8-year-old Beth first came to us on the very day that our alpacas arrived. Everyone who was on site that day – families, caseworkers, volunteers, and Beth – worked as a wonderful team to form a human corridor to get our new arrivals from the trailer to their new home in our field. As it was her first day too, Beth herself was given the honour of closing the gate behind them, and when it was done, everyone cheered. Beth’s smile at that moment lit up the field, as she experienced for the first-time feelings of warmth and acceptance from others, feelings which had been absent from her upbringing.
Beth, an only child, had always been told by her parents that she wasn’t wanted. They paid little attention to her or her needs, themselves lost as they were in chronic substance abuse. This rejection by the people who should have been closest to her in her early life left her with attachment difficulties, which in turn made it more difficult for her to form good friendships at school. Facing abuse at home, and bullying at school, Beth’s life was one of exclusion and isolation, a situation which eventually led to her being placed in long term foster care.
Just as with our alpacas, dropped off suddenly into an unfamiliar environment, it is impossible to know what Beth was truly feeling as she was taken away from her former home and everything that was familiar to her. There would have been some relief, certainly, to be away from her uncaring family, but no doubt fear to experience such a massive change. Because no matter how loving a new foster home might be, it can still be difficult for a child to settle in and feel safe, especially a child who has had the neglect and devastating experiences in her life that Beth has.
As we saw more of Beth, it became clear that spending time with our animals was a wonderful thing for her, as they offered the unconditional acceptance and tranquillity that she had thus far not received from the humans in her life. Especially with the alpacas, she learned a lot about how to make connections with animals, and as she and her foster carer Amanda got to know them together, she was able to start to form a positive bond with her as well. By being calm and moving slowly, she got the bravest of the three alpacas, Allyss, to sniff her hand, and both she and the alpaca had their confidence and patience rewarded with a bit of a neck stroke.
However, Beth gravitated towards the most reticent of the three, Layla, seeing a kindred spirit also struggling to adjust to an onrush of newness and change. As with Beth herself, it was impossible to truly know what Layla was feeling at such a tumultuous time, but it was enough for both Beth and Layla to quietly spend time in each other’s company, in the calm of our beautiful, natural setting. These moments of peace and acceptance were a tonic for Beth, and she grew wonderfully through them, beginning to open up to others and form a real bond with her new family.
When Beth reached the end of her time with us, her positive attachment had grown to the point that she was even looking out for her favourite alpaca Layla, noticing that she was having her food pinched by Allyss. She had us promise that we would make sure that Layla got her fair share once she wasn’t there to look out for her, and we reassured her that we would, very happy to see that Beth was bringing with her into the world the sort of care and love that she never used to receive herself.
A year on, Her schoolteachers have commented on how she was once a very withdrawn little girl and now she has a great close group of friends at school and now has the confidence to speak up in class. Beth and Amanda have such a close bond and Beth finally feels like she belongs.
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This is a composite case that is indicative of our work, names and images have been changed.
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