Now one Suffolk care home has discovered the astonishing therapeutic qualities of a much more exotic animal – the alpaca.
Hadleigh Nursing Home, in Friars Road, Hadleigh, was chosen to trial pet therapy using the South American breed by Jo Bridge who keeps a herd of 60 alpacas at Clay Hill Farm, in Wattisham.
Ms Bridge, who had previously kept horses and goats, acquired her first alpacas in 2012, three pregnant females and two males, and confessed it had been “love at first sight”.
“They are such an enchanting animal with a gentle nature. They lean forward and touch your face with their noses. We call them alpaca kisses,” she said.
She has gradually turned her hobby into a business, breeding and selling alpacas which are kept for their prized fleece as well as being used as chicken guards, deterring foxes, and what she describes as “ornamental lawnmowers”.
Ms Bridge said: “We host farm visits and alpaca walks and it was when we entertained a group of people with special needs that we noticed alpacas’ remarkable therapeutic impact.
“We were told one lady did not talk very much and might not even get out of the car. In fact, she had her carers in tears as she happily walked with an alpaca and chatted away.”
Seeing the potential for care homes, she approached Kingsley Healthcare run Hadleigh Nursing Home last year to trial therapy visits.
“From our first visit, it has proved so rewarding for everyone,” she said.
“You can see the pleasure the alpacas bring just by the big smiles on residents’ faces.”
Clair Perks, the home’s activities coordinator, said: “It really lifts the mood of people living with dementia.
“One of our residents, Alfred Wright, who is normally not very expressive, sat bolt upright when he encountered one of the alpacas for the first time and said, ‘darling, you have made my evening’.”
She said the residents loved the alpacas so much that they had decided to adopt two – Echo and Goose – which meant the home would be sent regular update newsletters and photographs from the farm.
Other care homes interested in alpaca therapy visits are asked to call Ms Bridge on 0770 3005447.