Two therapy alpacas in California paid a visit to the elderly residents of an assisted living home to cheer them up during lockdown — while maintaining social distancing, of course.
Kronk and Kuzco — whose names were inspired by the 2000 Disney film “The Emperor’s New Groove” — are two of Helen Woodward Animal Center’s Education Ambassadors.
The two alpacas normally “spend the majority of their days chomping hay in their corral and greeting children as part of the Humane Education program,” a press release from the center explained.
But with the center, located in Poway, California, closed due to the coronavirus, it was decided Kronk and Kuzco would hit the road to continue spreading happiness.
So on April 28, the duo traveled by van to Boulder Creek Post Acute assisted living center to greet elderly residents from outside the dining hall window, “bringing joy and smiles” at a socially safe distance.
The center is a 149-bed rehabilitation facility offering both short-term care (for people recovering from injuries like broken hips or knee replacement) and long-term residence for those that need nursing care for the rest of their lives.
As well as cheering up the residents, the healthcare workers at the center enjoyed taking selfies by the window with Kronk and Kuzco.
The visit was such a success that Helen Woodward Animal Center is planning a follow-up stop and additional visits to other facilities.
Kronk and Kuzco aren’t usually part of the center’s Pet Encounter Therapy (PET) team of animals that’s generally made up of smaller animals like dogs, cats, and rabbits which are easier to cuddle than alpacas.
The program is essentially cuddle therapy, and usually sees the animals visiting nursing facilities, children’s shelters, hospitals, psychiatric units, and many more.
“The basis of the important therapy stems from studies showing that holding and caressing an animal provides benefits such as relaxation, lower blood pressure, improved long- and short-term memory, and sensory stimuli,” the center said.
Considering physical cuddling isn’t currently an option, alpacas spreading joy through the window was deemed the next best thing.
“In the many years I have worked with this program, I have seen the unique gifts each animal can bring to this type of therapy,” explained Robin Cohen, PET Manager.
“Cockatoos are wonderful with clients dealing with paralysis because they can sit on a shoulder and nuzzle and talk. Mini horses are wonderful for children because they are right at eye level.
“These alpacas are some of our funniest characters. They make us laugh every day and we knew they’d be the perfect key to inspiring smiles right now.
“This has been a very challenging time for all of us and it’s particularly hard on individuals who are inside facilities without visits from their regular friends and family members,” continued Cohen.
“The one thing I know from my work is that animals have a magical way of healing. I am so happy to be a part of providing a little bit of their magic.”