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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

Mike Allen, author of AM
4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden adviser Cedric Richmond sees first-term progress on reparations

Illustration: "Axios on HBO"

White House senior adviser Cedric Richmond told "Axios on HBO" that it's "doable" for President Biden to make first-term progress on breaking down barriers for people of color, while Congress studies reparations for slavery.

Why it matters: Biden said on the campaign trail that he supports creation of a commission to study and develop proposals for reparations — direct payments for African-Americans.

Cyber CEO: Next war will hit regular Americans online

Any future real-world conflict between the United States and an adversary like China or Russia will have direct impacts on regular Americans because of the risk of cyber attack, Kevin Mandia, CEO of cybersecurity company FireEye, tells "Axios on HBO."

What they're saying: "The next conflict where the gloves come off in cyber, the American citizen will be dragged into it, whether they want to be or not. Period."

Cedric Richmond: We won't wait on GOP for "insufficient" stimulus

Top Biden adviser Cedric Richmond told "Axios on HBO" the White House believes it has bipartisan support for a stimulus bill outside the Beltway.

  • "If our choice is to wait and go bipartisan with an insufficient package, we are not going to do that."

The big picture: The bill will likely undergo an overhaul in the Senate after House Democrats narrowly passed a stimulus bill this weekend, reports Axios' Kadia Goba.