ARMSTRONG - After jumping out of a transport truck on his way to auction and making a break for it on the highway two years ago, Burt the AWOL alpaca has traded in his runaway hooves for quiet life on an Armstrong farm.
You might remember the story: a crazy alpaca hopped off a truck on the way to Valley Auction in Spallumcheen and tied up traffic on Highway 97A. He was elusive, on the run, a fugitive. The police were called to reign him in. Eventually, the unusually-marked polkadot alpaca made his way into someone’s yard — on his own accord, of course — and that was that. But there’s an after story.
Traci Jeeves, the owner of a traffic control company, was on her way to work that day when she encountered the alpaca situation.
“There were cops and the traffic was backed up as far as I could see. Me, being the flag girl that I am, thought ‘what I can do is I can divert him and push him onto the on ramp….’ And then I thought, they’re going to arrest me if I try to do that,” Jeeves says.
She told the alpaca story all day long, and when she got home, it was all her husband could talk about too.
“My husband said ‘I saw this alpaca on the news,’” Jeeves says. “I said ‘I saw that alpaca.’ I just thought it was a sign that he should be mine. I called the auction the next day and he wasn’t sold. All his 29 brothers and sisters were sold, so I started to feel sorry for him.”
Valley Auction told her she could have him for a small donation to the B.C. Children’s Hospital. Jeeves was sold. She and her husband had recently moved to a rural property with a one-acre lot that would be perfect for him.
“It was just such a funny coincidence, having him on the news, seeing him on the highway. It was just meant to be,” she says.
After some “alpaca whispering” they managed to move him to his new home, a pasture in the Armstrong countryside with a view of the mountains.
“He’s actually run away a couple more times,” Jeeves says with a laugh. “Me not being much of a hobby farmer, I had to race up after him — me and my neighbour — with sticks.”
As it turns out, Burt was searching for something.
“We looked up why he would keep escaping, and found out they’re pack animals. That’s why I had to get Mommy and Baby, and those are still their names,” Jeeves says of the two companions she has added for him.
Burt hasn’t run away since.
He isn’t the friendliest or cuddliest pet, Jeeves admits, but he brings her immense joy. He doesn’t much care for being touched, and for the most part prefers to observe newcomers from afar with a slightly snobby, aloof expression on his face.
“He’s actually quite the guard llama,” Jeeves says. “He sounds kind of like a donkey.”
Burt is an alpaca, while Mommy and Baby are llamas, but the two breeds are basically identical, except for a difference in their size and ear shape (Burt is smaller than a Llama and has stubbier ears.) Both have long shaggy hair that can be spun into a fibre and used to make clothing.
“Every two years I get a pair of socks. The fibre of the llama is the warmest product I’ve come across, and I would know,” she says, referring to her job as a traffic flagger. “It really is just the oddest thing, I never ever thought I would be a llama keeper.”
And while Burt isn’t particularly affectionate, there does seem to be some love between him and his keeper.
“They’re supposed to spit, but they never spit at me. They do spit at each other,” she says.
In the past two years of owning her celebrity pet, Jeeves has become known as the local llama lady. She’s even come up with a new product, ‘Jeeves’ Llama Beans’ — a favourite fertilizer among her gardening friends.
“People give me llama tea towels, mugs, you name it,” she says.
She even has a little llama tattooed to her wrist, right beside the rest of her large family (including cats, dogs and kids.)
“He’s part of our ‘llamily,’” Jeeves says.
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