PORTLAND — A local celebrity smiled for hundreds of photos at his retirement party Sunday, and it helped that he already had a noticeable underbite.
Rojo the Llama was once again a star during his retirement party at Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland. Rojo, 17, lives at Ridgefield’s Mountain Peaks Therapy Llamas and Alpacas. As a therapy animal for the past 12 years, he has been a regular at children’s hospitals, assisted living communities and hundreds of other public events.
Lori Gregory and her daughter, Shannon Joy, own Rojo and several other llamas and alpacas, which live at the Ridgefield ranch.
Rojo is certainly the most famous. In addition to his many engagements, he has won numerous awards at the Clark County Fair dating back 17 years.
His fame also extended beyond Clark County and Portland on several occasions. His national appearances include National Geographic Wild’s show “Unlikely Animal Friends” and a story in O, The Oprah Magazine.
The major turning point came in 2007, when someone at the fair was impressed by Rojo’s engaging temperament and suggested that he be certified for therapy, Joy said. Rojo became certified through DoveLewis Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Hospital in Portland, which co-organized Sunday’s retirement party.
“We’re so proud of the work he’s doing in the community that we wanted to give him a good send-off,” said Tess Payne, a spokeswoman for the hospital.
On Sunday, Joy once again looked on as lines of people waited to take photos with her llama.
“It’s really surreal,” Joy said. “It feels really meant to be.”
In addition to the people, Rojo was flanked on Sunday by a miniature horse, a camel, geese, dogs, bunnies and a pig. The Portland Trail Blazers mascot — Blaze — and Portland Pickles mascot — Dillon the Pickle — made appearances along with The Unipiper, another Portland celebrity, who sported a llama costume rather than his custom Darth Vader mask and kilt.
After standing in the line, attendees had the chance to take photos with Rojo, Napoleon the Alpaca and Smokey the Llama. They also had an opportunity to pass them carrots with their mouths, known as “carrot kisses.”
“They’re quite social, so they like to be together when they’re doing their events,” Payne said of the llamas and alpaca.
Rojo will now spend most of his retirement days at the Ridgefield farm, so it’s not goodbye forever. Llamas can live into their 20s. Mountain Peaks plans to open its barn doors to the public for tours in the spring.
“This next chapter is going to be a lot of fun,” Joy said.
Joy recognized, though, that it will be impossible to completely replace Rojo’s good nature around large groups of people. But the younger animals on the farm will still be making public appearances.
“It’s going to take a whole herd to replace Rojo,” Joy said.