Alpaca therapy helps convicts with mental illness

DEGGENDORF, GERMANY (AFP) – Offenders with mental health conditions at a southern German hospital can pitch in with looking after a small herd of alpacas as part of their therapy.

Staff at the Mainkofen psychiatric hospital in Bavaria said the aim is for the generally calm animals to help patients develop skills towards social reintegration.

Those on the programme have daily tasks, such as to feed the around 10 alpacas, walk them, brush their coats, dress their wounds and clean out their stables. Erwin Meier, whose name has been changed for this report, has helped care for the alpacas since October and believes it has helped him.

“I like it very much,” he said. “It’s fun to work with animals. There is something to do every day.” The animals, which can be known to spit, have helped him to control his anger, said Meier.

“I used to get angry quite quickly, I was impulsive, but it’s improved thanks to the animals, because if I get angry, they get angry too, and the calmer I am, the calmer they are too,” he added.

The programme is open to all patients at the hospital but intended primarily for offenders. The programme leader and owner of the alpacas Silke Lederbogen runs a nearby farm with her husband with about 50 of the animals, using their wool to make hats and blankets. “Usually, patients in the hospital do not have contact with ‘normal’ people,” she said.

But, in walking with the alpacas on the hospital grounds, they are given the chance to chat and answer questions about the animals from interested visitors, patients and staff, she added. “And they can do so competently,” she said.