A petition against Sheik? Two views of keeping a neighborhood camel
Sheik the camel has been welcomed to town by some Ridgefielders. People drive by to see him. Kids have left cards for him in the mailbox of his North Street home.
But not everyone’s happy.
Some neighbors are uneasy with having a camel in the neighborhood — expressing worries that range from property values to exotic viruses.
And there’s talk of organizing a petition against the camel, although the animal’s keepers don’t appear to be violating any existing town ordinance or zoning regulation.
“We’ve got a residential area here,” said Jim Reedy, who lives on North Street a few houses from the camel. “The place where they have their farm, or whatever you want to call it, it’s very visible to the street. A camel is not necessarily a native animal in town. I’m concerned about property values.”
His wife, Judith Reedy, is looking into organizing a petition against the camel.
“We’re waiting for a while to get some additional facts about the situation,” she said.
First Selectman Rudy Marconi said he’d gotten calls from “five or six North Street residents” unhappy about the camel.
“No one has called my office saying, ‘What a great addition to the town!’” Marconi said. “Although there are people who don’t mind it, when asked if they would approve it next door to them, the response was no.”
The camel’s owner said he’s gotten many positive reactions since April 27, when the eight-foot-tall 1,800-pound animal arrived.
“All in all, Sheik has been exceptionally well received by the Ridgefield community,” said Robb Heering.
“If I had the Kentucky Derby winner in my yard, I’d have almost no visitors. I put a rescued camel in there and we’ve seen 300 a week,” he said.
“People came by bringing bags of carrots and apples. Some little kids put a card, a handwritten note card, in our mailbox with some carrots. It was just a handwritten construction paper card addressed to ‘Sheik the Camel.’”
The kids, he said, wrote, “Welcome to the neighborhood. … We drive by every day … maybe we can share some carrots.”
Saturday mornings, from 9 to 1, are the semi-official visiting hours for Sheik.
“During the month of May we’ll have it every Saturday, then we’ll probably go to once a month, probably the first Saturday of every month,” Heering said in a May 10 interview.
“People were very excited and curious about Sheik coming to town, and we welcomed them and will continue to do so — it just needs a little bit of structure.”
Reedy, the North Street neighbor, brought his concerns to the May 9 Board of Selectmen’s meeting.
“The camel on North Street,” Reedy said. “Who do I talk to about running a business out of your house, a petting zoo?”
”That would be the Planning and Zoning Commission,” Marconi said.
According to Planning Director Richard Baldelli, “there is no zoning issue associated with having a camel on a residential property (you get to choose your pets).”
The North Street property, Marconi said, conforms to the “hooved animal” ordinance passed a couple of years back in response to horses on a one-acre property. Camels are listed among the “hooved animals” permitted.
“He’s got two and a half acres,” Marconi said. “He’s got enough property.”
Reedy, the neighbor, takes little comfort.
“To have a hooved animal you need a quarter-acre, and you need another quarter-acre for each additional animal. According to my math that says they can have four animals there,” he said. “It’s starting to get a little ridiculous.”
Reedy told the selectmen the camel might be part of a business.
“He’s going to be milking it. He’s going to be selling the soap,” he said.
“It’s a male, I thought,” said Marconi.
Rescuing Sheik led Heering to ownership interests in two camel farms — in Colorado and Missouri — and a company, Camel Life LLC, selling personal care products from camel milk. Profits go into International Camel Rescue, a charitable organization the Heerings founded.
But he says Sheik and the North Street property aren’t part of the business.
“He’s a pet,” Heering said.
What’s enjoyable about a pet camel?
“What would someone like about their dog?” Heering said. “He behaves, he reacts, he listens. It’s nice to know we’re giving him a fantastic life.”
Heering’s plans to accommodate Sheik include adding more animals, but not another camel.
“We’ll have a couple of other animals here for Sheik — he’s always been paired up with a donkey or a pony or something,” he said.
“We still have to complete construction of a barn and stall and paddock.
“The intention is not to have a petting zoo. I rescued Sheik from an abusive petting zoo,” he said.
“This is not a commercial facility. We don’t sell products from our house. It’s not like I’m going to build a parking lot in my front yard.”
Reedy, the neighbor, isn’t convinced.
“You’re going to have cars entering and exiting — it’s become a safety issue,” Reedy said.
“I’m just concerned about the value of property, and the safety of North Street.”