CHARLEY ROSENBERRY ’77 still couldn’t tell you why he said yes to the llama.
Best he can recall, he simply acted on impulse that day in 1990 when a friend arrived at his home on Vashon Island, outside Seattle, and, gesturing toward Rosenberry’s expansive pastureland, asked if he’d be interested in caring for an old llama. Rosenberry had never owned one and didn’t know what it would entail. He agreed anyway.
Nearly 30 years later, he owns six of them, and his initial fascination with the docile creatures has turned into a fulltime avocation. Rosenberry, who retired from his law career in 2017, now spends his days organizing pack trips into the Cascade Mountains helping to resupply trail crews working for weeks in the forest. Each carrying 70 to 80 pounds of gear, the llamas are surprisingly nimble on slick and treacherous terrain other pack animals like horses or mules couldn’t handle.
“They’re very sure-footed, similar to an elk or a mountain goat,” Rosenberry says. “They’re also very low maintenance. They don’t require that much water. We don’t even have to take additional food for them.”
Besides putting the llamas to work for the trail crews, Rosenberry developed a relationship with veterans through several local organizations and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Wounded Warrior Project five years ago. He now leads weeklong hikes for veterans who have recently returned from combat. The llamas serve partly as valets, helping those veterans who are no longer able to carry much weight with their tents and belongings, and also as a form of therapy.
“The vets really become attached to them,” Rosenberry says. “It’s a very meaningful experience for them.”
Rosenberry can relate. The Colorado native was always an avid outdoorsman, and after spending four years in relatively flat Litchfield County, Connecticut, to attend Taft, he longed to return to the backcountry after graduating. So he headed back west to Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, where he could more easily hike, fish, and continue his lacrosse career, his favorite sport.
But in 1986, Rosenberry was injured in a car accident, which left him unable to carry as much on his back as required for the sort of hiking and camping he loved. After taking in that first llama four years later, he “started to read up on them and find out what they’re capable of doing,” he says. “The pieces started coming together.”
The first llama was a bit too old to be a “packer,” but Rosenberry soon added to his herd. He also shears his animals after the winter. “I have a handful of people who love to use the wool to spin to make gloves or caps, so I just give it to them,” he says. “It’s a lot of work.”
Until recently, his time spent with the llamas was limited by his day job. Always thinking he would go into biology, Rosenberry discovered a passion for law while at Whitman, which was located not far from the state penitentiary. In those days, the prison, he says, was in “complete turmoil.”
“The inmates ran the place,” Rosenberry says. “The motorcycle gangs could run their bikes around the running track. It was chaotic.”
Nonetheless, Rosenberry began volunteering and speaking with inmates, seeking to understand more about incarceration and criminal justice. It was Taft, he says, that made him want to pursue a law degree and, eventually, devote his career toward advocating for juveniles caught up on the wrong side of the justice system, which he did for 30 years.
“I always loved Taft’s message of service and giving back,” Rosenberry says. “I can’t say that was central, but that message always resonated with me.”
Now he’s gone full-time from law to llamas. Rosenberry is devoting his energy these days toward helping animals in need. He recently helped rescue a llama that had been abandoned by its owner, earning the animal’s trust in order to capture it and bring it to an adoption agency.
“It’s the spice of life,” Rosenberry says. “You never know how things are going to shake out. I love what I’m doing.”
—Zach Schonbrun ’05