Nothing beats an alpaca wearing a tiny black cowboy hat, bandanna and monogrammed red vest when someone’s day needs brightening.
A trio of fluffy, four-legged emotional support alpacas named Tex, Willie and Waylon proved that when they strolled into the Texas Rural Health Services building in La Grange recently, gamely fielding hugs and pats from adult clients with intellectual challenges.
“Just being around them and hugging them melts stress away,” said the alpacas’ owner, Loretta Hajovsky.
Alpacas, which are related to camels, are commonly bred for fleece. But the animals, which have underbites and cloud-soft fur, apparently also have a calming effect on humans. They hum and make people smile, too.
That’s why Hajovsky is on a mission to qualify alpacas as official service animals. In Texas, only dogs or horses can get the certification, which requires special training.
She has registered her alpacas as emotional support animals, which “provide therapeutic benefits through affection and companionship,” according to the website the Official ESA Registration of America. No training is needed, but emotional support animals don’t have access rights to all public areas like service animals do. (Some pet owners have abused the designation, just so they can carry their pets with them on airplanes.)
As Hajovsky led the alpacas around the room, she invited clients to pet or hug them. “They love hugs,” Hajovsky told the crowd. “They’ve got long necks for hugs.”
Just about everyone at least reached a tentative hand out to touch one of the mellow fellows.
“It felt like a cushion,” a client named Ted said.
“Come here. I’m not going to hurt you. I like you,” a client named Donald said before pulling Willie close.
The alpacas kept their cool, despite the low-grade whirl of chaos surrounding them. Waylon even plopped to his knees on the ground, soaking up a cool breeze from a nearby air conditioning vent.
“They don’t flinch, even when people grab them or hug them or scream,” Hajovsky said. Her alpacas have made public appearances at the local library and visited private homes. She also rents the alpacas for parties through her company, Texas Party Animals.
The animals accept anyone, in any condition, Loretta’s husband, Gerard Hajovsky, said. “It’s like they understand the people,” he said. “They take to large crowds. They just fit right in. In that regard, they’re like a service dog.”
Morgan York, an administrative assistant at Kenmar Residential Services, where many of the clients live in group homes, said the visit meant a lot to her clients. “They don’t ever get to experience anything like this. You can tell they thoroughly enjoyed it.”
After everyone had a chance to meet the alpacas, Hajovsky led the alpacas out the door to a round of applause.
“This is why I do this, right here,” Loretta Hajovsky said. “It makes me happy I’m able to provide just a little happiness in their lives. There’s not enough.”