Former Soldier Now Uses Rescued Llamas To Help Improve People’s Mental Health
The great outdoors is known to do wonders for our mental health, and what better way could there be to experience it than alongside some of the llamas and alpacas that make up Alpacaly Ever After’s Woolly Army?
As well as stunning views and a constant flow of tourists, Britain’s Lake District is home to the aptly-named Alpacaly Ever After rescue, where visitors can not only meet Peruvian livestock, but embark on adventures with them.
While opting to rescue unwanted llamas and alpacas is an unusual career path for anyone, it is perhaps even more so for someone who previously spent time working with the Intelligence Department and in three warzones, like Terry Barlow. But after Terry and his partner Emma moved to the Lakes, it seemed the natural thing to do.
Speaking to UNILAD, Terry explained that he came across Peruvian livestock at a country show and ‘wouldn’t shut up about it’ until Emma agreed that he could put an advert online to rescue any of the unwanted animals.
The pair took on their first small herd of five alpacas, and due to his ‘obsessive’ nature, Terry quickly learned all about the animals by observing them and attempting to glean what he could from YouTube videos.
Having now lived in the Lake District for 15 years, Terry and Emma are the proud carers for more than 160 animals with the help of their ‘Woolly Army’ staff members, with Terry having left his work in security four years ago to care for the herd full time and become ‘an Alpacatreneur complete with long hair and a full ginger beard’.
It was a visit to the Lake District and his experience of being out in nature as a child that inspired Terry to join the Army when he sixteen; an experience he found both ‘amazing’ and ‘difficult’ at the same time.
The now-42-year-old explained that the job can ‘really impact your self worth in both positive and negative ways’, noting that he had friends who have taken their own life as a result of their time in the Army, while others became the ‘best versions of themselves’.
Terry spent time in Bosnia, where he volunteered to help rebuild the country during the conflict there, as well as later working in regimental intelligence, where he faced a ‘huge weight of responsibility’ as he had to plan patrols for people he cared about.
While his overall experience in the Army was a ‘positive one’, leaving him ‘wiser, more capable’ and with ‘the ability to be unfazed by most situations’, Terry noted that it also left him with ‘far too much dependence on alcohol, and some issues with aggression’ that he still has to work on.
He moved to the security sector after leaving the Army, but Terry has now found that caring for the animals has been ‘hugely beneficial’, as it meant he did not have to ‘anticipate and manage conflict every day’.
It was Emma who suggested the pair turn their rescue mission into a nonprofit, which invites visitors to become immersed in the beauty of the Lake District and be introduced to the mental and physical benefits of time spent in nature and outdoor activities.
Commenting on this change in lifestyle, Terry said:
I work seven days a week meeting lovely people and looking after amazing animals. It doesn’t feel like a job it feels like a privilege. It has given me a sense of purpose and the knowledge that I am doing something useful, from the animals we are caring for to the humans who are benefitting from the experiences every day.
It has helped with my drinking – I’m always too tired and there is no time, though Emma has also played huge part in that.
Describing alpacas and llamas as ‘wonderful to spend time with’, Terry explained that the animals respond best to ‘calm, confident behaviour’ and in turn helped him improve his patience.
Visitors to Alpacaly Ever After can also enjoy mental health benefits from spending time with the llamas and alpacas during excursions, with Terry and Emma explaining that going on adventures with the animals can reduce stress, provide a respite from day-to-day concerns and facilitate walking as therapy by allowing for conversations that might be difficult in more formal settings.
Having had the pleasure of enjoying a full-day trek myself alongside a delightful llama named Dopey, it became clear to me that spending time with the llamas also helps build trust and confidence in getting to know the animal and putting faith in the instruction of the staff members with you.
Taking into account Terry’s background and the benefits of their programme, Emma and Terry have also decided to offer free trekking experiences to veteran support services, as it means a lot to Terry to be able to support those who leave the Army with mental and physical health problems.
With all the good the llamas and alpacas do for those around them, Alpacaly Ever After is focused on providing the animals with the best possible care and offering a welcoming home, as well as providing opportunity for the staff to share their knowledge of the species and designing and making ethical and sustainable products that promote alpacas and their yarn.
Terry has found that many of his skills from the Army have transferred into his new way of life, with his pragmatism and ability to be calm under pressure all coming in handy when working with ‘people, animals and Cumbrian weather’.
The Army made me into a fast learner and a hard worker, it gave me the ability to connect with people from all walks of life and to get people onside. It taught me to read people in a way that enables me to work out what each person needs from the experience they are taking part in.
It gave me physical endurance that keeps me going up the big fells – and also a knee injury from jumping out of a helicopter that doesn’t help on the way down!
Working alongside Terry and Emma, who Terry credits with making his ideas happen, are a team of 12 full-time guides and staff.
Terry’s leadership skills have been useful in helping to grow the team to become one full of people ‘with amazing skills that compliment each other’, and to ensure it’s not just the llamas and alpacas who are kept happy, the directors have launched a Wellness Action Plan program for the staff to check in on everyone’s mental health.
Together, the team have worked to rehome, rescue and rehabilitate more than 140 alpacas and llamas from instances of neglect, situations in which the owner can no longer cope, or even those who are on their way to the abattoir. At the time of writing, the team is waiting on the arrival of a further 60 alpacas and aiming to grow the space in which they have to keep the animals.
Alpacaly Ever After aims to make experiences accessible to all, so you don’t have to be an experienced mountaineer to enjoy some time in the Lake District with the animals.
As the organisation is self-funded, the money people pay to experience the activities goes back into paying for the space, food and care for the animals, as well as funding free or subsidised activities for charities, social enterprises and other third-sector organisations, through which more than 400 vulnerable people have benefitted.
If you’d like to learn more about the unique set-up, or book your own venture with the llamas, you can do so here.
If you’re experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is there to support you. They’re open from 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year. Their national number is 0800 58 58 58 and they also have a webchat service if you’re not comfortable talking on the phone.
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