October 22, 2021

‘Achoo’ finds audience through social media and visits

The Camel Connection

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Achoo the camel, an alpaca and Greg Leach at his Blodgett Mills farm.

Pat Leach knows how to get a reaction.

He’s got a trick he does with his parent’s two humped camel, Achoo and a banana.

“Watch this,” he says, putting the fruit in his mouth. The massive, hairy camel takes its mouth and slobbers all over Leach’s face, scooping the banana in the process.

It never fails to amaze.

That sense of wonder, and fun, is why Greg and Barb Leach wanted a camel in the first place.

Achoo, nicknamed Chewy, lives on the couple’s 13-acre spread in Blodgett Mills. Their son, Pat Leach, took on the training role when they brought the animal to their home from a South Dakota farm in 2013. Chewy celebrated his eighth birthday this month.

Barb was tired of the the horrible events going on in the world and wanted to brighten people’s lives.

“I don’t remember what was going on back then,” she laughed last week. “We wanted to have fun.”

How much more is that needed now, she said.

“I’m at home and I’m looking out at a camel,” said Barb, who occasionally fills in at her husband’s Leach’s Custom Trash business. “You wouldn’t believe the number of cars that stop,” she said.

The Leaches live on West River Road and people are welcome to stop and have a look, she said.

Photos by Katie Kesyer/living and leisure editor

Achoo is a pretty popular camel thanks to the conections he makes online and in real life.

They take Achoo to Shipwreck Amusements on Route 13 in Cortlandville, which they own, for families to enjoy. They also take him around the community in a trailer, annually to the Cortland Police Department and impromptu visits to St. Mary’s School, where they have a niece. Achoo has been to McGraw Elementary School where Pat’s wife, Sarah, works, and to Homer Elementary School.

Achoo likes the trailer window open so he can see the sights, said Pat Leach, a manager in the family trash business. He can’t wait for the day he can bring Achoo to school for show and tell for his kids.

People can check out the camel at Achoo Chewy Leach on Facebook for “Hump Day Humors” and other updates.

“That’s for fun,” said Pat Leach.

“No matter where we go, smiles break out,” he said.

Achoo is a Bactrian (two hump) camel. The family bought him when he was about 7 months old.

Bactrians are native to the grasslands of Central Asia. There are two kinds, domesticated, like Achoo, and wild Bactrians.

Wild Bactrians are critically endangered, according to Activewild.com. There may be 950 left and their population is decreasing, being hunted for food and sport or because their native habitat is going to livestock farms or mines.

Greg and Barb also have two donkeys, brothers about a year and a half apart, four adopted alpacas, two chickens, two hens, and a peacock named Kevin.

“Kevin is a female,” said Barb Leach. “That was the name she came with … I don’t want people thinking we named her.”

Photo by Katie Kesyer/living and leisure editor

In the house is a bulldog named Dewey and a parrot and a macaw.

Rebecca Ireland-Perry of Homer is a 4-H educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cortland County. She and her husband have owned pastured pigs for about eight years.

“Right now we have six,” she said.

They feed and water the animals twice a day and check on them in between.

“Whether you are caring for an animal or a pet, I think there’s an emotional component to it,” she said.

“You become attached to them. It’s knowing you are taking care of another living animal, knowing that they are relying on you. They have their own personality.”

“Our pigs we view in two different ways. Our main sow we consider a pet, as opposed to those we raise for meat. You become attached to the sow and boar you have had for years.”

Kids in 4-H learn basic education for dairy cows, pigs, sheep, rabbits, goats and chickens: Making sure they are fed, they are watered, they are comfortable, they are safe, they are healthy,” she said.

She said pigs will go anywhere if you offer them food.

Shake that food bucket, and they come running.

“One got out on Route 41, which is not good. You shake the food bucket, she came back.”

She thinks Achoo living over in Blodgett Mills is fascinating.

“I think it’s interesting for people to have different animals, Ireland-Perry said.

Photo by Katie Kesyer/living and leisure editor

“Years ago, my husband and I raised ostriches. They are definitely a different animal to have. We used to have school groups come and see them and we were able to educate them.”

Greg Leach has to be careful when he’s got Achoo’s food bucket or anytime he’s near the camel.

“See the size of him? When he’s around, he throws his weight around,” said Greg Leach. “He plays. He gets excited. You stay clear of him. He could knock you down.”

Achoo can kicks his legs four ways, said Pat Leach. Forget a horse or cow kick in one direction.

Achoo weighs about 1,800 pounds with his winter weight on him.

“He has some personality,” said Pat Leach. “He’s pretty easy going.”

“He’s very gentle,” said Greg.

“He plays with the alpacas and the donkeys,” said Greg Leach.

And he’s very comfortable laying out in the family’s nine acre pasture in freezing weather.

“He loves cold weather. He’ll go up on that knoll, in the field, hunker down. He loves it,” said Pat Leach.

“On moon lit nights he’ll lay out on the field,” said Greg Leach.

“He has free reign,” said Pat Leach. But the Leaches made him a stall, nevertheless.

Achoo eats grass in the field in the summer and is fed hay in the winter. He also gets a scoop of alpaca feed at night.

Photo by Katie Kesyer/living and leisure editor

“With camels and alpacas, you have to give them inoculations monthly,” Greg Leach said. This prevents the animals from getting worms spread by white tail deer.

“I came out here four years ago and he was stumbling,” Greg Leach said.

Something was not right and Achoo was whisked to Cornell Vet School. Doctors discovered worms. “It can be fatal,” he said.

After about three-four months of treatment, Achoo was back to normal. That’s the only incident of illness the camel has experienced.

The family has ridden him but he’s not trained to ride like a horse.

“He’s not trail worthy,” said Pat. “He does what he wants.”

“He’s my pal,” said Greg Leach.

Every morning and every night he makes it a point to meet and greet Achoo.

“He’s been around to help dad through difficult times,” Pat Leach said.

“Something about pets, it’s like a dog. But who would ever think of a camel. But you have to keep your guard up. He’s so big,” said Pat Leach.