Some may consider an alpaca an unusual animal to keep as a pet, but Louis Marcho says they’re essentially just giant cats.
Marcho first acquired two huacaya alpacas earlier this year and added two more to his family this month. Their names are Henry, Peter, Timmy and Patrick.
“I just thought that they were kind of a fun, different breed,” he said. “They’re like giant cats. They don’t really do anything. They kind of stand around and eat all day. They’re very docile and calm. They’re just a fun animal to watch.”
Marcho, who serves as an Overfield Township supervisor and is a licensed funeral director with the Sheldon-Kukuchka Funeral Home in Tunkhannock, doesn’t live on a farm or own any other large animals.
But his alpacas have a fenced in area to roam with barn-like shelter within his acre of land.
“They just kind of hang out in the yard, walk around, eat their grass,” he said, noting that watching them go about their daily lives is the best part of keeping them as pets. “Unlike horses, they lay down and roll around.”
Before becoming an alpaca owner, Marcho made sure to do quite a bit of research to be prepared to care for them.
Alpaca care includes trimming their toenails, shaving down their teeth and giving them heartworm shots.
Alpacas are part of the camel family and share similar features, Marcho said. Oftentimes, people mix up alpacas with llamas.
Llamas are much larger than alpacas and often used as an attack animal to protect herds, whereas alpacas are more laid back.
Alpacas are often bred for their fleece, which is far softer than llama fleece.
Alpacas are known to kick people if they’re irritated, but instead of spitting at humans like llamas, alpacas prefer to spit at each other.
“That’s probably the grossest thing,” Marcho said.
Since alpacas are uncommon pets, many have not seen them in person, let alone pet them.
“They’re pretty shocked when they do because the staple length of their fleece is like five inches long, so their body mass is a lot smaller than what they appear to be,” Marcho explained. “When you do feel them, you feel mostly just fleece.”
When his alpacas get sheared down next month, he plans to send the fleece away to companies that take requests to get it made into a variety of items for people he knows.
“I think it’s kind of neat to have a Henry blanket,” Marcho said. “So I’ll keep it and make it into a couple different things, socks, or blankets and scarves.”
Marcho recently brightened the day of seniors living in Tunkhannock’s United Methodist Homes by bringing two of his alpacas in for Furry Friends Day.
The senior living facility asked Marcho to bring them, which he was nervous about at first.
But since they walk well on a leash, he figured it wouldn’t hurt to try, and they were easily coaxed into coming into the building with food.
Although he did get some strange looks walking alpacas in Tunkhannock.
“Everyone was kind of surprised. They got to pet them and feed them and they made a mess, of course. But hopefully I’ll do it again and bring the other two around,” he said.
Animals can bring a lot of joy and comfort to people, Marcho said, and they can also serve as a positive distraction during hard times.
In fact, that’s why he hopes to get his dog, Grace, trained as a therapy dog to help families having services for loved ones at the Sheldon-Kukuchka Funeral Home.
“I thought this was an addition to the therapy dog world,” he said of bringing his alpacas to the United Methodist Homes.
Seeing the seniors experience joy through an animal was a good feeling, and he enjoyed the opportunity to bring them something unique that they likely wouldn’t be able to see otherwise.
As a funeral director, Marcho said this was another way to serve the community.
“We just want to work with the community as well. We don’t just serve at the time of death, we’re happy to serve in other ways too,” he said.