Meet Jasper

BY: EMMA LANGSCHIED

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Wholeheartedly absorbed by the melting colors of the Californian sunset, I initially ignored my friend’s casual announcement, “There’s a llama on the beach!” “Actually it’s an alpaca,” came a voice from behind us. Turning around, without a doubt, there was a cheeky little alpaca face staring right back at us. “His name is Jasper,” said Sharon Turner, mother of Kaylynn Turner – Jasper’s owner.

Jasper isn’t your average alpaca; he is the only registered therapy alpaca in the state.

“He’s kind of a friend more than an animal,” said Kaylynn.

Kaylynn, 14, bought Jasper with her own money when she was 10 years old. Although originally intended as a pet, Jasper’s unique personality allowed him to become qualified to treat people throughout illness, disability or other difficulties.

She got her idea to use Jasper to help people from a family friend.

“Our friend Mr. Dennis had cancer and he had alpacas,” Kaylynn explained. “He told me that alpacas are his best medicine. So, I took that and wanted to share [Jasper] with people.”

“I was very proud of her,” Sharon said. “She didn’t just want to share her funny looking animal with people; she wanted to really make a difference and make people happy and feel better. I think maybe Jasper looks to her as a herd mate.”

Perhaps the first question to spring to mind is: how on earth could an alpaca be a registered therapist? Therapy animals have become a phenomenon in recent years, particularly dogs. CSULB’s University Student Union, for instance, started to bring in therapy dogs during final exams when studying became strenuous on students.

Interaction with animals also has health benefits on those suffering from depression, according to the Animal Health Foundation.

Jasper is a new twist on therapy animals, being one of just five registered alpacas on the planet. His quirky face and character heals people’s moods instantly, just by being around them. He is also an exciting alternative to repetitive and dull physical therapy—for stroke patients especially. Jasper becomes the motivation they need to push them into improving their motor skills.

In fact, Kaylynn’s most valued times with Jasper are when they visit nursing homes.

“The caretakers would tell us that there was someone who hadn’t reacted in months, or years maybe, but they’ll pet him, feed him and brush him —sometimes even talk to him,” Kaylynn said.

Jasper now does school visits, private home visits, library visits, wherever he’s needed (unless there’s a polished floor) in order to brighten someone’s day. He is not afraid of wheelchairs, walkers or oxygen machines, which also enables him to visit patients and their families in hospitals and hospices across Southern California.

Jasper is very calm and still by nature.

“Not many alpacas will let you really pet them and go up to them and stand by them, but he would,” Kaylynn said.

“He stands so still,” Sharon added. “We’ve had people in the library think that he was fake, then all of a sudden he’ll move his head and they jump a little and say, ‘Oh my goodness, we didn’t know that he was alive!’”

Newport Beach resident Cathy Greer sold Jasper to Kaylynn.

“I was there when he was born,” Greer said. “I was at the point of my life when my kids were grown up and I was going through a ‘what now?’ phase... and he just kind of filled that spot.”

When the time came for Greer to hand Jasper over, she didn’t begrudge it.

“At first it was hard to see him go,” Greer said. “But he fell in love with her, so I knew that they belonged together and I knew he was hers from the moment they met.”

The endearing bond between Jasper and Kaylynn being shared with those in need has captured the hearts of thousands of people.

For three years running, Jasper has treated people at the annual Muscular Dystrophy Camp in San Diego, which was filmed last year for Disney Channel as inspiration for children all over the world.

The camp provides many muscular dystrophy patients their first opportunity to interact with an animal that isn’t a cat or a dog.

“That makes them feel a little more independent,” Sharon said. “And yes, Jasper has watched himself on TV but he doesn’t let it get to his head.”

Sharon is very proud of her daughter and thrilled that her kindness has been recognized.

“It’s a little interesting when I’d be in another room and the TV would be on and all of a sudden I’d hear my child.” Sharon said.

Traveling with an alpaca to events is never boring for the Turner women, and understandably turns a lot of heads with jaws dropping in Jasper’s direction.

Responses from the public are unpredictable. Kaylynn and her mother have witnessed endless reactions to Jasper when they’re out and about.

Recently, people have stopped their cars in the middle of the street causing horrendous traffic jams.

“We’ve really had to duck behind buildings so that traffic could get going again,” Sharon said. “I don’t want to be the cause of a collision.”

The effect that Jasper had on an 8-year-old boy was the most unexpected and hilarious by far according to Sharon.

Walking next to his parent, the boy suddenly screeched, “Oh my gosh! Look at that big-ass camel!”

Well actually, he’s an alpaca, but we’ll let him off this time.