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Making online meetings more 'wild'

Their hair is a fright. They won't contribute anything. But they might hum, snort, or chew on some pellets. They are, however, outstanding in their field.

Posted: Apr 24, 2020 7:00 PM

OLD FORGE, N.Y. -- Their hair is a fright. They won't contribute anything. But they might hum, snort, or chew on some pellets. They are, however, outstanding in their field.

Moose River Farm, in Old Forge, is renting out animals to appear in workplace Zoom meetings.

The owner had seen farms out west doing the same thing, on social media. She took one look at her own beautiful brood and knew what she had to do. A recent Zoom meeting looked something akin to an episode of Hollywood Squares, with humans in every square except the bottom right. There stood a curious-looking llama, brown and white, with large, kind, eyes and an unruly crop of hair nearly obscuring them.

"They just bring lift to people during these really dire times when there's just so much concentration on what's going on with the virus and the economy so we just want to bring a lift to people's spirits," said Anne Phinney. "It's the ice breaker for the meeting. Usually the person who runs the meeting has arranged it so all of a sudden their colleauges are smiling and laughing...they might ask a couple questions."

A small fee helps care for the animals, as long llama walks have been cut short by the coronavirus.

"Right now we're not able to do our trekking and we have a huge hay bill, so everything helps. No, I don't want to charge too much because I want it to be feasible to people plus I love sharing the llamas," said Phinney.

The Utica Zoo is feeling it, too.

"This is our peak season and it is hurting us. We have expenses that are not going to go away," says Utica Zoo Executive Director Andria Heath.

Heath is excited for the Zoo's animals to brighten up business meetings online.

"We have a Sumatra chicken, her name is Po, she's pure black and she's just beautiful so maybe Po will have her own square, or maybe people will put their video so that she's the center, like you would a powerpoint slide and then maybe our keeper could answer questions about her and her life," said Heath. "Sometimes you need something to bring you together as a team and maybe our animals can help do that."

You can inquire about availabilty and price at uticazoo.org and mooseriverfarm.com.

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