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Alpaca visitors delight seniors in Ontario long-term care home

Alpacas Ned, Floyd, and Jimmy entertained the residents of Chartwell Parkhill Long-Term Care Home in southwestern Ontario, drawing smiles and questions from senior residents and staff alike.

Ned, Floyd and Jimmy walked from window to window, peering in at residents

A resident of Chartwell Parkhill long-term care residence is delighted by a visit from Jimmy the alpaca at her window. (Supplied by Chartwell Parkhill)

As alpacas Ned, Floyd and Jimmy peer at their reflection in the window, on the other side of the glass, elderly residents of Chartwell Parkhill Long Term Care Residence wave and giggle at the goofy animals. 

The three visitors usually live at Sylvan Alpacas farm in Parkhill, Ont., west of London, but they recently paid a visit to the facility to brighten the spirits of residents who, like others in long-term care, have been largely cut off from the rest of the world by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Sylvan Alpacas owners Nick and Steph Ince walk three of their animals around the outside of Chartwell Parkhill long-term care home on Jan. 27, 2021. (Supplied by Sylvan Alpacas)

The three animals, along with handlers Nick and Steph Ince, walked around the outside of the home, stopping at each window. 

"It was just what we needed during this pandemic and not being able to get out of the building. It was so nice to see something different out the windows," said Michelle Bronsard, the home's program manager. 

"The alpacas came up to the windows and the residents were reaching out to touch them, and a couple of our residents were saying, 'Let's open the door, we're going to get out with those alpacas!' 

The visit was the first for Ned, Floyd and Jimmy at a long-term care facility, but it won't be the last, said Sylvan Alpacas owner Nick Ince. Already, two more nearby long-term care homes will get visits from the animals. 

"The alpacas are kind of funny because when they see their reflection, they're really intrigued. They love to explore and look inside things, so they naturally want to look in the windows and it becomes really personal for the people inside," Ince said. 

The visit started after Ince took the alpacas for a walk down Grand Bend's main drag as a way to lift people's spirits. Someone who worked in the long-term care facilities saw the animals and knew they would delight the staff. 

"Seeing the residents, it was kind of bittersweet," said Ince. "It was really good to see the smiles on their faces and they even made signs, and you could see the genuine joy. The hard part was having moving from window to window, having to leave one to go to the other. It is bittersweet because it really makes me feel for the people that are in a long-term care care home right now." 

'Do they carry golf clubs?'

An alpaca peeks in at residents inside Chartwell Parkhill long-term care home. (Supplied by Sylvan Alpacas)

Bronsard said staff told the residents ahead of time to expect furry visitors outside their windows, and there were lots of questions about the animals afterwards. 

"It's something we don't see every day," she said. 

"I think the size, how fluffy they are, they all have their different personalities, different hairstyles, different colours. The residents had a lot of questions, like, Do they carry golf clubs? What are their names? How old are they? How do you care for them?" 

The residents' questions have been sent to Ince, who will respond this week. Sylvan Alpacas also plans to come back to the long-term care facility in the summer, hoping that COVID restrictions are somewhat lifted so residents can come outside and interact with the animals. 

"This visit definitely created a lot of smiles and a lot of talk and questions for days," Bronsard said. 

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