STOW — The humming you hear from a Goldfinch Trail residence is music to resident Scott Westberg’s ears.
His "family pets" hum at various pitches as a means of communicating with him. Far from the Andes, four thick-coated and variously colored alpacas — Spud, Daphne, Loretta and Scooby — revel in Westberg’s hilly and sun-dappled fenced-in backyard.
During a neighborhood block party, Westberg said, Scooby, a 4-month-old white male, was "quite a hit" in the pet parade. "Most people really like them," he said.
However, the alpacas have not received a warm welcome from all the neighbors. Susan Walker, of Uniontown, told City Council recently that her mother, Marilyn, has lived in Stow for about 60 years, and has resided on Goldfinch Trail for more than 40 years. Walker alleged Westberg has created a nuisance situation, smell-wise, with his choice of pets. While Stow Planning Director Rob Kurtz said he is not aware of anything in the zoning code that specifically prohibits alpacas, he said a nuisance compliance letter was sent to Westberg, who addressed the situation. At-Large City Council member Mike Rasor is working with Kurtz to draft legislation to address situations involving unusual animals in Stow.
Westburg, a regional director for Family Video, moved into the community in March, but he said he’s been involved with llamas and alpacas for 22 years. His passion for the South America camelids was ignited in high school in Wisconsin when he got a job training them to pull wagons in parades. "We actually broke a world record for having the longest team of animals pulling a wagon through a parade — we had 72 in a line as long as a city block," he recalled with pride. "Ever since I was just hooked," he said.
Westberg said he believes people fall in love with alpacas so quickly because of their large, expressive eyes and the fluffy, often silly, tufts of hair on their heads. They are very gentle animals, he reports, frequently mistaken for their larger cousins, llamas. Alpacas, however, produce a more luxurious wool, he said.
While Westberg has shown llamas and alpacas in performance-type events in the past, he said the foursome he has now are simply companion animals. "Alpacas make better pets than traditional pets like as dogs and cats," he said. For instance, he said they are quieter than a dog, they are naturally trained to go to the bathroom in one spot, and they eat pellets like a rabbit so their droppings smell less than a dog’s. The added benefit, he said, is the fleece they produce. With pads and nails on their feet, instead of hooves, Westberg said his alpacas can come into the house without the fear they’ll scratch the floor. The only drawback, he said, is the fact alpacas are herd animals — so if you invite one inside, all four are coming. "They form very tight-knit bonds," he explains, "and don’t like to be separated. That makes them anxious, upset. Otherwise, they’re very easy-going and laid-back."
Alpacas are more tolerant of cold conditions than extreme heat and typically live between 20 and 25 years. Daphne is the eldest of Westberg’s alpacas at 13 years old; Loretta is 8, Spud is 6 and Scooby is 4 months. Westberg’s fiancee, Sigga Jackson, helps care for them. While she wasn’t well acquainted with alpacas before meeting Westberg, Jackson said she now "adores" them.
Westberg said he wants to be a good neighbor and hopes to share the joy alpacas give him. He notes alpacas have emerged as pet therapy animals, something he may consider exploring in the future. He’s done educational outreach with the animals in the past and said most people can’t resist their fuzzy faces or the happy humming.
Reporter Ellin Walsh can be reached at 330-541-9419, firstname.lastname@example.org or @EllinWalsh_RPC.