Economics, failing health of owners, and the deviant behavior of violent criminals, experts say, all contribute to a range of abuses inflicted upon the gentle and stoic alpaca.
For instance, a young man armed with malicious intent might sneak onto a farm under cover of darkness, then willfully attack a trusting and unsuspecting alpaca.
Or, a new alpaca breeder, looking to cash in on alpaca fleece popularity, might have over-invested in a herd and now finds caring for the animals too difficult a task to manage. The animals are left to starve or suffer in the cold.
Or perhaps due to owner death, hospitalization, or divorce, alpacas are left to fend for themselves, never mentioned in wills or legal settlements. They are alone without someone to care for them.
Not matter the cause, one thing is certain: The abuse is never justified or defensible.
“There’s no way to explain abuse,” says Jackie Glover, co-owner of Cross Creek Alpaca Rescue in Tonino, Wash. “They’ve put their trust in [humans], and we’ve let them down.”
The rescue business is only getting busier. Now that struggling alpaca owners know they have options, Cross Creek and the handful of other alpaca rescue farms across the country are in high demand.
Canadians for Animal Welfare Reform defines animal cruelty syndrome as either passive or active. Passive cruelty is willful neglect, like shirking care for alpacas or allowing them to starve. Active cruelty is more brutal, like a deliberate attack on an animal that often results in its death.
Alpaca cruelty, according to Cross Creek’s owners, is predominantly passive. Rescue farms, like the one Glover and co-owner Shari Bond run, are able to take in abused alpacas, nurse them back to health, and find caring new homes for the animals.
Sometimes, the cops are involved. In what might be the highest profile case of alpaca abuse on record, authorities seized 175 emaciated and near-death alpacas from an Oregon ranch in 2014. In space enough for 20 animals, 235 alpacas had been crammed. The herd lived without grass or hay, and resorted to stripping bark from fir trees for nourishment, which killed some of them. When Polk County Sheriff’s deputies came to confiscate the animals at Jocelyn’s Alpaca Ranch, owned by Jocelyn and Robert Silver, they found 17 dead alpacas on the premises. The owners eventually faced animal neglect charges: Jocelyn Silver received three years probation; Robert Silver received three years in prison.
Trying to find out why the alpacas under Cross Creek’s care were abused is a waste of energy for Bond and Glover, they say. But when they talk to owners, “in their minds, they justify it in a way,” Bond says.
Alpaca neglect, like in the Oregon case, occurs when humans think of animals as “only animals,” says Leslie Irvine, professor of sociology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. “But I find it hard to see how anyone could look at dead animals and think they are not suffering…This can easily happen when living creatures are turned into commodities.”
Active cruelty is the undoubtedly cruel twin of passive cruelty. Violence against animals is described by psychologists as “The Link“ meaning, those who physically harm animals are far more likely to physically harm people.
Others think alpaca abuse is a sick sport, like the Connecticut men who killed four alpacas in 2011 by luring the gentle, puppy-like animals to a fence and stabbing them. The act was but one of the young duo’s many “mischief trips.” One attacker got six months in jail, the other was placed in a rehabilitation program.
“People intentionally inflict harm for many reasons,” says Irvine. “They do it to feel powerful over the animal and to demonstrate their power to other people. People will also justify harming animals by saying they’re ‘only animals’ or the animal ‘deserved’ it, in some perverse sense.”
On the upside, animal abuse is being taken more seriously by state governments and federal law enforcements. States, including New York and Tennessee, have created animal abuser registries. Beginning January 1, 2016, the FBI begins considering animal cruelty a ‘Group A’ felony like kidnapping and murder, and starts tracking attacks in its National Incident-Based Reporting System, creating much-needed data on the scope of animal abuse in the U.S.
For Cross Creek, the rescue business is only getting busier. Now that struggling alpaca owners know they have options, Glover explains, Cross Creek and the handful of other alpaca rescue farms across the country are in high demand.
“In the beginning, we could go months [without getting a call],” Glover says. “Now, there’s one every day.”