Living and Learning with Llamas:A Unique Take on Group Therapy

By Kristen Tripodi

Published 05/09 2014 07:31PM

Updated 05/10 2014 07:13PM

HARDWICK, Vt.- You've probably heard of animal therapy using horses or dogs but a program in Hardwick is pairing kids with llamas!

Every Friday afternoon you can find 16-year-old Deb spending time with Pita.

“I have been paired up with Pita, well he was my first llama, so for two years,” said Deb.

It's all part of the Living and Learning with Llamas program at Agape Hill Farm in Hardwick, in Caledonia County. Nancy Kish who owns the farm joined forces with Talaia Thomas, a Mental Health Counselor to create the program two years ago. Thomas says it’s a way to take group therapy out of the traditional setting.

“A lot of the kids that we work with come from some pretty detrimental backgrounds so working with the animals gives them someone to work with that non-judgmental,” said Thomas.

Thomas says the need for these types of programs in Vermont is growing - and the groups fill up fast,” said Thomas.

 “I'm seeing more kids that need help to the point where there aren't enough therapists even in this area where there are a fair number of therapists in the area and we are all just booked with kids who are struggling,” said Thomas.

The group meets once a week and Kish says it's a chance for the kids to 'let go' for a few hours and have fun.

“We have children who are walking with their llamas out in the field and having a conversation with them- and the same child won't talk to anyone,” said Kish.

First the kids work together to complete the afternoon chores. Once that's done they get to spend the rest of the time with their llama.

“And the llamas are matched by personality. A child with lots of energy and is really enthusiastic gets a really energetic llama and they will keep each other busy. A llama that's quiet and nervous I’ll put with a quiet and nervous child so together they will build confidence,” said Kish.

And as for Deb she says she's grown a lot during the last two years and looks forward to spending time with Pita.

“I went through a lot of problems at school and stuff and coming here really helped me get over that,” said Deb.

Another interesting part of the story some of the llamas were rescued from bad situations and were mistreated in the past. Kish says the program not only helps the children but it also helps the llamas understand that people can love them and treat them well.

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