Alpacas join birthday parties, business meetings as New York farm offers video calls with furry friends

·5 min read

In times of crisis, it is not uncommon for people to turn to animals for comfort.

Many have adopted shelter dogs and cats during the coronavirus quarantine in record-high numbers, but for those who still lack the resources or ability to fully adopt, foster or interact with an animal during this time, technology lends the ability for people to find that closeness with their favorite animals virtually.

Ashley Yakaboski, of Baiting Hollow, New York is currently quarantined on her family’s alpaca farm where she’s offering customers the opportunity to hop on a Zoom call with the animals to send a little furry love to those who are craving it the most.

"I'm very fortunate to be quarantined on my family's alpaca farm, where most of my friends are still in NYC, quarantined in their apartments," Yakaboski tells Yahoo Life. "Having the opportunity to walk outside and be engulfed in nature has been very helpful in keeping my mind at ease during these times. With my friends in NYC, I have been sending them pictures of the alpacas, and they keep telling me how they wish they were here. That got me thinking, 'How can I bring the farm to them?'"

Ashley Yakaboski snaps a selfie with her alpaca, Ultres, at Red Barn Farm in Baiting Hollow, New York. (Photo: Ashley Yakaboski)
Ashley Yakaboski snaps a selfie with her alpaca, Ultres, at Red Barn Farm in Baiting Hollow, New York. (Photo: Ashley Yakaboski)

Red Barn Farm, located in Baiting Hollow, is what Yakaboski calls a “five-acre dream, where any kid would be happy to grow up.”

She adds, "We are what you would call a hidden gem on Long Island."

Yakaboski first had the idea of offering the Zoom sessions when she returned home after being furloughed from her job in New York City.

“I realized I could use Zoom to help me bring my alpacas to those who may need some positive energy as well as keep myself motivated in my day-to-day,” she shares.

Yakaboski posted about the sessions on her personal Facebook page on Monday, where customers are encouraged to email her to set up a date and time for the call, which can include Q&As, watching an alpaca feeding and even celebrating birthdays with the animals. A 20-minute session costs $45.

"We had a birthday Zoom session the other day, where a coworker arranged the session to surprise the birthday girl," Yakaboski says.

Ultres the alpaca helps a Zoom caller celebrate her birthday. (Photo: Ashley Yakaboski)
Ultres the alpaca helps a Zoom caller celebrate her birthday. (Photo: Ashley Yakaboski)

Heather Sloven, a regional sales manager at LinkedIn, recently set up a session with the alpacas for a team meeting over Zoom.

"I prepared my team with a short speech about how even though there is a lot of negative news right now, there are still simple joys in the world like alpacas and how important that is right now to have a good mindset and stay positive," Sloven tells Yahoo Life.

When the alpacas graced the screen, they were an instant hit.

"[Ashley] fed the alpacas during the call so they really were up close and personal with the screen. She was great," Sloven says. "What was really incredible was the team's reaction to it. They loved it and it gave them just 30 minutes to not have to think about anything other than how cute those alpacas were ... I felt grateful and a little lighter. It was super enjoyable to hang with some alpacas for the day."

A LinkedIn team is surprised mid-meeting with the Red Barn Farm alpacas. (Photo: Heather Sloven)
A LinkedIn team is surprised mid-meeting with the Red Barn Farm alpacas. (Photo: Heather Sloven)

Joe Strawitz, a corporate consultant at LinkedIn was on the call when the team was joined by the unexpected guests.

“We didn’t know there were alpacas waiting for us so it was a surprise,” Strawitz tells Yahoo Life. “Working in sales has been very difficult and in this environment, it can take a toll on morale. Seeing alpacas really helped lift our spirits up and keep us motivated and connected. Ashley was great and also added to the experience because having a good host I think is crucial.”

The animals not only set the tone for the team’s meeting but for the rest of the day, Strawitz says.

“My favorite part about the experience was that even when we had to address a few business topics, the alpacas were on mute and still present so I felt like they were a really good addition to the entire 30-minute meeting …It also helped my phone calls later that day!”

Biali (left) and Dylan (right) hanging out on Red Barn Farm. (Photo: Ashley Yakaboski)
Biali (left) and Dylan (right) hanging out on Red Barn Farm. (Photo: Ashley Yakaboski)

The reality of the coronavirus pandemic has hit the Yakaboski family especially hard, as Ashley's mother, Donna Yakaboski, is currently working on the front lines as a nurse at Stony Brook University Hospital in Stony Brook, New York.

"Working 12-hour night shifts in COVID units has been frustrating, overwhelming and exhausting for her," Yakaboski says. "She is consistently putting her patients first, where sometimes that leaves her with no time for herself during her long shifts. My mom being a fighter and the strong woman I know, I am proud of her during this time, even though I can see it is taking a physical and mental toll on her."

It's been the alpacas and being "surrounded by nature,” Yakaboski says, that have offered solace in what has become a difficult time.

"People could always use an alpaca smile and positive energy, and I am happy to be part of that,” she says.

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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