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Written by Jes-c Brandt   

Camel whisperer

Not long ago someone donated two baby camels to the school I work at. Yes, I know that sounds ridiculous. I also know it sounds only marginally less crazy when you know the school is situated on a functioning farm.

It’s certainly not unusual to see animals around campus, but they’re generally horses, cows, chickens—you know, normal farm animals. Most of the kids love the animals, so I get to spend a good deal of time around them, pretending not to be scared.

Most of the time it’s not a big deal, but every once in a while there’s a little girl who’s afraid of a horse. I, for one, don’t blame the child for being frightened by a thousand-pound, unpredictable beast.

For some reason, however, the instructor thinks we should encourage the children to approach the horses without fear.

Those are the moments when I have to bite my tongue, hold my breath and reach out to pet the horse. As quickly as possible, I step away and try to say convincingly that there’s nothing to be afraid of. At that point, I just hope the child’s fear is enough to distract them from my own.

Quite frankly, I don’t care if the kids like horses or not, but I certainly don’t want to look like a wimp in front of a 7-year-old.

I have no explanations or excuses; I’m simply not an animal person. I don’t even like cats or dogs. But for some reason, those baby camels caught my attention. Maybe it’s their exotic nature or a far-off memory of seeing one at a circus. Perhaps I’ve simply watched the Prince of Egypt one too many times.

Whatever the case, I found myself inexplicably drawn to their pen. For the longest time I just looked at the funny creatures. A friend once told me that camels always smile, so I studied their faces with rapt attention.

Day after day, I ventured to the fence and looked at the pair. Finally, after watching countless children do so without getting mauled, I pulled a long leafy branch from a nearby tree and held it out for the camels to munch on.

They clearly loved it. I was feeding an animal, and I have to admit the feeling was somewhat addictive. All I had to do was offer a leaf, and the camels showed me favor. Talk about an easy relationship! I could only wish that such a tactic would work on my interpersonal relationships.

It became quite the pastime, feeding the camels whenever I passed their corral. Eventually, I even touched them. I’ve seen people pet them on that soft-looking part of the nose, but I generally stick to fur that’s farther away from the mouth, just in case.

One day, as I was walking along, I noticed a sandbur stuck on my favorite camel’s nose. At this point, I felt really close to those animals, and it only seemed right that I help him out. I stuck my fingers dangerously close to his teeth, and I pulled the sandbur right out.

I never thought I’d see the day when I actually bonded with an animal, but those camels did the trick. Excitedly, I told my friends and family about the animals that had finally warmed my cold heart.

Then one day, things changed.

It had been a few weeks since I’d visited my furry friends, so I figured I’d stop by and pet them. Leafy trees are in short supply this time of year, so I approached the duo without my usual offering of food. Next thing I know, one of the camels tried to bite me! Then it went for my shoe.

Needless to say, I was quite upset. I had spent months forming a bond with the camels, only to have it broken. It seems to me that all this time they were merely tolerating me for the food I brought them. It hurts to be used like that.

On the other hand, I’ve seen the camels bite each other, so perhaps it’s more of an expression of love. It is possible that the camels value our relationship and even want to express their love through an affectionate bite.

If that’s the case, I’m flattered, but I’m afraid I’ll have to cut things off from my end. I appreciate the friendship I found with those camels, but I don’t think I can really accept a bite as a greeting. I have yet to decide if I’ll give the camels another chance.

Maybe I’m just not meant to be an animal person after all.


Holyoke Enterprise January 19, 2012