WASHINGTION TOWNSHIP | Danielle Polito realizes how lucky she is to show llamas at the Porter County Fair.
"They're unique animals," said Danielle, 13, of Valparaiso. "Not a lot of kids get to work with them."
Danielle and her llama, named Obama, participated in the fair's llama competition Saturday. Beginner, intermediate and advanced 4-Hers vied in obstacle, public relations, leaping llama and llama limbo classes.
Danielle led Obama through the pack course in the livestock barn. The course, made to resemble a walk in the woods, required Obama to walk around potted trees, cross over fallen branches and wade across a shallow "pond."
Like most of the 4-Hers in the project, Danielle does not own Obama, but spends at least 20 hours at a local llama farm feeding, training, grooming and cleaning up after him.
Fran Kras and her husband, Harold Woodridge, brought Obama and his brother, YoMama, to their Westville farm five years ago.
"It was supposed to be temporary, but we fell in love with them," said Kras, of Westville.
Kras gave Obama his name "because he's very smart -- and it rhymes with llama."
"They're a lot of fun," said Woodridge. "They're easier to take care of than dogs. They really don't do anything. We think of them as ambulatory landscaping."
Although llamas can spit when they are agitated, Danielle said Obama is "sweet and easy to handle." She would love to have llamas of her own.
"We could give them to her as a graduation present when she's a senior," Kras said, "but then her mother would never speak to me again."
Kras said it is a joy to work with Danielle and the llama project.
"We don't have kids of our own, so she's our summer rental," Kras said. "She's very dedicated and treats them with respect."
Katie Reif has shown llamas for three of her four years in 4-H. Her show llama is 13-year-old Miriah, owned by Leann and Rusty Benninger, the project superintendents.
"She's not bad tempered, but she's stubborn sometimes," Katie, 12, said of the llama. "And she loves to eat."
Katie said Miriah has taught her a lot.
"I've learned to be patient," Katie said. "I have to work to get what I want, and I have to put my trust in Miriah that she won't ... freak out on me."
Benninger said every event is a learning experience for the 12 kids in the project.
"Doug Overman is our skilled judge who can tell the kids what they're doing right and wrong," Benninger said.
The llama competition continues at 9 a.m. Sunday with showmanship, ground driving and costume class.
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