Cure for a camel

Sir Gus heads home after stay at UF

A young camel named Sir Gus rests his chin on a bar of his recuperation pen Monday, after being treated at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Florida.

JIM MATTHEWS/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Tuesday, July 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, July 1, 2003 at 12:14 a.m.
After a brief hiatus from service because of a bad tummy ache, Sir Gus the kissing camel is back to his sunny, smooching self.
Sir Gus - an 8-month-old dromedary who likes to give kisses and belongs to the Bahia Shriners in Orlando - came to the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine on Wednesday to be treated for digestive problems.
After spending a few nights with the vets in Gainesville, Gus went home Monday to some happy Shriners.
Sir Gus' usual veterinarian in Orlando wasn't quite sure what was making Gus sick, so he had the Shriners send the camel here. It turned out that Gus had a common parasite affecting his digestion, a problem that was easily fixed with some medication.
Maud Lafortune, a third-year resident in zoo medicine at UF who worked with Sir Gus, said these types of parasites are common in Florida.
"It's warm. It's lovely. The parasites like to grow," she said.
To be on the safe side, Lafortune and James Wellehan, a second-year resident, performed numerous other tests on Gus, just to make sure they could send him home with a clean bill of health. All of the tests have come back negative so far, so they decided it was safe to send him home.
Though he hasn't quite gained back all of the weight he lost during his illness, Gus looks anything but frail at 418 pounds.
"He's got a great spirit, but he's still a little underweight," Lafortune said.
Though Lafortune and the others at the UF vet school were sad to see the little guy - relatively speaking, anyway - go, they knew it was for the best.
"I prefer that he goes home, because he will heal better at home than he would here," Lafortune said.
However, Gus didn't leave without planting a few big, wet ones on the cheeks, mouths and foreheads of everyone around. And when he left, he left in style.
The Shriners have modified an old, yellow school bus as Gus' own, personal limo. The back half of the bus is sectioned off for him, and safety nets have been installed to hold him in place while bumping down the road. The back door of the bus is now only a half-door, leaving a nice opening for Gus to stick his head out to wink and smile at the passers-by.
When Gus was led around a corner Monday and saw his Shriners standing there with the big, yellow bus, any signs that the camel had been sick vanished. He literally leaped for joy - kicking and bucking around the parking lot.
Gus is still a baby, so he is still fairly agile and active. By the time he reaches the age of 5, he could weigh as much as 1,500 pounds and be as tall as 7 feet at the withers.
As happy as Gus was to see the Shriners, the Shriners were even happier to have him back. Shriners are known for their children's hospitals around the country, and the Bahia Shriners use Sir Gus to cheer up the children they go visit.
"We take him out to schools and churches and other places with kids," said Rich Harbaugh, a member of the Camel Herders Unit of the Bahia Shriners. He and his fellow camel herders take Sir Gus out six to eight times a month to visit various places.
Harbaugh said Sir Gus already has taken to the children. He also has taken to carrots and bananas.
"Give him a piece of carrot, and he gives you a kiss," Harbaugh said.
As the Shriners drove away with their prized pet, Gus peered out the back of the bus, his head bouncing above the personalized license plate reading "Sir Gus."

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