Alpaca therapy thriving in Czech town

Alena Saladiaková's original profession is a wedding coordinator, but two years ago her career  unexpectedly changed course when the family decided to acquire two Alpacas as pets. Now she and her husband own four Alpacas and have established a business based on the growing popularity of llama and Alpaca therapy.

The presence of Alpacas in the city of Most, north of Prague could not go unnoticed for long. Alena Saladiakova says that their new pets soon raised the family’s visibility beyond all expectations. People started coming with children to watch them in the garden over the fence and asking to pet them or take selfies. When they started taking the Alpacas for walks to the park they were instantly surrounded by children and people curious to find out more about the exotic animals. Alena says that eventually the Alpacas just took over their lives.

“We now have four males. We started with Freddy and Jerry whom we acquired as pets. They always caused a stir when we took them out for walks. Then when our son was born I got Roger as a surprise gift from my husband and Sancho, the youngest, was an unexpected acquisition from a private breeder so I gave him to my mum as a gift on her birthday.”

The family has only had Alpacas for two years but Alena says they have come to know their needs and habits well. They have a summer and winter shelter in the garden but Alena says they don’t like enclosed spaces so one side of the shelter always needs to be open to allow plenty of air inside. Their natural behaviour from the wild is also evident, with one of the herd always keeping watch at the entrance looking out for danger. They spend most of their time outdoors, even in the winter months.

As the family grew close to their new pets they discovered many exceptional qualities - how good they were around people and children, especially those with disabilities or behavioral problems, with whom they were especially gentle. As people started knocking on their door more and more frequently the family gradually embraced the idea of setting up a llama therapy business, a field of enterprise that is still extremely rare in this country.

“Alpacas really seem to have a sixth sense about people. When they are with autistic children, or children who have any kind of behavioral problems you can see immediately that their behavior changes. They are more gentle with them, as if they sense their vulnerability and their friendliness and antics help form an instant bond with people. We have found that the same applies to elderly people, people confined to wheelchairs, people with Alzheimer’s or simply seniors who are sad and lonely. The Alpacas bring them out and they soon start chatting and petting them. People are not allergic to their wool –we have them sheared twice a year – and can offer visitors samples of wool from which they can make something. But most of all, they are friendly and cuddly and one of them loves giving people a kiss, so that is a big hit with selfies as you can imagine.”

As news of the Alpaca farm spread people started arriving from all over the country and the family expanded its services. They offer one-hour walks with Alpacas with a guide and are even willing to travel with them to visit people who would benefit from their presence but are unable to arrange a trip.

“We have excellent therapy results with autistic children. We also have visits from kindergartens and schools for children with special needs or learning disabilities, we provide therapy for children from children’s homes, just recently we took our Alpacas to an old age home in Most because it is difficult for the staff to arrange a trip here and we are due to visit a centre for people with Alzheimer’s disease soon.”

The family has recently also been providing free therapy for Ukrainian mothers and children who fled the war in their homeland and are suffering from war traumas. She says that llamatrekking – the one hour guided walks with one of the Alpacas has become so popular that there is a waiting list for the service and people sign up a month or two ahead for the experience.

According to Alena each of the Alpacas is different in nature and although there are no major skirmished between them there is a strict hierarchy. The reason why they decided to buy four males is that having a female among them would likely cause havoc.

“If we had a female here then the boys would have other things on their minds than going for walks with us. As it is they get along well. Each on is different and you have to respect that. For example, our alpha male Freddie clearly prefers female company. If a male guide is leading him on a walk the man must walk next to him or behind him – never lead the way – walking in front is Freddie’s prerogative. Jerry, on the other hand, is cuddly and likes kissing because he finds that he gets a lot of rewards in the form of treats for very little effort. Of course, I have a special bond with them all. So although Freddie likes to show off his superior standing, he will often put his head on my lap and let me pet his ears which is an immense display of trust.”

Alena has a blog, Alpaká, where people can find not only a booking system for walks or therapy, but also advice for inexperienced llama keepers. She says an increasing number of Czechs are showing an interest in breeding llamas or starting a llama therapy business.

“We are always happy to share our experience and know-how although it is limited after only two years. I think the community of llama and Alpaca breeders in this country is a very friendly one. We love getting together to talk about our work and plans. The interest in llamas is clearly growing and if it is people who have honest intentions and want to be good breeders then it is a good thing.”

Authors: Daniela Lazarová , Eva Bucharová
run audio