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Posted: September 29, 2012 3:33 p.m.

Burgess: Social Circle’s kissing camel

When I first learned that someone in our community had a pet camel, I was skeptical. After all, Social Circle is not a desert - and we don't have any sand except at the Social Circle Ace Home Center where we can purchase a load or two for our gardens. But, it turned out to be true.

Cheryl and Jim Waters, who have 10 acres of mostly pasture surrounding their home in Social Circle, do indeed have a pet camel. His name is Gobi - a 7-foot, 1,200-pound enormous bundle of mischief and love.

Cheryl owns and operates the "DejaVu on Eleven" shop in downtown Social Circle, which offers a huge collection of new and gently used clothing and accessories. Jim Waters, previously in the construction business, had been temporarily sidelined with a back injury but he is now anxious to get back to work. Cheryl and Jim share a great love for animals.

Gobi lives in a pasture with three horses, a donkey, a mule and three dogs. He is the undisputed star of the family.

He has his own enclosure where he eats, sleeps, trains and greets his many visitors. Gobi loves people, and to show his affection, he will give you a kiss to prove it. When I visited him, I was "subjected" to a few wet, sloppy kisses - which were quite an experience.

I learned a lot about camels from Cheryl and camel websites (camelfarm.com and sandiegozoo.org). It seems that much of their anatomy is based on a need for protection from sand. A camel has large eyes on the sides of its head protected by long, curly eyelashes that keep out sand. Thick eyebrows shield the eyes from the desert sun.

Gobi has small rounded ears far back on his head, covered with hair even on the inside, to keep out blowing sand. His nostrils are slit-like to protect against blowing sand.

Gobi is obviously safe from blowing sand in Social Circle.

Gobi needs constant brushing because his hair grows in such great abundance, especially during the winter months. Ronda, Cheryl's daughter, demonstrated the brushing procedure with an uncooperative Gobi, who had other things on his mind. Cheryl has bags of camel hair that she is storing for future use or sale.

The hump of a camel is mostly a lump of fat that may weigh about 75 pounds or more. Most kinds of animals store fat in their bodies, but only camels keep most of their fat in a hump. If food is hard to find, the fat in the hump provides energy for the animal, and if a camel is starving, its hump shrinks.

Camels usually walk, especially if it is hot, but when they must go faster, they either gallop or pace. Their leg action produces a swaying, rocking motion that makes some riders "seasick." Camels are sometimes called "ships of the desert."

Camels have two toes on each foot and they walk on a broad pad that connects its two long toes. The pad supports the animal on loose sand in much the same way that a snowshoe helps a person walk on snow. They make almost no sound when they walk or run.

Cheryl has been able to train Gobi to lie down (cush), to accept a halter and lead rope and, of course, to kiss almost on demand. However, like a donkey, he often pays no attention to commands. (She couldn't get Gobi to cush for me.) Now that Gobi is 5 years old and fully grown, he will be fitted with a saddle so that he can be ridden (if he's in the mood of course).

Above all things, Gobi loves to eat. Gobi will eat almost anything. The trees in Gobi's enclosure have been denuded of limbs up to a level where he can't reach them. He ate the roof off his house and in fact ate the wood in the back wall that resembles the profile of a camel's head. The Waters plan to construct a new house for Gobi - this time it will be made of metal.

I asked about what Gobi does during heavy rains and thunder storms. Apparently he puts his head and everything that will fit up to his hump into what is left of his shed, goes down on his front feet and waits it out, his front protected by the shed and his back side out in the rain or storm.

I asked Cheryl about what sparked her interest in raising a camel. She said that she has always been interested in animals; as an only child, she had pets, real or imaginary, as companions.

She was fascinated by camels, and when she inquired at the Georgia Department of Agriculture, she learned that there was a camel breeder located near Social Circle. She adopted Gobi when he was 2 weeks old, a little fella about 2.5 feet high. He used to lie in her lap until his size made that really impossible.

Gobi is an absolute sweetheart. He lopes around in his enclosure, curious about visitors and anxious to interact with them. He's easy to engage with a carrot or two and will deposit his sloppy kiss on you with or without Cheryl's insistence. He wants to know "what's going on," and paces up and down to observe humankind observing him.

Cheryl attended camel training in Jackson, Mo., and hopes to continue this training in the near future. She is now working to obtain federal and state permits to give schools and other interested groups an opportunity to visit Gobi.

She may even be able to offer camel rides (if Gobi is in the mood, of course). She also hopes to produce animal centered events on weekends.

In the meantime, Gobi runs and plays with horse colleagues in the big field beyond the Waters home and his enclosure. There are three horses, an Appaloosa named Pride who was previously a hunt jump champion, a Palomino horse named Bandit, and a Tennessee walking horse named Sasha. Pacho, the mule, is the product of Sasha and Jethro, the donkey.

Pacho and his mother, Sasha, are inseparable companions, and if they get separated, Sasha will lash out and bite him for causing her worry. When I was there, I heard Jethro braying loudly by the fence trying to attract the two miniature donkeys that live in the adjacent field, which he apparently does quite often. After his little episode with Sasha, it is obvious that Jethro is quite a guy.

Cheryl contends that Gobi and his four footed friends have brought much joy into their lives. And that joy is infectious. I left with a good feeling about the love and care that Jim and Cheryl are giving them. And if you have a chance to visit Gobi, it's an experience you always will remember with pleasure.


Madeline Burgess is an active volunteer in Social Circle and the wife of former Mayor Jim Burgess.

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