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Exotic pets are ‘lovable critters’ - Odessa American: Lifestyle

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Exotic pets are ‘lovable critters’

Chesnut started hobby by purchasing camels 10 years ago

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Posted: Sunday, April 17, 2016 6:30 am

Two 8-foot-tall camels might seem unlikely pets, but to Troy Chesnut they’re as lovable as any dog or cat.

The tax consultant and financial planner said his one-hump Arabian camels, “Duke” and “Cindy,” are as affectionate toward him as he is to them, often helping him to relax after work. “They’re my de-stressors,” Chesnut said.

“When I get home, I do a little camel-hugging. They are lovable critters. They come up and nuzzle on me, and you can imagine the slobbers and smell of their breath,” Chesnut said. “Most of the time when you get through doing this, you’ve got to change your shirt.”

Also keeping four llamas, two miniature donkeys and two dogs in his 45-acre pasture northeast of town, Chesnut became one of the Permian Basin’s growing number of exotic pet owners when he decided to help with the First Baptist Church’s Christmas celebration, for which the church was paying $3,000 to rent a camel from Waco.

“I bought two 14-month-old camels from a ranch at Big Lake, and then the preacher said we weren’t going to have any more live animals for Christmas,” Chesnut said. “Once you get to loving an animal, there is no way you can get rid of them.”

That was 10 years ago, and since then Chesnut has added the donkeys and llamas, which he says “are good for coyote control.

“I had a female llama named Queen Latifah who saw a pack of coyotes hunting all the way across the pasture,” he said. “She took off lickety-split and hit this big red coyote with her head and rolled him with her hooves. A lot of sheep and goat-herders will put a female llama with the herd to keep the coyotes out.

“I had a longhorn named Oliver who learned how to walk across the cattle guard, and he ate my wife Karen’s flowers and plants. She gave him to a rancher south of town, so I was out of the longhorn business. I ran across two zebras one time, and my wife looked at me and said, ‘Don’t you dare.’”

Chesnut is a Midkiff native who graduated from Rankin High School in 1962 and served three years in Vietnam with the 3rd Battalion of the 5th Marine Regiment, mustering out as a staff sergeant. His accounting degree is from the University of Texas of the Permian Basin. He and his wife have a daughter, Lisa Crone, and three grandchildren. Their son Michael died last year.

Asked if he prefers to let his animals run free, Chesnut said, “Yes, it would bother me to have them penned up all the time.

“They run freely throughout the acreage. Duke and Cindy will still grow another foot. We bottle fed them as babies. I have had horses and Herefords and have had as many as 15 llamas,” Chesnut said. “Every time I turned around, my wife was giving away two more. They’re pretty prolific. I love cats, but I’m allergic to them.”

Chesnut said it has been entertaining at times to see the animals establish dominance. “We had a retired thoroughbred, and he and Duke were the contenders,” he said.

“The camel finally won. Our donkeys are ‘Little Joe’ and ‘Seabiscuit,’ who we named after the racehorse because he is so speedy. We keep the donkeys because they’re cute, but they will attack if the coyotes get too close.”

Chesnut has Gardendale veterinarian Will Evans check his animals and give them annual shots, but he said they are hardy desert species who need little attention. “They survive on the weeds, especially tumbleweeds, mesquite leaves and beans, blue grama grass and other vegetation out there,” he said.

“They’re all virtually bullet-proof. I keep coastal Bermuda hay on hand and give them cattle pellets as a treat.”

Recently retired United Way Director Tom Pursel said Chesnut “is an interesting individual who started as a young Marine and worked hard his whole life.

“Troy has a huge heart, and he has done a lot through his church and Rotary International, helping to distribute 1,000 wheelchairs in Vietnam and digging water wells and building a clinic in the remote eastern region of Sierra Leone, where Ebola started,” Pursel said.

“He believes in earning your own way, but he wants to make sure that everyone has an opportunity,” Pursel said. “Troy and Karen work hard and give unbelievably to the community and the world. When they see something that needs to be done, they do it.”

Odessa, TX

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