a-half, numbers have increased on the number of animals taken in — with the economy being the common factor.
“We are seeing more in terms of medical and owner surrenders,” said Stacey Price, the Humane Society’s animal welfare director, about the increase in animals being brought in because of poor health or other reasons for the owners not wanting them.
Owner surrenders of all animals, except reptiles, to the Humane Society in January and February were steady in comparison to last year, but increased in March and April, Price said. In March 2010, there were 89 animals surrendered by their owners compared to 117 animal surrenders in March 2011. For the month of April, the numbers were closer, with 133 surrendered animals in 2010 and 137 surrendered animals this year.
Pasado’s Safe Haven, an animal rescue organization based in Sultan, Wash., currently has seven llamas at its sanctuary because of neglect or cruelty situations, said Amber Chenoweth, spokeswoman for the nonprofit.
“It seems that the number of llamas needing homes is rising due to the tough economic times,” Chenoweth said. “It’s not unusual to see them advertised on Craigslist.”
Even though it isn’t rare to find people trying to get rid of their llamas, Grey and Kuehn aren’t alone in caring for them in Central Kitsap.
Uta Kramer, of Silverdale, has three llamas that she keeps as pets.
“They are just amazing how they can calm you down,” Kramer, 65, said, adding that she brings them to retirement homes during Christmas-time as well as to elementary schools.
Because llamas are herd animals, most people have more than one — or they have one that is accompanied by other types of animals, Kramer said. As loyal animals, llamas can be used as guard animals for livestock such as goats and sheep, Grey added.
And even though throughout the years Grey has had a broken nose, two concussions and gotten kicked a few times — and once in a while gets caught in the crossfire of llama spit — she loves caring for the llamas.
“It’s just part of the job,” she said.
StillPointe Llama Sanctuary
P.O. Box 3320