North Street has a new neighbor.
He’s eight years old, stands about five feet high, and enjoys grazing green grass, second-cut hay, and hanging out with Sheik the camel.
He’s a fully-grown alpaca that goes by the name Humphrey (as in “hump-free”), and is the latest camelid addition to One Hump Farm — the camel rescue facility built by Robb and Stephanie Heering.
“This is our first alpaca re-homing that we’ve decided to take in ourselves,” Robb said June 8. “We’ve helped others place alpacas that were either abused or at risk, but we’ve never taken one in as a prospective pet.”
The Heerings adopted Humphrey from a local farm — they declined to say where — after his previous owner decided they couldn’t keep him any longer. They’ve had him for about two weeks now.
The couple don’t have any plans to shear Humphrey for profit, though local knitters have expressed interest in the clippings, the Heerings told The Press. Humphrey’s light-colored fur is less desirable than darker varieties.
“There’s somebody in town who expressed an interest in the fleece from him and also from Sheik, but you know that’s really not our interest. If somebody wants it, they can come take it,” Robb said.
“We leave the sheddings out and the birds have been taking it, so the birds are making very comfy nests,” Stephanie said.
Humphrey and Sheik make quite the pair.
They’re both camelids, a family that includes camels, like Sheik, as well as South American alpacas, llamas, vicunas, and guanacos.
“They’re cousins, for lack of better term,” Robb explained. “Sheik, our camel, has never been with other camels; he’s only been around everything but camels … he’s doing great with the alpaca, the alpaca follows him around, they sleep right next to each other in a divided stall. They kinda look after each other, so they’re getting along fine.”
The couple recently shared a photo on Facebook of Sheik offering the alpaca his feeding bucket.
“Sheik listens and understands, so when I showed Sheik the alpaca just wouldn’t take any food from our hands, Sheik grabbed the bucket and brought it over to the alpaca,” Robb said.
The couple are still working on socializing Humphrey, who has not had nearly as much interaction with humans as Sheik.
On a visit to the farm last Friday, getting Humphrey to stay still long enough to snap a photo involved some legwork from Robb, who eventually managed to lead Humphrey away from Sheik’s protective shadow long enough for a quick photo-op.
“Humphrey has had very little positive human interaction, so it’s going to take a while for him to warm up to us like Sheik does,” Robb said.
The duo has something of a fan club among the Heerings’ neighbors — “Sheik!” someone called out from an open car window, as Robb and Stephanie filled up the animals’ water bucket.
People’s enthusiasm for the Heerings’ four-legged friends can also be a headache. They asked that people respect the hours they’ve posted for people to visit.
Some neighbors have been less than thrilled with Sheik’s presence. One of the Heerings’ next door neighbors appeared to be filming as Robb corralled the pair for a photo.
The Heerings say the people who complain are two or three voices. Robb, who works as an attorney when he’s not rescuing camels, pointed out that their property is larger than one-and-a-half acres — meaning any petition started by the neighbors to remove Sheik wouldn’t have legal grounds to do so under the town’s livestock ordinances.
“There are horse farms in town that have three acres or five acres and have ten or fifteen horses; which by the way, produce an amazing amount of waste. The camelids produce very little because they retain most of their intake and store it as energy.”
Several neighbors have complained that Sheik’s presence would bring down property values.
“That’s a joke. That’s almost comical, and that really shows someone’s ignorance,” Robb said.
Stephanie, a real estate agent, pointed out that the couple has invested heavily in reviving the property. She also responded to claims that she and Robb had no ties to the town.
“We’re Ridgefield people,” Stephanie said. “I grew up here, I graduated from Ridgefield High School… we got married in Ridgefield, we met in Ridgefield, we baptized our kids in the church here …”
“We’re not strangers,” Robb said. “We came home to Ridgefield.”
Sheik and the selectmen
Sheik the camel came up briefly at the Board of Selectmen’s June 6 meeting. First Selectman Rudy Marconi said he’d received “a ton of calls about Sheik.”
“People love him,” said Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark.
“The people that don’t live there,” Marconi replied.
Robb, for his part, offered an ultimatum to neighbors concerned with their property values.
“You can put on the record, publicly, I’ll buy out any neighbor. They wanna call me, I’ll close in seven days, bulldoze their house and put up another barn.”