Portland's most famous therapy animal is bound for retirement.
After 12 years of service, Rojo the Llama is returning home to his owners' farm in Ridgefield, Wash., at the end of the year, according to his handler, self-proclaimed "Llama Mama" Shannon Joy of Mountain Peaks Therapy Llamas and Alpacas.
"I'm really excited for newer animals to be seen and have the opportunity to carry on what Rojo has started," Joy says. "But it is a little bittersweet because Rojo is such a Portland icon."
Originally purchased as a show animal for the 4-H program, Rojo's unusually gentle demeanor inspired his owners to enter him into the Animal-Assisted Therapy Training program at DoveLewis when he was 5 years old.
First largely recognized in Portland when he served as the Grand Marshal of the Junior Rose Festival in 2013, Rojo became a familiar presence at children's hospitals, assisted living communities and other civic events, including WW's own Best of Portland street party.
"He was just born to be a therapy guy," Joy says.
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But at age 17, Rojo is solidly in his senior years—the average lifespan of a llama is around 20 years—and Joy says it's starting to show.
"We're seeing signs that he could easily become unpredictable," she says. "Two years ago, we recognized that he was no longer enjoying evening events, so we've restricted him to only daytime activities. I just can't guarantee that he's a happy camper 100 percent of the time anymore."
Rojo will participate in this Saturday's Grand Floral Parade, and finish out the gigs he has lined up for the remainder of summer. But don't be alarmed—Rojo won't be completely retreating from public life.
"We'll still do therapy visits, and we're hoping to open our farm up to field trips and private one-on-one interactions for therapy," Joy said. "That way Rojo will still be a part of the community, just from the comforts of his home."
Follow @rojothellama for updates on Rojo's last lap around the city and to wish him well in his retirement.