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The man behind the llama

JEFFERSON -- Larry McCool can’t even make a doctor’s appointment without consulting his llama’s schedule.

But he said he doesn’t “own” celebrity camelid Caesar the No Drama Llama — they’re “partners.”

Anyone who’s been to a convention, fair, rally or protest in downtown Corvallis, Eugene, Portland or Salem since 2018 has probably met McCool. But they would have been distracted from the 66-year-old by Caesar, his 350-pound fluffy companion who loves humans and hugs. McCool considers Caesar a “therapy llama,” but his therapeutic properties come naturally.

“I’ve never trained Caesar to do anything,” McCool said. “That’s what makes Caesar so very unusual. Llamas are very standoffish. He is so sociable. I wish I could take credit for it, but that’s just his temperament.”

McCool and his wife, Leonora, own Mystic Llama Farm in Jefferson. With the help of their border collie named Luke, the McCools tend to 15 llamas on their 5-acre property.

A lifelong livestock farmer, McCool said he fell in love with llamas after visiting a farm where they were herded 24 years ago.

“I’ve had them ever since,” he said.

It wasn’t enough to just own llamas, though. McCool said he needed a pragmatic use for them. So he started looking into selling llama fiber — or hair — about 12 years ago. McCool started a llama fiber co-op with 15 Oregon farms, and business exploded.

What started as the Pacific Northwest Llama Fiber Cooperative became the Llama Fiber Cooperative of North America, the largest of its kind on the continent. McCool’s vision is now a network of 140 farms in 23 states and two Canadian provinces providing llama fibers for blankets, socks, rugs, sweaters and more.

Mid-valley fans of Pendleton Woolen Mills, for example, may actually have Llama Fiber Co-op products in their possession. Perhaps some of the hypoallergenic material, if it was local, came from the famous Caesar himself.

The 6-year-old has “a long career ahead of him,” full of shearing and therapy llamaing, as his species tends to live an average of 20 years.

Caesar isn’t McCool’s first therapy llama. He’s the successor to Chick A Boom, a 15-year-old geezer who retired five years ago from the circuit of nursing home and elementary school visits now made by Caesar. After McCool took Caesar to the Oregon State Fair for the first time a few years ago, he knew he’d hit the jackpot for chill, personable llamas once again.

“Caesar just took it to a new level,” he said. “He is just so regal and amazing.”

Caesar’s fame began in February 2019, when he accompanied McCool on a Portland MAX light rail train to Wizard Con at the Oregon Convention Center. After the Oregonian confirmed the llama’s — albeit not allowed — presence on the train, national news outlets alerted the general public to the existence of a No Drama Llama.

Caesar now has close to 13,000 followers on Instagram and over 15,000 likes on Facebook and has made numerous appearances on television.

Despite the attention, Caesar hasn’t strayed from his roots.

“I’ve been involved in politics and political events and protests and rallies all my life,” McCool said. “Anybody can go to a cause, but if the llama shows up people have said, ‘It’s not a protest until Caesar shows up.’”

McCool said he’s spent around $500 a month on gasoline in the past year just to get Caesar from event to event, including 12 Black Lives Matter rallies in Portland. Because so many people want to hug the llama, McCool made a 6-foot leash for social distancing so he wouldn’t be in Caesar’s way.

“If he could drive,” McCool added, “I wouldn’t get invited to anything.”

But nothing can replace the smile on people’s faces that McCool also gets to experience whenever Caesar comes around.

“I get about as much out of it as they do,” he said. “When I get to share him with people, it’s totally rewarding. The best unpaid job I ever had.”

McCool accepts requests for Caesar to make appearances at charitable events. Those who are interested may send an email to mysticllamafarm@yahoo.com.

Larry McCool, 66, is the handler behind social media star Caesar the No Drama Llama. Nia Tariq, Mid-Valley Media