Phil Luciano: Peorian, llamas forced to part ways

Phil Luciano

Karen Wakeland cries about her evicted llamas.

As she admits, she'd sob over separation from any of the beloved critters on her property.

"I have animals all over," says Wakeland, 52. "I love animals."

Wakeland's wooded, full-acre spread looks as if it rests amid a rural setting. But the land, west of Illinois Route 29 and north of Peoria Heights, actually sits inside the city limits of Peoria.

Her family has been there for decades, over which time animal ordinances have changed. Lately, Wakeland has been wrangling with the city over which pets she can keep.

She'll be allowed to keep her goats, likely the last livestock ever to be legally allowed in the city. But her pair of llamas have got to go.

"All these animals, they're my family," says Wakeland, who shares the place with her patient, understanding husband, Dan.

"We've been married 34 years, and he puts up with all this," she says with a smile.

Wakeland keeps a pile of deeds for the land, which go back to 1818 and bear the name of President James Monroe. In 1930, her granddad bought the site.

The address is actually just a private driveway. It pokes into East Koch Drive, a crumbled strip of pavement that intersects with Illinois Route 29, just south of Jill's eatery.

Just a few houses sit alongside East Koch Drive, a dead end after it wends up the bluff. Wakeland's land sits next to 55 acres of woods.

In other words, this looks like the country. However, for reasons no one seems to recall, the city annexed the property in 1966. It fell into Wakeland's hands years ago.

Her house is home to four tiny dogs and couple of cockatiels. Outside, she keeps two 160-pound Rottweilers in a huge pen. Three koi ponds host hefty goldfish, along with two needy, rescued turtles: one is missing a leg, the other has an eye infection.

Wakeland also keeps a wide, chain-link pen for five pygmy goats: Radiator, Miko, Chloe, Cletus and Mylea. She says they're descendants of goats there long before the annexation.

A few years back, she bought a pair of llamas: Otis and Milo. They also went into the goat pen, and they all got along well.

"They hum," she says of llamas. " ... They don't spit, like people say, unless they're scared."

Other animals had been there over the years, as well: ducks, sheep and (briefly) a hog -- but none for slaughter.

"They are pets only," she says.

She spends a small fortune every year to feed the animals, update their shots and heat their pens.

"CILCO loves me," she says.

The pens are kept clean; you can smell no manure or other stink. That's one reason why she gets a lot of visitors.

"I have a lot of people who bring their kids to see my animals," Wakeland says.

No one ever complained about the animal collection, until recently. Someone -- Wakeland isn't sure who, possibly a fellow who has had unrelated disagreements with her family -- called the city to carp about chickens and goats running around loose.

A rep from the Peoria Planning and Growth Management discussed zoning with Wakeland. The city has almost no agricultural zones, and Wakeland's place isn't one of them. Thus, livestock would not be permitted there.

To the city, Wakeland admitted to owning the goats and llamas, yet she stressed that they'd never gotten loose. Further, she said, she'd owned no chickens for at least two years. Most importantly, as she understood the situation, livestock were grandfathered with the annexation.

The city zoning csar, Pat Landes, says she could find no documents regarding a grandfathering of the property. Regardless, the matter was handed off to the Peoria Animal Welfare Shelter, which regulates animals within the city.

In 1985, the city banned all farm animals within city limits. Only those there at the time were grandfathered.

Lauren Malmberg, executive director of the Peoria Animal Welfare Shelter, has been trying to work out a compromise with Wakeland.

"I feel bad for her," Malmberg says.

So, she said, Wakeland can keep the five goats -- but only those five. The youngest two are just a few months old, and pygmy goats live to be as old as 12. So, Wakeland likely can enjoy goat companionship for quite a long time. But when they die, that's it.

As part of the PAWS directive, Wakeland had to neuter Radiator, the lone male. And all of them had to be implanted with a microchip; that way, if there's ever a question as to whether Wakeland brings in any new goats, then the city can check for the right microchip.

"I looked like 'The Beverly Hillbillies,' putting five goats in my truck and taking them to the vet," she says with a chuckle.

Wakeland doesn't mind the goat rigmarole. But she wishes Malmberg could be more lenient about the llamas. But that's where Malmberg drew the line. The llamas weren't part of any family lineage; Wakeland brought them in just a few years ago, two decades after the city banned farm animals.

Grudgingly, and in the interest of keeping the goats, Wakeland agreed to remove the llamas. They've been staying with a friend who keeps llamas in the country.

"I went to see them (the other day)," she says. "I cried all the way."

Wakeland wanders over to the pen and tosses the goats a snack of white bread. The would-be Dr. Doolittle talks baby-talk to them, grinning broadly.

"Maybe," she says quietly, "I should just be happy I get to keep my goats."

Phil Luciano can be reached at or (309) 686-3155.