Llamas 'Kiss' Patients' Blues Away

One of Niki Kuklenski's therapy llamas gives a patient a kiss at Bellingham Health and Rehabilitation Center in Washington state. (Credit: Jen Osborne for COLORS Magazine)

A kiss from a llama is more like a soft, furry lip bump, but people still seem to like it.

That's why when Niki Kuklenski brings her therapy llamas, Marisco and Flight, to Camp Korey for children who have serious medical conditions, they set up a kissing booth. Her llamas also kiss patients at nursing homes and hospitals.

"One guy wanted to kiss her but didn't want his wife to know," Kuklenski, 42, said. "I always enjoy sharing my animals."

PHOTOS: See therapy llamas Marisco and Flight in action!

She knows her nearly 300-pound llamas are enjoying the attention when their ears are up and they're not humming. When they're humming and their ears are back, it usually means they're aggravated. Or that they need to go to the bathroom.

"Very few of them in my opinion are cut out for this type of work," said Kuklenski , who owns 25 llamas in Bellingham, Wash. "It takes a very special llama."

Lori Gregory agrees. She said her first llama, Rojo, wasn't fazed by anything. (It's also his 11 th birthday on April 26.) She takes him to visit with hospice patients and children who have mental and emotional problems.

"He has eyes the size of golf balls," said Gregory, 57, of Vancouver, Wash. "People just stand there and look into their eyes. It's pretty wonderful to be able to do that with a large animal that doesn't ask anything."

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She said although she can't detect a change in patients, she often hears nurses marvel at how introverted patients open up and interact with the llamas.

"Every room we went to, they [the staff members] were just freaking out," Gregory said. "'Herald hasn't spoken in a month, and I heard him say 'cute." 'Helen hasn't sat up in a long time, and she's trying to move.'"

She said she felt as if she were watching "miracles."

Gregory and Kuklenski volunteer their time through MTN Peaks Therapy Llamas and Alpacas and JNK Llama farm, respectively.