4 pets who make a joyful difference in their community.

By Ellen Lee Illustrations Eric Hanson

Llama Love 

Sometimes kids feel shy when they see Niki Kuklenski and one of her 6-foot-tall 300-pound llamas. So she’ll point out the llama’s painted, sparkly toenails. “It helps break the ice,” says Niki, who owns a llama farm in Bellingham, WA. Of her 15 llamas, seven are registered with Pet Partners, a national nonprofit that trains and connects volunteers with places that need therapy animals. Last summer Niki and Flight, a 14-year-old llama who loves attention, visited a camp for children with serious medical conditions. The kids hugged Flight and brushed her. “She also gives kisses on demand,” says Niki. “Or for treats.”

Purr-fect Partnership

Margie Haack and her 11-year-old orange-and-white tuxedo cat, Murphy, are registered with the San Francisco SPCA’s animal assisted therapy program. Twice a week, they volunteer their time with seniors. One is an elderly man with dementia who requires ongoing care at his home. Murphy climbs into bed with him and purrs as he strokes his fur. By the end of the visit, the patient is beaming, his spirits noticeably lifted.

Canine Companion

Formerly a race dog, Catelyn Silapachai’s 6-year-old greyhound, Angelo, has a new job: therapy pet. Twice a month for nearly two years, Catelyn and Angelo have comforted elderly patients at a senior home in Austin, TX, visiting them in their rooms. Catelyn recalls that one woman who had suffered a stroke couldn’t string together complete sentences except when she was petting Angelo. “Some talk to Angelo, telling him things they don’t share with anyone else,” she says. “He is their friend.” Recently, Angelo has been serving as an educational ambassador at meet-and-greet events that help other greyhounds find homes after they retire from racing.

Ready for Takeoff

Flights were delayed at San Francisco International Airport when Tatyana Danilova and LiLou, her 2-year-old pig, made their first appearance. A member of the Wag Brigade, a partnership between the airport and the San Francisco SPCA, LiLou sported a tutu and pilot’s hat as she went around the terminal shaking hands—er, hooves—with passengers and crew. LiLou performed a few of her tricks: saying hi by touching a hand with her snout, turning around, bowing and posing for photos. “The airport can be stressful for everyone,” says Tatyana. “We help make it less so by bringing joy and positive energy.”