The Gentle Life

BURLESON, TX — Davis Reiling and his folks, Ron and Denise, moved to Burleson shortly after Denise received a breast cancer diagnosis. They decided to give up the city and fancy Dallas job to live somewhere peaceful and do something they love: raise alpacas. Since 2003, Davis has gone to Holy Cross Christian Academy. For the school’s float in the Burleson Rotary Club Christmas Parade, Davis and his mother escorted their pet alpacas, which remind a lot of people of camels or llamas. In fact, while Davis was a fifth-grader, his alpacas played the Three Wise Men’s camels in the HCCA Live Nativity. But Davis knows the difference between a camel, known to spit and hiss, and an alpaca, which makes a soft, pretty humming sound.

“I enjoy working with the alpacas because they’re so nice. And it’s fun to watch them grow up. You can see how their changes come,” said Davis, whose family breeds and sells the animals and markets wearable products made from their fleece. He still remembers when one of his favorite alpacas, Eve, was born three Christmas Eves ago. “My great-grandmother said, ‘I don’t think your present has come in the mail yet, you might want to go check.’ When I opened the front door, my dad was holding Eve with a big bow around her, and that’s when I said, ‘Thank you.’ Now, I like to show her, and play with her.” Davis used to give Eve peppermint treats, but she no longer eats them. Now she just likes Davis. It is for such sweetness that Denise and Ron, who have just celebrated their 16th wedding anniversary, came to the countryside near Burleson. Originally from the mid-cities area, Denise married a man from a 1,000-acre pig and corn farm in Illinois. “I’m just a city girl. That’s why he thinks it’s so funny to see me out here,” said Denise, who admits that once she and Davis brought Eve into the laundry room to keep her warm during the winter. “Eve got so cold and had gotten a little skinny because she was depressed, since we’d sold her best friend. Davis would walk her outside to take her out, and she never made a mess in the laundry room!”

Such a kind soul, when faced with a year of painful medical therapies for breast cancer, Denise responded better thanks to the healing she found through caring for alpacas. “Right when I got my diagnosis, in May, 2002, I didn’t know what to think. You don’t think, I’m gonna go through a tough year and get over it. You think, I’m gonna die. I was thinking I would not be able to have the family farm I had dreamed of,” remembered Denise, who at the time sold advertising for corporate television — leaving early for work and returning home when little Davis was already in bed.

She and Ron had recently visited the Fort Worth Stock Show, and had been enamored by the alpacas they saw. “Right after the diagnosis, I sat up in bed in the middle of the night and said, ‘I wanna do the alpacas.’ The very next day we went to look at them, and I bought three right then,” Denise said. “It helped me because I would sit online going through alpaca stuff instead of cancer stuff.” Initially, the Reilings kept their small herd in their backyard in Colleyville. Ron traveled with his work in private jet aviation, so no matter how bad Denise felt on the chemotherapy, she had to get up and care for 2-year-old Davis and for the alpacas. “One of the girls knew I was feeling miserable and would come put her head on my shoulder. It was so relaxing to watch the alpacas graze. They hum to each other, so they know where each other are. I would just sit out there in my little plastic chair and listen to them hum.”

Still on chemotherapy when they moved to Burleson, Denise believes the breast cancer was, in a weird way, a blessing. “I feel like it was God’s way of saying, ‘Wake up; your life is flying past you.’ Ron and I figured out that even though it was scary to think we’d be on one income, by the time we calculated all the lunches I was having out, all the clothes and the gas and other expenses, it really wasn’t that bad,” Denise said. Now, she is able to help Davis with his homework and work with the alpacas. If Holy Cross Christian Academy wants her to bring the animals to the school for a science field day, Denise can show the kids what alpaca teeth and toes look and feel like. “I went from wearing fancy suits in fancy board rooms to scooping poop and delivering babies!”

Next year, the Reilings will celebrate their 10th year in the alpaca business and Denise’s 10th year without breast cancer. Ron wanted Davis to learn that playing video games comes after chores, since that is how he was reared. And Davis has grown up learning every detail of what is happening … [Red more in our December 2011 issue of Burleson Now.]