12-year-old llama keeper wins hearts, costume contest at Spokane County Interstate Fair

September 16, 2018

Kayla Wiggins and her llama Argento know how to capture an audience.

“I am a salad and my llama is a lettuce patch thingy,” she said into the microphone in front of the judges on Saturday at the Spokane County Interstate Fair’s llama costume contest.

She and her wheelchair were decked with green tissue paper for salad leaves and halved orange golf balls for tomatoes. Argento was likewise bedecked in green paper.

Wiggins, 12, lost her legs because of bone cancer. But she’s found llama keeping as an outlet and she inspires others along the way. Once, she dressed up as a shark bite victim, with Argento as a shark.

“He doesn’t care about the wheelchair,” she said. “He’s like a dog. He chews up our things and he lets me pet his head.”

She remembers the day he was born on her grandparents’ farm in Spokane, which they bought just to encourage her llama keeping.

“It’s kind of just a blob and then there’s a baby,” she said.

Wiggins, a student at Medical Lake Middle School, said she wants to be a therapist when she grows up, much like her own therapist, who introduced her to the world of llama keeping by giving Wiggins her first one.

“I started at 8, and I had an alpaca named Joey,” she said.

On Saturday, Wiggins had tough competition in the costume contest. One of her competitors had sewn a full, custom-fitted wedding dress for her llama, with pantaloons and all.

Her grandpa, Tim Wiggins, dressed up as a popcorn vendor with another of their llamas to accompany her during judging.

“Between rock climbing, basketball and snow skiing, this is what she’s really turned to,” he said. “She’s done really well against people that have been doing this for 20, 30 years.”

“I’m known for my costumes,” she said.

The judges Saturday observed Wiggins and her competitors as they strode in a circle. They looked for calm manners in the llamas and costumes that covered the majority of the animals’ bodies.

The lead judge announced the winners to the crowd. “We’re giving our champion ribbon to the tossed salad,” said judge Sarah Nicholls into the microphone.

The crown cheered and applauded. Wiggins smiled.

“She has a great attitude that really makes a difference,” Nicholls said afterward. “Kayla and her llama are a great team.”

On Sunday, Wiggins is competing in her biggest event of the fair between 8:30 a.m. and 3 p.m., the llama halter jumping event.

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