'As many smiles as possible': Therapy alpacas bring relief to Canberrans
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'As many smiles as possible': Therapy alpacas bring relief to Canberrans

While you'd expect to find alpacas on farms and properties, a pair of them are helping to bring smiles and joy to those who need it most in Canberra.

Mimosa and Hercules are therapy alpacas, who make regular visits to hospitals, palliative care facilities, retirement villages and even streets around Civic.

Alpacas Hercules and Mimosa with Therapy Alpacas co-founder Stephanie Dean.

Alpacas Hercules and Mimosa with Therapy Alpacas co-founder Stephanie Dean.

Photo: Jamila Toderas

The alpacas are owned by Nils Lantzke. He and Stephanie Dean have been using therapy alpacas to bring much needed relief to Canberrans for more than 15 years.

While therapy animals such as dogs are more common in hospitals, Mr Lantzke said there were many benefits to using alpacas.

"They're very sensitive and they're very intuitive animals," Mr Lantzke said.

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"They just bring out delight and big smiles in people. In a very short time, you can create more than 200 smiles, which is hard to do otherwise."

Therapy alpacas Mimosa and Hercules, with Annie Siwek, 4, and her brother Harry, 2.

Therapy alpacas Mimosa and Hercules, with Annie Siwek, 4, and her brother Harry, 2.

Photo: Jamila Toderas

The pair of alpacas make visits to the mental health unit at Canberra Hospital and weekly trips to Clare Holland House.

Ms Dean said while many people hadn't regularly interacted with alpacas, they brought much relief to patients.

"Most people have alpacas on farm protecting the herd, so when they see people at the hospice when the patients are in the final stages of their life, [the alpacas] don't want to leave them," Ms Dean said.

"The alpacas are very comfortable in going to most places."

Hercules, 2, and Mimosa, 8, aren't the first therapy alpacas to be seen in Canberra, with the pair's predecessor Honeycomb providing visits to hospitals and hospices for several years before he died in 2016, aged 13.

Nils Lantzke set up Therapy Alpacas in Canberra 15 years ago.

Nils Lantzke set up Therapy Alpacas in Canberra 15 years ago.

Photo: Jamila Toderas

Ms Dean said many of the patients become more engaged following a visit from the alpacas.

"It's a good bonding experience for people at the hospital and they become a lot more responsive," she said.

"We find that after people have a talk and a pat with the alpaca, they become more relaxed and it makes the environment a lot happier for everyone."

Clare Holland House clinical nurse consultant Brad Smith said the alpacas had been making regular visits to the hospice for more than decade, and for many patients and their carers, it can be the highlight of their week.

"They all smile when they seen them, and the alpacas sit with them for a little while, and it just brightens up their day," Mr Smith said.

"The patients look forward to their visits, but for their carers as well, the alpacas is a big release for them as well. Animals have a calming effect on people."

While most of the visits by the alpacas is to hospitals and hospices, Mr Lantzke said Mimosa and Hercules are making more visits out into the city and on university campuses.

"We're out to show lots of people love," he said.

"We're on a mission to get as many smiles as possible."

Andrew Brown is a journalist at the Sunday Canberra Times. Andrew has worked at the Canberra Times since 2016.

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