‘Llama drama’ owners say US draws line against appearances
PHOENIX (AP) — The llamas that became a social media sensation running around a Phoenix-area retirement enclave last month are saying goodbye to the spotlight with one last event Saturday.
Kahkneeta and Laney, whose televised dash mesmerized the Internet and Sun City residents, will likely be making their final public appearance at a Phoenix race track, according to owners Bub Bullis and Karen Freund.
The llama drama that spawned jokes and Twitter hashtags also got the attention of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Freund said.
“If this opens up a can of worms where everybody across the country gets shut down doing this, that’s really unfair,” Freund said. “That’s really a horrible thing to do to people who benefit from them.”
A USDA official contacted the owners shortly after the Feb. 26 incident, saying they needed a license to showcase their llamas or even allow people to snap photos of them, the couple said. Neither was aware of such a policy. The husband and wife, who are both retired Phoenix police officers, had planned to continue offering the llamas for therapy and educational purposes.
“They just totally destroyed everything I had planned for my retirement,” Freund said. “We’ve taken them to schools before. Now they’re telling me I can’t do anything, even like a photo shoot.”
Freund said she is frustrated because the USDA won’t respond to any of her follow-up calls about the matter because everything has to be in writing. So they are giving up for now.
USDA national and state offices did not immediately return messages Friday seeking comment.
The couple began raising llamas nine years ago. They currently care for nine.
Most of their llamas are used to being around people at parades and other events. Bullis said he’s still not sure what spooked Kahkneeta, a 4-year-old white llama, to run off while visiting a senior living facility in Sun City.
“We figured she would come back. That was a lesson learned. I couldn’t believe she didn’t come back,” Bullis said.
Laney, a 1-year-old black llama, then got loose and followed Kahkneeta. What unfolded over the next few hours has become the stuff of social media legend. Twitter exploded with reactions to the live broadcast of the fugitive llamas. Trending hashtags included #LlamasOnTheLoose and #TEAMLLAMAS. Arizona U.S. Sen. John McCain and the Arizona Cardinals football team even got in on the tweets. The football team tweeted salary offers in hay, which the couple is still hoping to collect.
Since then, Bullis and Freund said things have quieted down except for more requests for llamas at small city events. The couple said they are only at Turf Paradise this weekend because that was scheduled before the great llama escape. Next month, they and the llamas will be moving about 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of Phoenix to Chino Valley.
“They will just be on the farm and if somebody drives by and takes a picture, I guess I’ll get a fine,” Freund said.