Meet Miss C, the Sociable Camel

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Friday, September 2, 2011
Donna Shirrell, dean of nursing at the SoutheastHEALTH College of Nursing and Health Sciences, feeds the family's pet camel, Miss C.

When Donna Shirrell, dean of nursing at the SoutheastHEALTH College of Nursing and Health Sciences, mentions "Miss C" in conversation, she isn't talking about a person. Or a dog. Or a parakeet. She's talking about Miss C, an affable 7-year-old camel.

Miss C, along with an assortment of other interesting creatures that include Jack the curious emu, Stripes the baby zebra, peacocks, alpacas, Zeke (a Zedonk), chickens, goats and gorgeous golden pheasants from the Orient, reside at Concrete Castings of Fruitland, Mo. Donna's husband, Clarence Lee, founded and operated Concrete Castings for a number of years before selling to longtime employee Crista Meyer.

Still an employee there, Clarence Lee spends much of his time escorting families through the grounds, introducing them to the menagerie and sharing interesting facts about the Shirrell's unusual brood.

"This is a vacation stop," says Clarence Lee, who served 23 years on the SoutheastHEALTH Board of Trustees. "We have families who stop by here every year to see the animals and get photos with them."

Queen of the barnyard is Miss C, who patiently allows her pen companion, a lively goat, to jump on her back when she is reclining. Miss C, Donna says, "has no idea she's a camel."

She doesn't have a mirror," adds Clarence Lee, who shares a story about trying to introduce Miss C to a male camel in hopes of offspring. That did not even result in a first date. "We're her mom and dad," Donna says.

The idea of having animals (live ones) mixed in with the concrete zoo was built on the premise that the animals would bring in more people than the sign out front. It worked.

Clarence Lee says their menagerie started with goats. "We kept adding as we could afford to and as Donna would let me." Keeping up with Miss C's hearty appetite is no small task. The Shirrells say she enjoys hay, grain, weeds and even thistles. A special treat is bread -- fresh or stale. She weighs in at a svelte 1,500 pounds, give or take a pound or two.

Donna notes that her grandchildren have grown up with a built-in zoo. "As soon as they come to the house their first request is to go to Grandpa's castings plant. It's certainly different than what other kids get to do. If anybody had told me 20 years ago that this would be my life, I would not have believed it. But now it is and I love it."

When a new nursing student and his wife met with Donna to talk about the College of Nursing and Health Sciences, the talk turned to animals. Miss C, the student's wife said, was a communication tool for her. "On the drive home when she saw the camel, she would text her husband 'camel' and he would know how long it would be before she arrived home."

The Shirrells say they can't help but get attached to all the animals. "These animals are proof that if you show kindness, you get kindness," Clarence Lee observes.

By the way, Miss C likes snow.

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