So, as you well know, we do stuff with our llamas and alpacas. Beach walks. Christmas Parades. Stuff like that. Back in November I had Hob (llama) and Durendal (alpaca) up at the PakNSave Porirua for the SPCA street appeal. Camelid work well for money-raising, as people come up and pet them, then look guilty and put money in the bucket.
The SPCA folks, seeing how well camelids did with the public, asked if I could bring them along to a more challenging and potentially more rewarding environment- a visit to a secure Child Youth and Family facility for highly troubled teens.
This is way more than a foster home, it is in-effect a low-security prison for kids who are starting to go really off the rails. A psychiatrist-friend was not very optimistic of my chances of having much of an effect on the kids, who in her experience were early-stage psychopaths most of whom would spend the rest of their lives in and out of the Justice system.
The problem many of these kids have is that they cannot connect, cannot trust people, due to a long history of abuse and other serious issues. The SPCA works with CYF to bring in animals to try and get positive reactions from the kids. They assured me that there would be plenty of staff on hand, and that the kids are “generally on their best behaviour.”
And it went really, really well.
Hob is the largest and thus most intimidating, but he is also amazingly calm and groovy. The alpacas were a bit less forgiving, and that was what made it really work. I gave the kids a talk about how if they moved or acted like predators (loud, fast, sudden) then the animals would be afraid of them. They needed to be calm, controlled and gentle- and they needed that to be in their body language.
And it worked.
The kids really, REALLY wanted to interact with the animals. Lead them around. Pet them. And they discovered the more they controlled and calmed themselves, the more they could do with the alpacas. It was a situation where the kids got to see immediate positive feedback if they controlled themselves. Sure, the CYFs counsellors can tell them that self-control is important, but when a formerly-dubious alpaca lets you quietly pet his neck, then it makes the value of self-control real.
I expect we’ll be going back. Over time I can try and vary what I tell the kids before we start, and what mix of animals I bring, to try and maximize the value of the experience.