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In life — and in death — Rojo the llama always greets his public wearing a signature bow tie and top hat. Photo: Lori Gregory of Mountain Peaks Therapy Llamas & Alpacas

After more than a decade entertaining Portland, Oregon, residents at parades, parties and weddings — and gratefully nibbling the carrots they proffered — Rojo the llama has permanently retired to a display at the Washington State School for the Blind in Vancouver.

Why it matters: Rojo, who died in 2019 at age 17, has 29,000 followers on Instagram and 15,000 on Facebook. Carefully restored by a taxidermist, he will spend his afterlife introducing blind students to what a llama feels like, as part of a museum where blind students can experience animals they've only heard about.

The backstory: When he was alive, Rojo made frequent visits to the School for the Blind, attending annual track meets and Easter egg hunts, Lori Gregory, one of his owners, told me.

  • The school is home to a tactile museum — or "sensory safari" — that uses Braille, audio and real preserved animals to introduce students to different species.
  • Gregory and her daughter — who keep six llamas and seven alpacas at their farm, Mountain Peaks Therapy Llamas and Alpacas — kept the place in mind when Rojo started showing signs of age and fatigue.

Upon learning that Rojo had stomach cancer, Gregory started searching for a taxidermist who would restore him after he passed away.

  • "Nobody would touch the idea of doing taxidermy on a llama, because it’s not common," Gregory said, adding that she finally found someone in Vancouver who had previously stuffed a buffalo and was willing to try.
  • Her daughter, Shannon Joy, posted a GoFundMe campaign and raised $13,000 for the work.
  • "His fiber is still nice," Gregory said. "I mean, I'm not going to bury him back in the pasture."

The bottom line: Though Gregory now has several charming and gregarious therapy animals — like Smokey the llama and Jean-Pierre the alpaca — Rojo was her first, and she still chokes up when she talks about the days leading up to his death.

  • "It was so surreal and crazy," she told me, "but the thought of him serving the School for the Blind is what got me through it."

My thought bubble: There's nothing like watching a pair of freshly shampooed 300-pound llamas stroll into a nursing home to brighten the day of the residents. Here's a story I wrote for the New York Times about my experience watching "llama therapy" in action.

Go deeper

1 hour ago - Health

Pfizer-BioNTech: Booster doses more effective at blocking Omicron

Prepared doses of the BioNtech-Pfizer Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine in Germany on Dec. 7. Photo: Thomas Kienzle/AFP via Getty Images

Pfizer and BioNTech said Wednesday that two doses of their COVID-19 vaccine were significantly less effective at neutralizing the Omicron variant in early lab tests, but a three-dose regimen was more effective.

Why it matters: Omicron, which has been labeled a variant of concern by the World Health Organization after being identified by scientists in South Africa last month, has forced vaccine makers to reassess the effectiveness of their vaccines against this specific new form of coronavirus.

Mike Allen, author of AM
1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Biden unveils "Building a Better America" branding

President Biden speaks on infrastructure while visiting a bridge in Woodstock, N.H., last month. Photo: John Tully/Getty Images

President Biden today launched a new website and unveiled bold new branding as part of a nationwide tour to sell the benefits of his infrastructure package.

Why it matters: The White House says passage of the new law shows the ability to "forge bipartisan consensus and prove our democracy can deliver big wins" even in these toxic times.

3 hours ago - World

Olaf Scholz sworn in as German chancellor, succeeding Merkel

Incoming German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is sworn in by Bundestag President Bärbel Bas in Berlin today. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Social Democrat Olaf Scholz was sworn in as chancellor of Germany on Wednesday, succeeding Angela Merkel after 16 years and launching a new era of German and European politics.

Why it matters: Scholz, a center-left pragmatist who served as finance minister and vice chancellor in Merkel's last government, will lead Europe's largest economy in a coalition with the environmentalist Greens and pro-business Free Democrats.