Llamas find refuge at Queen Creek facility - East Valley Tribune: News

Llamas find refuge at Queen Creek facility

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Posted: Sunday, April 20, 2008 8:11 pm | Updated: 9:08 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Llamas are curious, expressive and polite animals - except for the whole spitting part. And Queen Creek residents Dave Salge and wife Alicia Santiago have their hands full with nine rescued llamas, in addition to four of their own, as part of Arizona Llama Rescue, a nonprofit they founded.

SLIDESHOW: Take a look around Arizona Llama Rescue

VIDEO: Chandler rescue volunteer talks about Arizona Llama Rescue

Llamas are curious, expressive and polite animals - except for the whole spitting part. And Queen Creek residents Dave Salge and wife Alicia Santiago have their hands full with nine rescued llamas, in addition to four of their own, as part of Arizona Llama Rescue, a nonprofit they founded.

SLIDESHOW: Take a look around Arizona Llama Rescue

VIDEO: Chandler rescue volunteer talks about Arizona Llama Rescue

Santiago said creating the organization was "an accident."

"We had llamas and then got a phone call that a woman had died and had two llamas," she said. "They asked if the llamas could come over. So people started hearing about it."

The husband and wife team enjoy having the animals around and working with them on socialization and behavioral problems.

For some time, Salge and Santiago worked with llama rescues out of North Carolina and New Mexico, but Santiago said they needed a local organization.

"A lot of older people get into llamas and alpacas and eventually they go into nursing homes or pass away," Santiago said. "A majority come from those situations, but we're also seeing more from people losing their jobs or having their properties foreclosed on."

The rescue is based out of their Queen Creek home, but they have a network of foster homes in areas such as Chandler and Flagstaff, where llamas and alpacas are often sent during the heat of the summer. Santiago said they are lacking foster homes in southern Arizona.

"These animals are very easy to take care of," Salge said. "We work to find them a new home."

It's easy to see the bond between Salge and the llamas as he walks them on leads around his yard in Queen Creek. He also takes them on walks through their rural neighborhood.

"Some people walk dogs, Dave walks llamas," Santiago said with a laugh.

Salge describes the South American native animals, which are related to camels, as "polite, curious and playful."

And for the record, they only spit at each other to establish dominance or as a defense.

Salge said the llamas and alpacas eat hay imported from nearby states because they're susceptible to valley fever, the spores of which could be found in local hay. Salge and Santiago feed them treats, known as sweet feed, from time to time, and the long-necked animals also nibble on the needles of pine tree branches for a tasty snack.

"A big part of what we do is education," Salge said, noting that's one of the reasons he takes them on walks through the neighborhood. "There's a lot of misconceptions."

Some of those misconceptions include people thinking llamas and alpacas like to be petted because they're a staple in many petting zoos. Being petted leads to behavioral prolems, Salge said.

Representatives with Arizona Llama Rescue go through a checklist inspection at the homes of people interested in adopting the animals. The cost to adopt a llama is $250.

"They don't require a lot of space, but you can't just stick them in your backyard," Salge said. "We provide mentoring and help with sheering and toenail trimming. We work closely with them."

But llamas and alpacas aren't for everyone, Salge said. "They're not like a dog," he said, giving his llama Friday a hug around the neck - something not all llamas would tolerate.

Salge said they look for people who have enough room for at least two because they like to keep them together unless they're being used as guardians of other livestock. He said people also like to have the animals for the use of their coat in weaving, knitting and crocheting.

"We ask what they're looking for in a companion," he said. "They need to want them for the right reasons."

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