Photo by kathleen hale

Lower Yourself (And Other Advice from a Llama Guru)

Life is uncertain, but one thing is clear: People dig llamas. You know the horsey camel has dug deep into the zeitgeist when BuzzFeed runs a photo spread of ten such creatures wishing they were human models, and then The Onion fake accuses the BuzzFeed author of plagiarism. (Also, everyone was really upset when a llama was subdued with a Taser in Florida.)

So what is it with llamas? Lori Gregory, a resident of Vancouver, Washington, who owns three certified therapy llamas — her prized ward, Rojo, has been featured by news outlets national and local — thinks it has something to do with how fluffy they are. “People I work with, they like Rojo’s fur and his outfits. That’s why I put headbands and things on him.”

I went out to Vancouver to see these headbands for myself, and it’s true that Rojo’s huggable appearance is the long and short of Lori’s therapeutic technique. And Lori has found that the more huggable Rojo is, the better.

“The little old ladies at the senior centers, they just love Rojo’s outfits,” she explains. “I keep the hair around his rear poofy, because people seem to like that, too — they really respond to it. I mean, folks let him eat carrots right out of their mouths.”

By the end of our weekend together, I was impressed not only by Rojo, but also by the lady who had groomed and dressed him to maximum effect. Lori’s powers of observation, the way she distills her experiences with clients into new tactics and costumes that literally put ADHD kids to sleep, are nothing short of spooky. I started to think that while Rojo was the direct bearer of joy into other people’s lives, Lori was the one with the knack for therapy.

So I posed the same few questions I always ask, to see if she had any therapy for us twenty-somethings up her sleeve.


Kathleen: What are your thoughts on MFA programs?

Lori: I think it would be better to be an apprentice, to do volunteer work and intern with somebody in that field. That’s for me, personally, with what I do with llamas — I mean, I’m not a professional; I don’t have extensive education in occupational therapy or how to use animals in that realm. But I’ve learned a lot over the years just from doing it and reading. With our family, lots of us don’t have a college education. I think there are a lot of options for young people that don’t necessarily involve graduating from a college, much less going beyond that.


K: What does it say about you if you go to your ten-year reunion?

L: It’s a little better than your five-year reunion! At your five year, everyone’s trying to impress everybody else. But at your ten year, everyone’s married or divorced. The guys’ hair is starting to thin, they’re getting a little pudgy — the girls always look better than the guys after ten years.

And I will say that by the time you get to your fifteen- or twenty-year reunion, people are calmer. They’ve been sick or lost someone, and that does something to you. It almost feels like you’re meeting new people, except you’ve got this bond with them, from knowing them back when. At a certain point…everyone’s got a story you can empathize with.


K: Should couples move in together if the main purpose is to save money on rent?

L: I’m…(laughs). I’m really conservative. Everybody’s different, you know, but we are really strong Christians.

Don’t get me wrong: I totally understand that my personal beliefs and views are considered old-fashioned and restrictive to many these days. And I have never been one to try to push my beliefs onto others, or to try to make those who aren’t Christian feel guilty for thinking differently from me. As strongly as many Christians hold to our conservative beliefs, most of us are very tolerant and understanding of other viewpoints, and are willing to let others believe differently than we do.

But back to the thing about moving in — just to save on rent, and before marriage or whatever — well, everyone’s going to think you’re having sex if you do.


K: What’s the right age to get married?

L: I don’t know that there is a right age. It’s more important to have the right person. If it’s built on something solid, then I don’t think it matters whether you’re nineteen or twenty-nine. My own mom was fifteen.

K: Should a woman take a man’s name when she gets married?

L: Personally, I would never have kept my name rather than taking my husband’s, because of my personal beliefs about the roles of husband and wife, and what marriage symbolizes to us from a spiritual perspective. My husband and I think that when a man and woman get married, “the two shall become one flesh.” So taking my husband’s name represented that, in a way.

Also, my maiden name was Boek, so I was glad to get rid of that.


K: How much debt is too much debt?

L: Yeah, a lot of people are in debt these days, huh? Boy, oh boy.

Well, I would say too much debt would be if something were to come up unexpectedly — and it always does, whether it’s health issues or just something that comes out of the blue — and whatever it is, it’s something that would just wipe you out.

My husband and I were really lucky because when we were getting married, the pastor at our church was actually doing a series on biblical finances. So they talked a lot about those things — about not becoming a slave to debt or a slave to the bank and not borrowing for things that are nonessential. I think people should save money for catastrophe-type stuff.


K: Should you keep waiting for your dream job after you’ve been unemployed for a while or at a certain point should you take the first thing you can get?

L: I’d take the first thing you can get that’s halfway decent. You want to kind of enjoy your job, but you gotta pay your bills.

I think that’s a problem, too: People don’t want to lower themselves. When the thing is, you can take what you might deem a menial job, and you can still think outside the box. Take a job and educate yourself on your dreams in your spare time.

Sleep less if you have to. Volunteer with people you might one day want to work with. And whatever you do, don’t give in to naysayers! Because there’s gonna be people who say, “You chose something, now just stick to the job you’ve taken.” Forget that stuff. Support yourself, sure, but you do anything you want alongside that job to follow your heart, so long as it’s legal.