Eight months after Harold the alpaca was mauled to death his owner Louise Lazarus has spoken for the first time since losing her loveable larrikin.
Ms Lazarus, 57, has shared her story in an attempt to raise the profile on mental health and hopes her journey, after losing her son, Corey, to suicide and living with post traumatic stress disorder will inspire people to keep on keeping on.
Harold, a mascot for mental health, was well known for his role with Lifeline Gippsland – used as an ice breaker of sorts to promote mental health awareness with locals and to brighten their day.
He had many trips to nursing homes and school, and was often spotted walking the streets with Lifeline Gippsland volunteers promoting 'It's OK to not be OK'.
After his death, Ms Lazarus went into shock and admits it has been a "pretty dark place" since but she is determined to return as an advocate for mental health awareness with newly-adopted 12-month-old Chuckles.
In January, Harold and three other male alpacas were killed in what was believed to be a vicious dog attack while grazing at a friend's Traralgon West property.
"I lost my son 20 years ago to suicide ... his injuries were pretty extensive so to arrive at a paddock and see the boys, the alpacas – especially Prince aka Harold – was just horrific," Ms Lazarus told The Express.
"It threw me back into a place where I was 20 years ago from my son's death. It's been a lot of hard work getting back to okay – counselling, psychologists, doctors and support from friends
"The loss is always there and there's always an empty chair at the table but you don't get over it, you get through it and your life adjusts – living in a different way."
While Ms Lazarus admits losing an animal is different to losing a child, she said Harold was "one of a kind" who helped many people living with illness and helped distract her from the what ifs.
"I miss [my son] every minute of every day, and you think what could have been – in 21 years would he have had kids. I would've had more grandkids, where would he be and what would he be working at – he was 19 when he died," she said.
But in a positive turn of events, the Willow Grove resident has acquainted herself with a cuddly little fellow named Chuckles and hopes her story of determination and perseverance will encourage others to "stick with it".
"I had a friend up in Seymour who knew about Harold and what had happened and she said to me "When you're ready, I've got a boy [alpaca] who could maybe do some of the same work you're doing"," Ms Lazarus said.
"I didn't want to do anything, I almost gave up everything – I didn't want to go back into alpacas. I didn't want to work with people or do the youth.
"But after about three or four months she took me out in the paddock to meet Chuckles and we had a bit of a talk out in the paddock and decided we could do this sort of stuff and once you meet him you'll see why. He's very, very sweet."
She hopes to use Chuckles as a mascot to again promote the impacts of mental health and to encourage people across Gippsland to have a conversation with loved ones and friends about how they're going.
"The alpacas just bring out something in the kids and people that they can't relate or talk to with other people," Ms Lazarus said.
"I still get messages from people seeing how I am because [Harold] touched their lives so much – even if it was just for a brief chat down the street and I want them to experience that again with Chuckles."
"He did so much for the Valley, out talking to people and starting conversations and I think that if [mental health] is talked about more, especially by people who are out there doing stuff, it makes it real and gives people an option to talk."
If you or someone you know would like help, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14.