Llama, meet the Panther Club

Jordan Bolen, 9, pets a llama named Trent during a Panther Club meeting in Loveland. Enlarge photo

Jenny Sparks / Loveland Daily Reporter-Herald

Jordan Bolen, 9, pets a llama named Trent during a Panther Club meeting in Loveland.

LOVELAND – Trent the llama softly hummed one recent afternoon as Stan Ebel praised his attributes – smart, perceptive and gentle – to 35 Cottonwood Plains Elementary School students.

The students, who are members of the school’s Panther Club, wanted to know what noises the 18-year-old gelding makes.

Ebel said Trent hums, sounding irritated, quizzical or afraid depending on his circumstances. He asked the children to be quiet on the count of three.

Of course, Trent stared off to the side, not making a sound.

“He’s been humming pretty consistently,” Ebel said.

Ebel, of Buckhorn Llama Co. Inc. in Masonville, brought Trent to the Panther Club, which meets in a newly renovated trailer at the Lago Vista neighborhood.

The enrichment writing club – founded two years ago to provide students living in the mobile-home park with additional learning and writing opportunities – had met in the neighborhood’s clubhouse until last spring.

For insurance reasons, the trailer park discontinued making the clubhouse available to the Panther Club, said Laney Howard, instructional coach at Cottonwood Plains and club founder and co-leader. Howard approached her church, Faith Evangelical Church, which agreed to purchase a trailer for the school.

In fall 2011, the club did not meet while club and school volunteers renovated the trailer at No. 135. The volunteers removed a wall to provide a classroom space, redid the flooring, installed new windows and repainted the walls.

By January, the club’s 42 regular members could return to meeting one hour a week. The trailer opened one hour on Mondays for homework help for Lago Vista students in grades K-12.

Howard, together with Samara Cohen, English language acquisition teacher at the school, lead the Panther Club with the help of 15 volunteers who come from the church and the school.

The club’s main program includes a snack, a speaker and a writing exercise, in which students write about something from the speaker’s presentation.

The idea is for students to improve their self-esteem, build their background knowledge and be exposed to new experiences, Howard said.

“I think we enjoy the presenters, the opportunity for these kids to have a special time,” she said.

Last week, Ebel explained that llamas are pack animals native to South America. They are herbivores with a prehensile cleft palette for grasping food and other objects.

“They’re not like any other domestic animals in the U.S.,” Ebel said. “They’re very self-sufficient and have a low-key disposition.”

Ebel, with the help of Loveland pasture owner Ed Leon, demonstrated putting a saddle and two packs onto Trent’s back.

“If you have these overloaded, they’ll lie down,” Ebel said.

At the end of his presentation, the students wrote a few sentences describing what they learned about llamas and took turns petting Trent.

“It’s a real cool opportunity to pet a llama. His fur is real soft and stuff,” said Jordan Bolen, a third-grader at Cottonwood Plains.

Marie Muriel, also a third-grader, likes the packing ability of llamas.

“They’re like your own storage, a walking storage to carry all the things you need while you travel,” Marie said.