Dromedary Deputy Bert loves kids, elderly, Skittles

first_imgAt nearly 7 feet tall and 1,800 pounds, Deputy Bert is unlike any other law enforcement officer. And with sheriff’s ID around his neck and a badge on his harness, Deputy Bert is unlike any other camel. Listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the highest-ranking law enforcement camel on the planet, sheriff’s Deputy Bert is part of a menagerie of animals employed by Los Angeles County – and one of the public’s favorites. “The kids just flock to him,” sheriff’s Sgt. Larry Wineinger said. “He’s our No. 1 crowd pleaser.” Deputized four years ago, Bert – along with his handler, Sheriff’s Posse Reserve Deputy Nance Fite – shows up at community events and in parades, where he and Fite reinforce safety and anti-drug messages. “I don’t know if it’s his big, friendly eyes or his curiosity,” said Fite, who works out of the Sheriff’s Department’s San Dimas station. “He zeroes right in, smelling their hair because hair is a greeting to camels. Then he goes right for their hands to see if the kids have treats he can mooch. He loves Skittles.” While Bert’s primary function is community relations, the county relies on scores of other animals for more practical uses. Canine units check county jails for contraband alcohol, sniff for explosives in subways, help capture criminal suspects and search for victims of natural disasters. Each spring, goats are put out to graze on the county’s vast open spaces, controlling vegetation and reducing the fire hazard. Horses are used by deputies on search-and-rescue missions and to patrol parks, trails and shopping centers and for crowd control. Plethora of animals Bison, birds, snakes, spiders and other creatures are housed at seven county nature centers where they are used to teach the public to respect wildlife. “Animals are a vital part of the county team,” spokeswoman Judy Hammond said. “They help us do a better job in many areas, performing tasks that we cannot. … People respond to animals, so they are a great way to brighten the lives of the sick and elderly, as well as children.” Costs for the menagerie are difficult to estimate because each department budgets and pays for its own animals, officials said. But it’s not cheap. Deputy Bert consumes about 20 pounds of hay a day; the tab for his care and feeding is picked up by Fite. Supporters argue that the lessons and opportunities the animals provide far outweigh the costs. Haven for children Some 8,000 to 12,000 children a year visit the county’s environmental education centers, including Placerita Canyon in Newhall, Vasquez Rocks in Agua Dulce and Eaton Canyon in Pasadena. Each center has 15 to 40 animals. “Kids can touch a snake for the first time,” said Mickey Long, the county’s natural areas administrator. “Or we can at least show them a rattlesnake so they can learn to recognize them and be careful.” But the star of the county’s animal ark is Deputy Bert, a dromedary camel born March 3, 1997, at a ranch in Escondido. Fite, a reserve horse trainer with the Sheriff’s Department since 1984, fell in love with “the big guys” two decades ago when she worked with camels in Easter and Christmas productions at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove. “I saw him when he was 8days old, and it was kind of like I had to buy him,” Fite said. “I started taking him to parades when he was 7months old, and he just became so well accepted that they turned him into a mascot in San Dimas.” In 2003, a crime-prevention officer at the San Dimas station decided it was time to deputize the camel. Sheriff Lee Baca signed his official identification card, and Deputy Bert was sworn in during a festival. The department even printed Deputy Bert collectors cards, which note that he’s friendly with people but hates the rain. It wasn’t long before Guinness World Records came calling, inquiring about the camel’s duties and how he fits into the department hierarchy. “Although he stands head and shoulders above the rest of our personnel, he is a `rookie’ reserve deputy with very limited police powers,” Wineinger responded. “Deputy Bert, thus far, seems to have quite a positive reaction with the kids, and we feel that is nothing to spit at.” Celebrity status Since being certified as the world’s highest-ranking camel, Bert has appeared in movies, TV shows and documentaries in the U.S. and around the world. He may also march in the Tournament of Roses in January. Deputy Bert’s ancestors may be an unusual sight in Southern California today; his ancestors first appeared in North America 40 million years ago. About 5 million years ago, they migrated over the land bridge to Asia. But they returned to America in the 1800s at the urging of Jefferson Davis, the Confederate president who noted that camels could pack more gear and go longer without food and water than horses. “Camels were used for the road surveying from Texas into California,” Fite said. “It was 1857 when Lt. (Edward Fitzgerald) Beale brought 25 camels from Fort Defiance through the Mojave Valley and down into downtown Los Angeles. This October is the 150th anniversary.” In addition to educating kids about the noted history of camels, Deputy Bert also has a soft spot in his heart for sick children. He recently visited the oncology ward at Miller Children’s Hospital at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center. “One of the little kids was in a wheelchair,” Fite said. “They wheeled him up with all his IVs and stuff. (Deputy Bert) put his head in the little boy’s lap. He made the boy’s mother and the nurses cry because the little boy had not made a sound in a month. “(Deputy Bert) was just like a statue. It was like he knew. Maybe that was the one day he was put here for – to make that little boy smile and giggle.” troy.anderson@dailynews.com (213) 974-8985160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img