George “Geo” Caldwell is a Sonora-based llama rancher as well as the owner of Llamas of Circle Home, an organization in Sonora, California, whose sole goal is to “connect people with nature, life and themselves through the magic of the llamas.”
Llamas of Circle Home brought six llamas to the University of California, Berkeley, which held its first “Llamapalooza” (event where students can pet llamas on the field) on April 27, the week before finals.
Caldwell has been bringing llamas to UC Berkeley a few times every semester since December 2014.
Q: How was the “Llamapalooza” different from previous events?
A: Usually we bring only three to four (llamas), but last time they requested six. So we did a different presentation, trying to give students a more hands-on experience.
There were so many people outside at Memorial Glade, too. Hundreds and hundreds of students.
Q: How did you make sure everyone had a chance to pet them?
A: Because we try to reach as many students as possible, we had a presentation – just a thing where (llama handlers) show how to interact with the llamas – and then let everyone interact with them individually.
So we had a dozen students meet with us the Sunday before, and there we taught them how to share the llamas with the other students.
They learn how to lead the llamas. The emphasis is on how to interact with the llamas and how to share them with people in the park.
Before the event, they met me on campus and made sure everything was smooth.
Q: Has bringing llamas to UC Berkeley made other schools interested in llamas?
A: Last month we went to (University of California, San Francisco) and brought the llamas there. We’re going to (University of California) Merced, and we’re set to do a high school in Pleasanton later on (in May) for their finals.
They want llamas, and I won’t tell them no!
We also just came back from Oakland Children’s Hospital Research Institution, where we were working with not the kids, actually, but the researchers.
I think the adults get more out of the llamas than the kids. Adults when meeting llamas don’t take it lightly; they really feel the connection.
We’ve also gone to a high school for autistic children, the Orion Academy in Moraga (California). They’re seeing that the llamas are having a positive impact with their students and are now exploring ways they can utilize them regularly in their school.
Q: How long have you been working with llamas?
A: I’ve been doing classes with llamas for over 25 years. They’re all about sharing llama love.
The first – which we still have – was an introduction to packing with llamas, where we teach how to pack bags in stuff onto them and how they are used on the trails.
We teach people to not be afraid of the llamas. Once careful with llamas, we teach them how to pack and how they can be useful.
Q: What did you do before getting involved with llamas?
A: I had a trucking company down in the Bay Area called Blue Ribbon. I joined there in ’74, and we shipped to Silicon Valley, which was really starting to heat up in the early ’70s.
There was an article in the Sonora newspaper in June of ’82 that said that llamas did well in Tuolumne County, so some of my friends and I saw the article, found out they were legal and felt they were really cool.
Q: And from there you just abandoned everything for the llamas.
A: Hahaha. At some point, the company was doing well, so I sold my share to my partners and quit the commute. It’s funny since what I do with the llamas is exactly the opposite.
The trucking business is insanity. Everybody needs everything right now.
But the llamas are exactly the opposite, especially what we’re doing now, working in mental health. We’re not sharing stress; we’re sharing love with people.
Q: How did you get in the llama therapy business?
A: After seeing the impact that llamas had on people and seeing how smart they were, I went to Peru to find out more about the culture that produced this. After several trips to Peru, I realized I wasn’t teaching the real heart of llamas to people.
Llamas are the mystics of the Andes, the dolphins of the land animal.
Q: Dolphins of the land? So they must be pretty smart.
A: Well, according to ancient Andean oral history, llamas were dreamed into existence to communicate at the soul level as our speechless brothers.
When llamas are given a good education and taught to interact well with people, everyone can feel that energy.
It’s pure love – it’s a universal thing.
That’s why I’m so passionate about showing the mental health community llamas because llamas are quickly disappearing yet are so useful to us.
Q: What exactly do you want people to know about llamas?
A: That llamas are a valuable tool that has been overlooked.
I think that llamas have a future – not for carrying stuff for people but in cities and colleges where people are stressed and need connection.
Llamas do that so perfectly. That’s what they’re meant for.
Once people try it, it quickly becomes an institution.
—By Chardonnay Needler