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Care home trials pet therapy - using alpacas

Violet Shipman greets an alpaca at Hadleigh Nursing Home. Picture: KINGSLEY HEALTHCARE

Violet Shipman greets an alpaca at Hadleigh Nursing Home. Picture: KINGSLEY HEALTHCARE

Archant

Dogs, cats and rabbits are well know to provide great comfort to families and particularly people living with dementia.

Violet Simpson with an alpaca at Hadleigh Nursing Home. Picture: KINGSLEY HEALTHCAREViolet Simpson with an alpaca at Hadleigh Nursing Home. Picture: KINGSLEY HEALTHCARE

But now one Suffolk care home has discovered the astonishing therapeutic qualities of a much more exotic animal – the alpaca.

Hadleigh Nursing Home 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”.

Seeing the potential to help dementia patients in care homes, she approached the Kingsley Healthcare-run home in Friars Road, Hadleigh last year to trial therapy visits.

Alpacas visit Hadleigh Nursing Home. Picture: KINGSLEY HEALTHCAREAlpacas visit Hadleigh Nursing Home. Picture: KINGSLEY HEALTHCARE

“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.”

The residents have taken to the alpacas so much that they have decided to adopt two called Echo and Goose.

Ms Bridge said the discovery alpacas could be used in care homes came from entertaining a group of people with special needs at one of its farm visits and alpaca walks.

Violet Shipman greets an alpaca at Hadleigh Nursing Home. Picture: KINGSLEY HEALTHCAREViolet Shipman greets an alpaca at Hadleigh Nursing Home. Picture: KINGSLEY HEALTHCARE

“We noticed alpacas’ remarkable therapeutic impact,” she said.

“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.”

Of the alpacas, she said: “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 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”.

Clair Perks, Hadleigh Nursing 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.’”

Other care homes interested in alpaca therapy visits are asked to call Ms Bridge on 07703 005447.

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