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Who You Gonna Call When Your Camel Gets Stuck in the Mud?

Categories: Animals
carmel-yelling.JPG
All photos, Roger Vincent
"A little help, please!"
When the all-volunteer Missouri Emergency Response (MERS) Large Animal Rescue pulled a camel out of the mud in De Soto, Missouri, this fall, they figured there was a first time for everything, but in this case, it was surely also the last.

They were wrong.

Early Tuesday morning, the team got an emergency call for a mud-stuck camel named Carmel at a farm in De Soto -- the same farm as the November call, but a different animal.

"We got to the scene and the camel was up to its chest in mud," says Roger Vincent, the president and founder of MERS. "The camel had been laboring and struggling. He was near death."

The owner has a large farm that houses many exotic animals, Vincent says, and she takes them out to places like county fairs to be in petting zoos.

"It's not like she's a hoarder -- she's doing all the right things," he says. "It was just a fluke."

What happened, Vincent figures, is that a packed-dirt area in the barn got muddy from the animals urinating in one spot and heavy rains exacerbated the problem, creating a sinkhole. Carmel wandered over to it and quickly became stuck.

This created two problems, Vincent says: position, and suction.

First, the camel became stuck on its side. Camels, like cows and other large animals, can't stay on their sides long because their organs will get crushed by their own weight. Luckily, he says, the owner had managed to get Carmel upright, though still stuck.

When an animal gets trapped in mud, says Vincent, it's not the mud causing the problem. It's the suction. The MERS team is highly trained and has plenty of equipment for breaking suction, which they did in this case.

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Heave-ho!

Then, they lifted Carmel using wide, webbed straps. Too often, untrained folks attempting to drag a large animal out of danger do more harm than good.

"We don't use ropes," Vincent says. "That will kill them. You'll cut serious muscles and vessels and the animal will die from the injuries you created."

So the team broke the suction and gently -- well, as gently as you can haul 1,200 pounds of unhappy camel -- pulled Carmel to safety using the owner's tractor. Carmel is doing well now, Vincent says.

The non-profit rescue squad is made of up seventeen volunteers, all with day jobs. They own about $36,000 worth of highly specialized rescue equipment, including a boat for swift-water rescues. They've been on 172 calls since forming in 2006, including 24 this year.

"We're first responders," Vincent says. "We drop what we're doing and go on these calls. It's a big dedication and a big commitment."

Most of the eight men and nine women who volunteer have horses, and have agonized over seeing untrained fire departments with the best intentions botching large animal rescues.

"We've seen too many times where a horse is trapped in a ravine and firefighters are there trying to do the right thing, but if they don't own animals, they don't know the mannerisms of the animal," Vincent says. "Everybody finds their niche."

He says that the group has encountered skepticism from fire departments when a cadre from MERS shows up which includes plenty of women.

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Much better, thanks.

"Everybody is crosstrained in the same skills," Vincent says. "It's not about how big and strong you are, it's about how smart you are in using the equipment that's available."

They train once a month, and go out on calls whenever they can.

"There are probably less than a dozen groups like ours in the country," says Vincent. "Our philosophy is we'll go anywhere we think we can get to and make a difference for the animal."

Want to help 'em out? Sure you do.

You can make a direct donation on their web site, www.mersteam.org, as well as checking out plenty of dramatic rescue photos.

Or, you can hang out with Thumbelina, the world's smallest horse, this Sunday and play some poker on horseback, as well as benefiting the group. The Fox Creek Veterinary Hospital is hosting a fundraiser July 10th at Greensfelder Park in Wildwood.
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