Portland has a hard time letting go.
From the cat cafe that closed and then revived to the former mayor working for the current mayor, the city clings to its past so tight it rarely ever becomes the past. And in the case of Rojo, Portland's favorite therapy llama, we'll never have to say goodbye—thanks to a skilled taxidermist and hundreds of generous fans on GoFundMe.
The late, lamented camelid, who died in November 2019 at the old age of 17, will soon have his stuffed body on display at the Washington State School for the Blind in Vancouver. And yes, he will be wearing his signature top hat and bow tie.
After becoming a certified therapy llama in 2007, Rojo visited more than 1,500 adult care centers, special needs groups and schools, and attended hundreds of events around town.
The School for the Blind was one of his frequent stops. He'd usually be accompanied by Smoky, another llama from the nonprofit Mtn Peaks Therapy Llamas & Alpacas.
"They'd stand like statues and the kids would touch them from the top of their heads to the tips of their toes," said Lori Gregory, Rojo's former owner and handler. "It gave them a special experience because llamas are so soft and tactile."
The school's campus is home to the Tactile Museum of Natural History's permanent display, also called the "sensory safari," a museum filled with taxidermied animals that incorporates the sense of touch, Braille, large print and audio to create an environment where visually impaired students can experience different animals. Gregory brought Rojo into the room on a visit to the school and joked that's where Rojo could end up.
"I thought that would be so cool if, God forbid anything happened to Rojo, he could come here and help people understand what llamas are like," she says.
In Rojo's final days, Gregory started a GoFundMe campaign and within two days raised $13,000 to cover Rojo's end-of-life care and taxidermy, which alone was set to cost up to $7,000. Gregory says it was difficult to find a taxidermist since none had any experience with llamas. She finally found one who worked with 10 other people to measure and shape Rojo's body, using taxidermy forms for antelopes and other deer as a starting point.
The stuffing was completed at the end of January. He'll likely take his position at the school within the next week.
"This isn't anything to do with trying to idolize him," says Gregory. "He did so much in his life and he's going to do so much more."
See all 24 Reasons to Still Love Portland here!