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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
As told to Emine Saner

The pet I’ll never forget: Mrs Hinch on her alpacas, ‘who fill my garden with happiness’

(From left) Rodney, Roy and Raymond, the alpacas that belong to Sophie Hinchliffe, AKA Mrs Hinch
‘They’re so fluffy!’ (From left) Rodney, Roy and Raymond. Photograph: Supplied image

I loved alpacas when I was a child, but never did I think I would own three. I love their little faces and the fact that they are big, but so gentle. They are very shy and not very confident.

We moved house last year and our new home has a bit of land. I had always wanted to have more animals; I read up on everything about alpacas for so long that it came to the point where I was like: “Right, I’m going to go for it. We could give them a wonderful home.” And we have.

We chose Raymond, Roy and Rodney as crias, or babies, visiting them at a local breeder before they came to live with us, so it was nice to watch them grow. I took my two young sons to see how they reacted to them; I wanted to make sure they liked them and felt comfortable.

Mrs Hinch, AKA Sophie Hinchliffe, with her alpacas
‘If they want a cuddle, I’m always there’ … Mrs Hinch, AKA Sophie Hinchliffe, with her alpacas. Photograph: Supplied image

Our breeder idolises alpacas; she taught me so much. Getting the right place and making sure everything is ready for them is vital. Also, because they are herd animals, you need to have at least three; they never leave each other’s sides. It’s a big decision and a huge commitment. The lifespan of an alpaca is about 15 to 20 years.

Alpacas don’t enjoy a lot of human interaction; they are very timid. Raymond is shier than the other two. I think people can get confused, because you just want to hug them – they are so fluffy. But you really have to build up a relationship with an alpaca. They are gentle, curious personalities, but you have to spend a lot of time with them to build up enough trust even to be able to touch them.

They fill my home, or rather my garden, with happiness. That said, they do come into the house sometimes, which is hilarious. Roy struts into the kitchen when he hears the plates because he thinks there will be some spare raisins going. I have to get him out of there.

They provide me with so much stress relief. Some things can get overwhelming – busy days, whether it’s work, school, kids, the house, emails, social media – and you need to have five minutes of no noise. Because they are so quiet, I go over and sit with them by their hay; they will come up and sniff my forehead and maybe have a little nibble at my hair. They completely switch me off from any other thoughts during that time. I am fascinated by them.

Because they are large animals, you need to make sure that they know you are in charge – you need to be sure everyone is safe. They know that I am the boss, but I am always there if they want a cuddle. They look for me a lot and if they can’t see me, they make a strange humming sound, so I have to go out and let them know I am still there. Sometimes, I can hear them from my bedroom.

They run over to me whenever I come through the back gate, as if to say: “Mum’s home.” They make the most amazing noises, which I learned from looking online is them saying: “We trust you, we’re happy.” When I hear that, it makes me so happy, too, because I know I have done my job right.

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