A Twin Falls teenager is bringing joy to elderly and disabled residents in the Magic Valley with the help of his pet alpaca, trained to be a registered therapy animal.
Drew Moffitt took on the challenge for his senior project at Twin Falls Senior High School. He often takes his five-year-old alpaca, Sprite, to wander the halls of retirement and rehab facilities in southern Idaho to meet with residents.
“It's been super gratifying,” Moffitt said. “To see them just feed her with their hands, laugh, and spill the food all over, it's super cool for them.”
We tagged along with Drew as he toured Sprite through the Oak Creek Rehabilitation Center in Kimberly, Idaho while residents enjoyed virgin margaritas for a Cinco de Mayo celebration. Elderly and disabled residents were delighted to meet the 18-year-old high school senior and learn about his 120-pound fluffy-haired farm animal, feeding and petting her themselves.
“What a unique senior project!” Sherry Poulton with Oak Creek Rehabilitation Center said. “To fill the hearts of those who don't get to participate in much in the outside world.”
Drew says visiting with Sprite serves as the perfect ice breaker for people who aren’t used to sparking up a conversation with complete strangers.
“It makes it so much easier to just have this legit real conversation and just to see them smile,” Drew said. “Smiles are contagious and I see them smiling, and I see them get out of bed and all of a sudden the go from zero to 100!”
Through the record-breaking snowy, white winter, Drew and Sprite visited with residents at rehabilitation centers who were stuck indoors entirely for months.
“They loved it!” Drew said. “And they really thanked me because they couldn't leave the facility at all.”
Drew said his most memorable visit was a trip to a nearby school for the deaf and blind this winter.
“That’s where I met a girl named Bella,” Drew said. “She was blind and she was so excited she came up and wanted to feel [Sprite], and she was feeling her neck and everything and she can't see, so she was feeling the ears and she just tells me, ‘she is so beautiful,’ and I think that had an impact on me because I never really thought of feelings as being sight.”Before Sprite could become the center of attention, though, Drew had to get her warmed up to the world beyond her backyard pasture, by taking her along on trips to Home Depot and the local D&B Supply store.
“Getting her used to inside doors that slide open, weird noises, things dropping,” Drew said. “Then of course she got all the interaction she needed because we'd be outside for 30 minutes just talking to people, people wanted to see her, kids wanted pictures!”
When the pair hits the town, Drew folds down the backseat of his Toyota Matrix hatchback, and loads Sprite into the back. He says the therapeutic nature of their outings begins before they reach their destination.
“You'd be surprised, people [driving] just have these blank faces and then all of a sudden they see you, and they look at you, and they're talking to their family, and they’re like, ‘Look!’ They're taking pictures, so I think that's kind of a therapeutic nature of it as well, just people driving around not expecting it and next thing you know there's an alpaca in front of you in a tiny white car!”
Before Drew left the facility in Kimberly, he and Sprite were already invited back to visit with residents again.
He’ll have the next two months to tour Sprite around town, before taking off to South America for a two-year mission trip.