I’ve been obsessed with animals since I was a little kid and have spent more time at zoos and farms than I have in playgrounds and parks. So it’s not often that I see an animal that really takes my breath away. But it happened this past weekend, right here in the town where I live.
I went to one of the feed stores in downtown Norco, Calif., to take part in their customer appreciation day. Free food and a free raffle — it was certainly worth the 2-mile drive from my house on a Saturday morning.
As soon as I pulled into the parking lot, I saw him: a big, glorious, one-humped camel. He was standing in the parking lot wearing a halter and lead rope, held by a woman I would later find out was named Nancy.
I don’t even remember parking my car. I couldn’t take my eyes off the camel. I’d seen this guy walking down the trail a few times, led by Nancy on her horse. Of course, I was either on horseback or leading my horse at the time, and all I could think to do was get the heck out of there, fast, before my horse killed me. One of the most terrifying things to an uneducated horse is a camel, it seems.
But this time, I was unencumbered by any equine cowards, and could walk right up to this camel and touch him.
The camel was amazing. Standing almost 7 feet tall, he didn’t look real. He seemed like some wacky animated character you’d see in a Pixar film. His lips jutted out, his neck was long and S-shaped. And his feet! He had two toes on each foot, which were massive and flat as pancakes.
I found out the camel’s name is Bert, and he is a deputy sheriff. Apparently, he’s in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the highest-ranking law enforcement camel in the world. Nancy is a Sheriff’s Posse Reserve Deputy. She and Bert attend parades and other events to reinforce safety and anti-drug messages to kids.
Whatever. All I know is that I couldn’t keep my hands off him. His skin was rough and his hair bristly. His muzzle was soft, and his eyes were huge. He was clearly the most bizarre-looking creature I’d ever seen. Or maybe I’m just too used to looking at horses. Either way, he was spectacular. Meeting him made my weekend.