At the end of October, Texas Party Animals arrived at a Houston office building to celebrate Alice co-founder and CEO Carolyn Rodz’s birthday. The name connotes a delivery of Jell-O shots, perhaps a round or two of cornhole. But Loretta Hajovsky and her family had arrived from La Grange with far more precious cargo.
In the back of their van sat Willie and Waylon, a pair of 7-year-old alpacas, dressed in pompom-bedecked birthday outfits that Hajovsky had lovingly crafted to bring to mind the Andes. These were the “party animals” to which the name referred.
The alpacas (think of smaller, more placid llamas), came into Hajovsky’s life three years ago when the farmer’s wife was at a crossroads. Her husband recommended that to fill their empty nest, they adopt some alpacas to live on their pecan farm as companions. “I was looking for something else to do,” she recalls. Training alpacas to be service animals? That was definitely something else.
They adopted Willie, Waylon, and Tex, adding Houston and Austin to the mix later. She immediately started training them and registered them as her emotional support animals. This wasn’t so much due to a need as the fact that there is no therapy program in Texas for camelids (members of the camel family, to which alpacas belong) as there is for dogs and cats.
They made their public debut when the Hajovskys brought the alpacas to an outdoor film screening in downtown La Grange. “People started lining up and taking pictures and the kids were hugging on the alpacas,” Hajovsky recalls. “There was a line when the movie started. Nobody wanted to watch the movie.”
Developing a social media following has been instrumental in Texas Party Animals’ success, says Hajovsky. She posts pictures from every event she attends, showcasing the variety of costumes she’s designed for her fuzzy friends, from formal wear for weddings to reindeer horns for Christmas.
The two-year-old company is unquestionably a hit. As of January 1, Hajovsky had 27 bookings and 53 bids for upcoming months and is already booking 2021 events.
Most of the people hiring Texas Party Animals are under 30, Hajovsky says. "Everything that age group is doing is online," she reasons. She knew she had to have a strong online presence, and it was a matter of either hiring someone to build it up or teaching herself. She chose the latter tack. In fact, other than constructing barns for the alpacas to live (that fell to her husband and sons), Hajovsky has done everything for the company, from establishing a social following to navigating her company's sales tax.
The latter is an issue that's been particularly perplexing. "My business is considered entertainment. The animals and I are considered entertainers. From a sales tax standpoint, you don’t tax an entertainer," she explains. But because she also takes photos and sells them as part of the package, she does have to charge a sales tax.
With her success, it's important to the trained accountant to pay it forward. That means partnering with other small businesses, particularly woman-run ones, both in her rural hometown and beyond. "I believe that you have to do those kinds of things," she says. "There are so many different unique people that have businesses in their homes." For example, she collaborates on events with the owner of nearby Keri's Kookies to bring sweets that complement her alpacas' outfits to parties at which they're entertaining.
But Hajovsky admits her greatest rewards have not been financial. She brings the alpacas to hospitals, schools, public libraries, and practically anywhere else that they're wanted, gratis. She's gone to all the nursing homes throughout Fayette County. "Most people at these facilities have never seen an alpaca ever," she says.
Giving back to her community has also scored Texas Party Animals plenty of press. The company has been featured in regional newspapers as well as in Texas Monthly and Woman's World magazines, showcasing the alpacas' therapy work.
But Hajovsky isn't stopping there. She has lots of ideas for how to expand her business. She hopes to add more types of animals soon, including exotic chickens, mini fainting goats, and lop-eared rabbits, all in homemade costumes, of course. She's even talking about "sub-leasing" calves from farms for party guests to bottle feed.
After that, her next move will be stretching her legs into the world of agritourism. She foresees building cottages on her farmland where Airbnb guests will be able to get up close and personal with the alpacas. She's even contemplating alpaca merchandise, with her own fuzzy take on the My Little Ponies of the world.
For now, though, Hajovsky and her cloud-like crew are inspiring smiles all over Texas and making a living doing it.