PLAINFIELD, N.H. (AP) – If you’re driving down Route 12A or on the back roads around Plainfield someday and think you see a camel, don’t worry, you are not hallucinating.

In fact, you have probably sighted Joshua, a young dromedary who has made his way to the fields of the Upper Valley from distant well, no, not North Africa, but Midwest America via Long Island.

Caring for the camel requires much effort and much love from Josh’s caretakers, Jennifer Bolay and Chris Butler. And the one-humped dromedary, in turn, shows much love to his owners, nudging them jovially as they speak.

“Just like anything else, they’re a reflection of you,” Butler said.

Butler, 42, looks at his ward and sees more than just an awkward-looking, long-necked camel.

Fit for harsh environment

He points to the rough, gray, kneecaps on Josh’s long legs, splayed out on the ground and in the air as he lies on his side outside his stable in the Plainfield Equestrian Center. He shows off the padded feet that allow camels to find purchase in the sand. He rattles off the fact that camels, which are ruminants, can eat just about anything, and can live in the harshest of environments.

These features are all evidence that Josh, along with other camels, was designed as a creature of endurance.

“Amazing creatures,” said Butler as he crouched down to rub the tough, leathery skin on Josh’s stomach. “You see why every piece looks like this.”

Butler, of Plainfield and New London, and his friend Bolay, of White River Junction, are relying on that strength to teach Josh, who has yet to reach full height but still towers above Butler, to carry their supplies as they travel on hiking and camping trips.

“My motto is: Import camels, not oil,” said Butler, who recently stopped driving.

Stronger than a horse

The camel can carry more than Bolay’s and Butler’s horses, Kid and Mariah. He can also travel longer without needing to drink water, which, contrary to popular belief, it does not store in its hump. Josh’s hump actually contains tissue that allows him to sustain himself when he cannot locate food.

Butler has taken Josh on short trips from the farm to local destinations, like the Cornish General Store about 10 miles away. He’s fitted Josh with a bike rack and had him carry his bike and lunch during a ride out on the roads.

But Butler and Bolay eventually want to take him on longer trips with their horses, when he would carry their supplies. They’re still trying to figure out how to hitch him when they camp, but they’ve learned to hobble him and to lead him down the road with a length of rope tied around one of his legs. Getting him accustomed to their horses, Kid and Mariah, was a lengthy process.

Butler, an arborist, developed an affinity for the species while serving in the Pennsylvania National Guard in Iraq. He served in Anbar Province in 2005 and 2006, where he worked with Bedouins and sheikhs, one of whom owned 11 camels.

Finding Josh

When working on an alpaca farm in New London, Butler learned from an acquaintance about Mary Ledoux, Josh’s legal owner. Butler visited LeDoux, who also owns a larger, two-humped Bactrian camel named Hulk, at Stone Ridge Farm in Canaan, where she also cares for alpacas and llamas, members of the same family as camels.

LeDoux said she acquired Josh from a woman in Long Island in 2002, though he was born in the Midwest. The woman had not anticipated how large Josh would grow and could no longer care for him. So, LeDoux, who had already acquired Hulk, took him in. But caring for two young camels soon became too time-consuming.

Butler worked so well with Josh that LeDoux offered to lease the camel to Butler and Bolay for free. The departure of Josh also left more time for LeDoux to spend with the shaggy Hulk. She would like to learn to ride him someday.

“I figured that you can’t fall if you’re sitting down between the humps,” she said.

Learning experience

Caring for Josh is a learning experience. Whenever Bolay and Butler bring him to his veterinarian, who also treats Hulk, in Salisbury, N.H., they learn a new method of treatment.

With winter approaching, Josh is growing a thicker coat of fur that will protect him from the elements. And Butler is consider inventing some type of shoe that will help him keep his feet on the icy ground, though LeDoux said he fared well at winters at her farm and any lack of balance is probably due to his being young and awkward.

Josh, who eats grains and hay, mostly, develops a following everywhere he goes. Butler moved him from New London, where he would take him to the town green, to Plainfield when gawkers grew too irritating. LeDoux said cars will always stop whenever she takes Hulk off the road.

And Bolay and Butler allow children to approach Josh and learn about him when they see him on the street.

It helps that camels, when raised well, are friendly animals, said LeDoux. It’s a fact that Bolay and Bolay have learned well.

“Jen and I, we had to change our lives,” Butler said. “You have to be totally devoted to them.”

Information from: Lebanon Valley News,

AP-ES-10-04-08 1521EDT

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