Shear inspiration

Alumna Marty McGee Bennett has learned life lessons from her llamas and alpacas

Shear inspiration

Marty McGee Bennett

Photo by: Special

Marty McGee Bennett (BSA ’78) remembers gazing into the eyes of a llama for the first time in the early 1980s. After receiving rejections from every veterinary school she applied to, she was surprised to find that moment the precipice of her life’s true calling.

“It was like I had fallen in love with someone,” McGee Bennett says. “I was smitten.”

Llamas were a novelty in the U.S. back then, and interested buyers were put on a four-to-five-year waiting list. But McGee Bennett decided the animals were worth the wait. She had just spent five years in the U.S. Army, a career decision she made after she did not get into veterinary school, and was living in western New York. It was there she became interested in spinning and weaving and she bought a number of exotic sheep, which she sheared for their wool. An article about llamas in Smithsonian Magazine inspired her to explore new sources of fiber.

“Llamas were very new to the U.S.,” she says. “People thought they were unusual, and I had never seen them before reading that article.”

Once McGee Bennett received her first two llamas she found that they were easy to care for. Other animals she owned required more time and attention, such as a difficult black stallion she was trying to train. After attending a horse-training clinic held by renowned trainer Linda Tellington-Jones, however, McGee Bennett realized she could learn a lot more about her llamas as well.

“At the clinic I was so impressed by her training method,” she says. “It involved no force, no restraint and no dominance. It was more of a partnership, which was a very avant-garde idea at the time.”

McGee Bennett began to work alongside Tellington-Jones, but she quickly branched out from horse training and applied relational methods to llamas and alpacas.

In 2001 she published her first book, CAMELIDynamics, on the training method she had developed based on Tellington-Jones’ ideas. Camelid refers to llamas, alpacas and all other animals classified in the biological family camelidae.

“The secret to CAMELIDynamics is to understand how your behavior affects them,” she says. “The goal is to make trainers less threatening.”

CAMELIDynamics focuses on restraint-free handling that offers alternatives to threatening human behaviors. It teaches people to have better relationships with llamas and alpacas while effectively gleaning their wool.

McGee Bennett now holds training seminars for veterinarians and veterinary students throughout the U.S. In addition to speaking at more than half of the country’s vet teaching hospitals, she has given standing-room-only lectures for show-ring trainers in Peru.

“I always start by teaching the value of catching llamas in unthreatening ways,” she says. “Llamas are shy and unless they know better they’re going to run from anything frightening." 

In addition to her work as a teacher and lecturer McGee Bennett has recorded seven instructional videos and written two more books since CAMELIDynamics. In her most recent book, The Problem with Weight is NOT Losing It, she explains how animal training techniques have helped her maintain weight loss for the past three years.

“I realized the key to making llamas feel safe is balance, but I was out of balance in my own animal, which was my body,” she says. “I used the animals as a metaphor for balancing myself.”

McGee Bennett not only sees herself as someone who has attained her desired weight, she knows she has found the vocation she always hoped for.

“In the end I’m glad I didn’t get into vet school,” she says. “I don’t know if it would have gotten me where I am today.”

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