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It’s a long way from ballet bar to the barn
Dressed in a warm coat and rubber boots, Chela Grey heads to the barn to feed her llamas.
It’s a Friday morning and Grey has her work cut out for her. She’s got to feed the 23 llamas, four alpacas, four goats and three sheep. Then she’ll clean the barn and the pasture of animal waste and make sure they all have water. After that, she’ll make time to play with the llamas, who are known to be very social animals.
If she’s lucky, her two dedicated volunteers, Kathryn Weidenheimer and her daughter, Alissa, 14, will be able to help with the work.
Grey, a professional ballerina in her youth who still teaches ballet, admits that there’s not much of a connection between ballet and llamas. Except that she loves them both.
“Llamas are a lot like cats,” she said. “You don’t tell them what to do. They tell you what they’re going to do.”
It was in 1988 that she first got a llama — two to be exact.
“I saw them and I knew they were being abused,” she said. “I decided I had to help them out.”
She had property outside of Seabeck and was able to take the two llamas there. A few years later when she was managing a farm near Centralia, she made arrangements to take several more llamas from a farm where they were not being properly cared for. Soon she found herself with a llama sanctuary.
In 2000, she incorporated as a nonprofit under the name of StillPointe, denoting the notion in Buddhism where “everything comes together,” Grey said.
In the past 13 years, her herd has grown to 23, along with four alpacas, and some sheep and goats she’s rescued. She now rents a barn and pasture at a farm near to her property in Seabeck and keeps llamas at both.
Most of the animals she cares for have come from nearby, although some were rescued from Montana where more than 600 llamas and 600 horses were being kept on a ranch in horrible conditions.
“It happens quite often,” she said, of the rescues. “People decide to have llamas because they think they can make money. They don’t realize that they take more care than just throwing some food and water at them.
“And they don’t realize that llamas can live to be 18, 20 even 30 years old.”
She is part of a nationwide network of llama sanctuaries, all of which help each other out when needed.
Llamas also are sometimes taken to auction to be killed and used in pet food. She has saved several from that fate.
A recent addition to her herd was a momma llama, Sierra, and her two offspring. After they were taken from conditions where they were being starved, and arrived at StillPointe, Grey discovered that Sierra was expecting. Soon, Freeda, whose real name is Freedom’s Song, arrived. She names them to denote their personality traits, she added.
Llamas are animals who that like to be social, Grey said.
“And most people don’t realize how smart they are,” she said. “If they learn something and you ask them to do it over and over, they won’t. It’s like they’re telling you ‘Stop. Teach me something new.’”
On average, a herd of llamas, (about 20 animals) cost upward of $10,000 to care for annually. That includes food, water and shelter.
“That’s the basics,” Grey said. “Nothing else. On top of that, there’s shots, veterinarian care, toenail cuttings. It is expensive.”
And with a sanctuary, many times the herd includes aging animals.
“In just the past year, we’ve lost three or four llamas,” she said. “Having a vet come out to put one down can cost $300, and the cost of burial can be up to $250.”
StillPointe doesn’t have a “budget” so-to-speak, Grey said. They get donations and what isn’t covered comes from she and her husband’s savings account.
The llamas and alpacas are sheared and their hair is sold to help raise money for the sanctuary. And, Grey said, the llamas “beans” are sold as a soil amendment for gardeners.
Currently, she has only a handful of volunteers to help her care for the llamas. And that’s tough because she’s gone several days a week teaching at Irene’s School of Dance in Silverdale. In fact, it was there that she recruited Alissa, a ballet student, to care for the llamas. Once Alissa met the llamas, she was hooked.
“They’re such wonderful creatures,” Alissa said. “You can just tell when you are around them that they have heart and soul.”
Alissa talked her mother into volunteering after she fell in love with the llamas.
“At first they scared me,” Kathryn said. “But once I was around them, I was hooked.”
“Llamas are like potato chips,” she said. “One leads to another.”
Volunteers who aren’t afraid to get dirty are needed to help feed and care for the llamas. Anyone 16 or older can volunteer with parental approval. Younger volunteers are allowed when with a parent. To find out more, go to www.stillpointesanctuary.org. Donations can be made to the sanctuary by mailing checks to PO Box 3320, Silverdale, Wash., 98383. Grey is available to answer questions at 360-813-3213.