The Portland area is no slouch when it comes to celebrities — resident and visiting. Our streets have recently been filled with filmings of scenes from Portlandia and Grimm, and the movie Wild. A visit to Whole Foods might find you sharing an aisle with Gus Van Sant, Storm Large, or Thomas Lauderdale and the other Pink Martini stars. Celebrity blogger Byron Beck frequently reports on visiting celebrities at byronbeck.com. You never know whom you might cross paths with as you pop in to meet the latest star of the People in the Neighborhood.
This week Spot was fortunate to spend time with one of the most well-known and beloved celebrities in town. Nope, not Portland Trailblazer Marcus Aldridge . . . not the lady who does the mattress commercials . . . not even the bagpipe-playing unicycle-riding fella himself. Nope, better than all that, we were able to hang out with the Number One-ranked therapy llama in the whole entire United States of America: Rojo the Llama.
Folks, Rojo the Llama is one cool dude. How cool is he? He is so cool that his traveling entourage consists of a chauffeur, stylist, nutritionist, photographer, publicist and security crew. By way of disclosure it should be noted that one person, Lori Gregory, does manage to capably fill all these roles for Rojo, but nonetheless the llama has needs to be met. In addition to the duties mentioned, the primary role of Gregory, when accompanying Rojo on therapy visits, is to remember to bring the carrots. Carrots, you see, play a very big role in the daily schedule of a therapy llama.
Let’s start with a little background on Rojo, whose genealogy can be traced to the hills of Bolivia, where llamas have always been domesticated animals. For the average llama this domestication does not extend to wearing costumes, riding in cars or being snuggled endlessly by adoring fans. Ah, but Rojo is far from an average llama — in fact, as mentioned above, he is rated and certified, by people who track such things, as the Number One therapy llama in the nation. Our comely camelid is so well known that he was named Grand Marshall of the 2013 Rose Festival Children’s Parade. Not only that, Rojo has walked in the Grand Floral Parade for the past 11 years — one parade for every year of his life. It probably merits mentioning that Rojo the Llama also has his own Twitter account and Facebook page.
We met up with Rojo and Lori on their monthly visit to Vancouver’s Highgate Senior Living Center. Rojo arrives by mini-van, from which he languidly emerges with elegance and grace. Nattily attired in Happy New Year garb, his arrival brings smiles and laughs of delight to the gathered seniors. There’s just something about seeing a big beautiful red llama standing in your living room that is universally delightful. A wheel-chaired resident lifts her to hands out to pet the lush, burnished red coat. Faces nestle in the gentle calm of his soft neck. Rojo is used to adoration — he seemingly has infinite patience — his calling is to accept, and give, love and nurture.
Rojo makes many visits to homes, hospitals and schools where the purpose of animal therapy can vary from institution to institution. The nutshell version, as applies to seniors and children alike, is that animal interactions can assist with the development of social and recreational skills. The simple, repeated acts of interacting with animals can increase self-esteem, have a calming effect on anxiety and, very importantly, reduce loneliness.
The aspect of reducing loneliness was evident at Highgate as I overheard one woman, who had come into the room late, say in a deflated tone, “I wish I’d known he was here. I’ve just been sitting up in my room by myself.” Even though the center was full of people and activities she still felt alone — yet recognized that moments with this beautiful kind animal would make her feel less so. That is the healing therapeutic core of animal therapy — to help someone feel less alone — to enable him or her to give and receive hugs and affection. Rojo therapy — it’s tactile, it’s warm, and it’s needed.
Rojo is far too cool of a dude to engage in anything like common animal tricks. But, remember those carrots that Lori is in charge of? Well they play a big role in how folks interact with this gentleman. Rojo, you see, loves loves loves his carrots. If he’s got to engage in a little llama-lip kissy kissy to get his succulent treat — well pucker up, folks, and give the llama his carrot. Our toothy ungulate will take the carrot right out of your mouth. Other than an occasional problem with people breath, llama kissing is a safe and harmless activity. Rojo does not spit — which is usually the first question people ask about him — and since llamas don’t have upper teeth there’s no chance of biting — just gentle muzzling and tickling.
Trying to get a moment alone with a sought-after celebrity like Rojo proved difficult. While affable and friendly, his focus was clearly on the work at hand. My prepared questions went unanswered as I too fell under his spell and simply stood watching and petting. Sorry folks — it will be another day before we learn if Rojo prefers the music of Justin Beiber or Taylor Swift as he travels to and from his appointments. I was able to get that important element for Rojo’s episode: the shoe. I was able to grab a quick second to ask about that. I’m pretty sure he grunted “ugg — which I shall take to mean that if a llama actually wore shoes he’d go for the sporty and comfy pair pictured here. Do these not look like a llama’s favorite shoes? They are the spitting image of him, after all.
Our visit too soon over, Rojo nimbly steps back into the van where, like all first-class travelers, he enjoys a snack while settling in for the ride.
Learn more about Rojo the Llama:
Follow Rojo on Twitter at @RojoTheLlama
About our Sponsor
Dignified Pet Services has served the Portland-area community for 13 years. In addition to their core business of cremation and memorial services, Dignified co-sponsors the beloved annual Service of Remembrance, this year Dec. 9th at The Old Church in downtown Portland, as well as serving as wonderful supporters and friends of pets and those working in animal welfare. Proprietors Michael, Randy and Avani live in Sherwood.
Marty Davis is a Portland writer and event photographer. She live in North Portland where is she closely watched over by Shasta, a bossy Aussie Shepherd. She is herded on a daily basis.