July 21 • 09:36 PM

Move over Dasher, Malcolm is here!

Animals invade Imlay City store for holiday greetings

Ben Kouri, 6, of Attica and Sydney Elliott, 4, of Capac spend some quality time with Santa’s helpers—Malcolm the alpaca and Centurion the llama—at TSC on Saturday. photo by Catherine Minolli.

December 19, 2007
IMLAY CITY — Move over Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and all ya'all. Make room for Malcolm and Centurion and Racer, who trotted into the TSC store on Saturday to give Santa a hand.

Malcolm, an alpaca, Centurion, a llama, and Racer, a Lhasapoo, may not have red noses but they're every bit as helpful and friendly as Santa's usual gang of reindeer.

Courtesy of Funny Face Alpaca Farm in Attica and Daisy's Way dog training in Imlay City, the four legged friends turned up at TSC to give kids a chance to get up close and personal with members of the animal kingdom while visiting with Santa. The visit also made for a great photo op.

"They're very good with kids," says Darrel Verbeke of the llama and alpaca. Along with his wife, Deb, the Verbekes began their alpaca venture as a hobby about five years ago. They now have a herd of 24.

"We like to take them to public appearances," Darrel says. "We bring them to nursing homes, schools, other places to help educate people about the animals. They're very friendly, and very intelligent too."

Easy to care for, too. Unlike sheep, they have no lanolin in their skin so there's no grooming involved. There's a little bit of hoof trimming involved—about once a year—simply because they aren't traversing mountain terrain which would naturally take care of the problem.

The Verbekes do use and sell the animals' fleeces, which can be made into a variety of things.

"Socks, gloves, anything you would use wool for you can use alpaca fiber for," Deb says.

As for keeping the flock safe from predators, the Verbekes put up a five foot fence around their pasture, but that's not the only source of protection.

"The llama will get in between any threat and the herd," Darrel says. "They're very protective and have been known to take down and kill coyotes, believe it or not."

It is rather unbelievable when you take a look at their jaws, which are lined with teeth only on the bottom.

"They have four chambered stomachs like a cow, they are cud chewers like cows," Darrel explains.

Not so for Racer, the 9-year-old Lhasapoo owned by Sue Robbins of Daisy's Way dog training.

The little hound with the underbite has all his teeth intact, though he's too friendly to use them on anyone.

Though he was a little nervous what with the excitement and the crowds, Racer was a good pick to pose with the kids for photos.

"We wanted to make sure the kids could pose with a little animal in case they were afraid of the big ones," Robbins says.

Robbins, an AKC evaluator for Canine Good Citizens, holds dog training classes at TSC every week. Usually classes are held at night, and there's training for all types of dogs through all stages of life from puppy to advanced.

The animals were a hit with 6-year-old Ben Kouri of Attica. He enjoyed petting Malcolm and Centurion, and even got on all fours to give Racer a kiss.

"That feels funny," he laughs.

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