The Camel and the Trashman: Lancelot and Don West
A couple weeks ago when the goat from Texas, or thereabouts, made such a big splash around the Eldersburg area, I wrote a silly thing and mentioned Don West’s camel, which got me thinking about Don and his camel. And so I contacted Don, and here’s an update on the county’s only verified (by me) living camel. And a bit on Don, too, who is weird in his own way. (Well, he does own a camel.)
The camel, by the way, is named Lancelot, and Don runs an organization called Waste Not! Carroll and has what some might consider an unhealthy relationship with trash.
How’s Lancelot, your camel? Please don’t tell me he’s dead.
Lancelot is alive and still kicking. We really don’t know exactly how old he is, but I tell people he could outlive me – and become a burden to our children. When we rescued him, there were two other camels that we found homes for, one of which was in Carroll County.
That was like seven years ago, so I don’t know if it’s still around the area or not.
So there’s a possibility that there’s at least one other camel in Carroll County?
There is a real possibility, but I don’t know for sure. They are more prevalent in this country than I ever imagined.
What other kinds of strange beasts do you have roaming your lands?
Our herd of animals is thinning out now that none of our three children live at home. This past year was especially tough. We lost a dog, a cat and two goats. [No, not that goat.] We still have a dog, two cats, one goat and three alpacas.
Over the years, we have raised a llama, a miniature donkey, goats, sheep, pigs, cattle, rabbits, chickens and a tarantula. Many of our animals were rescues or otherwise unwanted by their original owners.
How do you go about rescuing a camel in Carroll County? I mean, was he just roaming the farmland in need of a home?
Oh, that’s a long story. He had a home, just not a very good one.It came to our attention when a woman we knew who ran a large animal rescue program (primarily alpacas and llamas), contacted us about possibly adopting some more animals from her so she could raise funds for this camel rescue she was involved in.
My response to the rescue lady was that we really didn’t want any more critters, but we would help her any way we could, and we had enough pasture that we could foster a camel once they were removed.
Yes. Often when these large exotics are in a bad way, the owners aren’t willing to give them up without some kind of compensation – since they are expensive to acquire and keep. So, you actually have to negotiate with the owner of the mistreated animals so you can purchase them.
Why not just report them to the Humane Society?
People did – but in order for the animal police to come in and take animals, there must be three complaints from individuals who would be prepared to go to court to testify of the abuse. That’s a very high bar.
Folks generally don’t like to narc their neighbors out and then sit across from them in court. In reality, it was the Humane Society who contacted our rescue lady. They knew the quickest way to get the surviving animals out was to go the cash-and-carry route.
I was told there were as many as 11 camels at this property at one time. By the time we got involved, there were three left, all of whom we were able to remove.
Over the course of a couple months, we negotiated with the owner to purchase the camels. I raised money from relatives, friends and customers. It became even more complicated when we thought the one camel might be pregnant.
Eventually we brought the first one to our place, and we were able to foster him until a permanent home could be found. Again, as I said earlier, we weren’t looking for any more animals. I had imposed a new animal moratorium. Well, as you know, the camel came and has never left. So much for my animal moratorium. My family kids me to this day about that.
You say that there may have been 11 camels, but where the heck did the camels come from in the first place? Were they smuggled into the country? I mean, how did they end up in Carroll County?
Believe it or not, there is a rather lively camel trade in this country – more in the mid-west and far west. Even though we think of them as exotic, technically they are not.
I guess they can be used like any domesticated livestock. The ones that were rescued, the owner would take them to church picnics and birthday parties and charge for camel rides.
Admittedly, we send ours to a church in Pennsylvania each Christmas for a live Nativity scene. The income from that working holiday pays for his room and board for the entire year.
Where should Lancelot be living? What’s his natural habitat?
Honestly, I don’t know. We associate them with the desert, but that’s more a function of their domestication in the Middle East.They are very adaptable to various environments.
Come to think of it, what is he officially, a dromedary, a camel, or what?
He is a dromedary, a one-humper. Two humps is a Bactrian.
What does he eat?
Pasture grass in the summer, hay in the winter, some grain for minerals, and a balanced diet. And lots of water.
Where does he sleep?
Mostly on the ground out in the open. If the weather is bad, I have a covered enclosure he can go into to get out of the elements.
Has he ever been in your house?
No, he’s too big.
Has he ever tried to escape?
Not from our set-up, but the first year we had him, when we took him to his live nativity scene gig, he escaped from a paddock he was held in. That story appeared in the Washington Post.
We’ve had plenty of other animals escape, including a steer, who we were reunited with after we ran a Lost ad in the Carroll County Times, and some sheep that were corralled by the State Police on the median of Route 140.
How would you rate his intelligence? Is he as smart as a horse, a dog?
He is extremely intelligent, definitely smarter than a horse, and at least as smart as a dog.
Is he affectionate, friendly, grumpy? How would you describe his personality?
He is friendly and curious. Affectionate may be a stretch. He is a herd animal, so he enjoys the company of other animals. He has a playful streak, if you turn your back, he will pull your hair, especially if you’re a woman.
How would you describe your relationship with him? Is he happy to see you? Does he come when you call?
Yes, he will come, especially for treats. I have always felt that he knows exactly what we did for him by rescuing him.
What does he do all day?
Hangs out, eats, and watches over his pasture.
You sent me this picture of him and a dog together. Are they friends?
He is a little leery of dogs, but he tolerates our pets.
Can you ride him?
He can be ridden, supposedly, but we never have. That was part of his mistreatment in his earlier life.
How much room does he have?
We rotate him and the other pasture animals between two separate fenced fields that are about two to three acres each.
Is Carroll County actually a good climate for a camel?
It’s okay. People always ask if he minds the winters. He doesn’t seem to, but ice can be a little scary. Camels are prone to falling in those conditions, and a broken leg or neck would be obviously disastrous. He actually seems to suffer more through our humid summers.
How’s the tarantula doing? Was he a rescue tarantula? Did you name him?
Technically, she was adopted from someone who didn’t want her anymore. I say she, but we never knew for sure. It’s hard to check that in a tarantula. She died a few years back.
Interestingly, I understand the males don’t live nearly as long as the females, so maybe she was a he. Her name was Rosie, since she was a Chilean Rose tarantula.
When I first heard of you, it had nothing to do with camels. It was about the big incinerator project. You spent a lot of time trying to prevent the county from going in with Frederick and building an incinerator. Now that the incinerator project seems to be dead, has your life lost meaning?
It is not dead yet. Frederick, at least publicly, is still planning on proceeding with the project. Obviously, we would like to see them kill it completely, but we are happy that Carroll has pulled out.
I wouldn’t say that my life has lost meaning since Carroll announced its pull out on Earth Day this year (how ironic!), but I have had to re-evaluate my role. This battle went on so long, there were times when I doubted it would ever get resolved favorably. In fact, early on, one of its supporters said we didn’t stand a snowball’s chance of reversing the previous Board’s decision.
I guess any time you attain a long-range goal, there is a bit of soul searching. However, given the political bent of our county, I feel strongly that there will be an important role for our group advocating for sanity and sustainability regarding how we handle our waste moving forward.
I hope it will be a long time before anyone writes my epitaph, but I believe there is a lot more than that damned incinerator that gave my life meaning and purpose.
Your organization is called Waste Not! Carroll, and you seem to have a tremendous dedication to recycling. Did you just wake up one day and suddenly realize that recycling was your calling in life? What brought you to it and why are you so dedicated to it?
Yes, it has become a bit of an obsession, although my wife maintains that she is way more committed than I am. I came of age in the sixties and seventies, so I have always been an environmentalist, a “tree-hugger.” Nothing to be embarrassed about in my opinion.
Basically, once Carroll County’s role in the incinerator was approved by the previous Board of Commissioners, I committed to try to reverse that decision. I am NOT a religious person, but taking on this fight was a bit of an epiphany for me.
One day, I realized that, if I decided to do it, I could get this done. I haven’t looked back since. It has been a long struggle, and many said we would not be successful, but I am proud of what we have been able to accomplish so far. I certainly had no intention to become a trash activist, but someone had to do it.
Early on, I realized it was not enough to be against the incinerator; we had to be for something. So we soon began talking about alternatives to the incinerator, like recycling and composting. That is the future of our organization.
I co-chaired the Solid Waste Workgroup for Commissioner Howard, and I have just learned that I was named to the Solid Waste Advisory Group, a new permanent County advisory group, on the same par as the EAC. I would rather have a seat at the table, than find out that I’m on the menu.
What are some of the other things Waste Not does besides opposing massive incinerators?
We encourage local residents to adopt a Zero Waste strategy. Basically it’s the old Reduce, Reuse, Recycle mentality. We like to add Rethink, Refuse, Rot (compost), Redesign to the list. We do this by talking to schools, community groups and local governments about our strategies, and by showing folks at several large local events how easy it is, Specifically we do it at the Common Ground Music Festival and the Maryland Wine Festival. We’ve also taught classes at local libraries and Carroll Community College.
Now, the things you’re trying to do with trash and recycling, is Carroll County a particularly difficult place to do them?
It is challenging, given the strong libertarian streak in Carroll County and the notion that capitalism rules supreme.Things like mandates, quotas, or even public investment in programs are viewed with disdain.
In my opinion, if someone is not recycling by now, they are either lazy or ignorant or both. The only way you get them to come on board is with the carrot and the stick approach.
Do you have enemies, particularly ardent adversaries of any sort? And if so, what is it they don’t like about what you’re doing?
I don’t think I have any particular ardent adversaries regarding my work with Waste Not! Carroll. I am sure there are some folks whose toes I have stepped on, for instance former Commissioners Zimmer and Minnich and others who supported the incinerator.
The fact that we have pushed Carroll out of the deal with Frederick, I’m sure has angered some, especially if it meant any financial gain down the road.
We were both at Penn State at the same time, but most likely never crossed paths. We probably would have gotten along, but I’ll bet we never would have dreamed that someday we’d be talking about trash and your camel. Know what I mean?
Yup. Who knows? Penn State was big enough, we may have sat next to each other at some point, likely in a bar like the Rathskeller, one of our favorite hang-outs.
Actually, I was more inclined to hang out at the disco bars.