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Therapy llamas bring joy to nursing home patients

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 Bellingham Center resident Holly Barto says visiting with a therapy llama 'fills your heart' (Jen Osborne / COLORS Magazine)Therapy animals have become well-known for raising the spirits of sick, elderly and otherwise confined patients in nursing homes and hospitals around the world.

Residents of the Bellingham Health and Rehabilitation Center in Washington are no exception -- they too benefit from the charms of specially-trained four-legged visitors.

But it isn't dogs or cats who come to visit Bellingham - it's two therapy Llamas named "Marisco" and "N.H. Flight of the Eagle."

Canadian filmmaker and photographer Jen Osborne documented one of the pair's visits to Bellingham earlier this year for COLORS Magazine.

The resulting piece shows just how much joy these llamas can bring to patients, many of whom are in palliative care and confined to the center.

Colors #83 - Beat your intimacy issues from COLORS Magazine on Vimeo.

"Visitors are few and far between," reads an accompanying article. "So every few months, Marisco and N.H Flight of the Eagle-showered, dressed up and accompanied by Niki Kuklenski- are welcome guests as they take a tour of the nursing home, stopping at each bed to kiss the patients or have a hug."

Both llamas are owned by Kuklenski, who has been training and breeding llamas for 30 years.

COLORS reports that of the 10,000 animals currently registered for care work within the USA, only 14 are llamas.

Aside from the fact that they're simply not as common as dogs, llamas are also rare within the industry due to their unique temperaments.

Those who meet strict requirements for being a certified therapy animal must be at least two years old, have never been bottle-fed, and undergo a series of evaluations to gauge how they react in a variety of different situations.

li_llamas_2.jpgMarisco, 10, and N.H Flight of the Eagle, 9, have been certified for 7 and 4 years respectively.

Reactions from those they've worked prove they're good at what they do, too.

"It was heaven. Just emotionally - to be able to touch an animal and hold an animal close," says resident Holly Barto after hugging one of the llamas in Osborne's video. "You can give them and a nice hug and they even give you a kiss!"

Do you have a pet or know an animal who has helped you through uncomfortable situations? Share your stories below.

Tags: POV

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