Lyons welcome Keesa
ROBIN LYON feeds Keesa, a 16-day-old Bactrian camel, while Hump-Free, a full-grown dromedary camel, checks out the newest addition at Lyon Ranch.
Robbi Pengelly/ Index-Tribune
The entire Valley seemed to share in the loss of Kazzy, the beloved therapy camel of Lyon Ranch and a common fixture at community events, who died of a rare infection in 2009. But following that loss came rebirth, this time in the form of Keesa, a new Bactrien camel recently arrived at the ranch, who just so happens to be a full blood cousin of Kazzy.
Born May 9, the wobbly-legged new bundle came home with Rob and Robin Lyon on May 19, finally filling the gaping void left after Kazzy's death. "I couldn't have found anything close to Kazzy. She's (Keesa) not replacing Kazzy, she's just following in her footsteps," Robin Lyon said.
But Keesa would not be here, bringing joy and comfort as a therapy animal, were it not for the generosity of one Sonoma couple, who gave Lyon Ranch the single largest donation it has ever received. Frank and Arlene Keesling have lived in Sonoma for 14 years and routinely go out of their way to support the community they love, particularly when it comes to animals.
"Animals have nobody to speak for them," Frank Keesling said. "We do what we can for all creatures great and small."
The couple reached out to their friend Christy Coulston, at Westamerica Bank, and asked about animal nonprofits in the Valley. Coulston recommended they take a tour of Lyon Ranch to see the therapy animals that are taken to nursing homes and hospitals to provide comfort to those in need. The Lyons welcomed the Keeslings to their property last October, where dozens of creatures from camels and zedonks to Sahara cats and a rainbow array of exotic birds - all rescue animals - reside.
"I thought it was just a tour for some local folks," Robin Lyon said.
The Keeslings were impressed, not only by the variety of animals, but by the Lyons and their love of all creatures. At the end of the visit, just before leaving the ranch, the Keeslings handed Robin Lyon a check for $15,000.
"I was stunned," Robin Lyon said, adding that the money was given with no strings attached. "They said, 'You can use this for veterinary expenses, for feed or to get another camel to do the work that Kazzy did.'"
The Lyons had long wanted to find a new female camel, but could not afford to bring a new therapy animal to the ranch at the time. Now, with funds in hand, Robin Lyon began a long search to find the family that bred Kazzy.
The Lyons have two dromedary camels - camels with one hump - but they wanted the rarer Bactrian variety, a camel with two humps, like Kazzy.
"I knew I was going to really have to search because I wanted a specific camel," she said.
When she finally tracked down the breeder, Robin Lyon learned that not only was Kazzy's mother pregnant, Kazzy's two aunts were both expecting as well. The Lyons put down $14,500 for one of the camels, and when the first girl was born, Robin Lyon said she knew it was meant to be their therapy camel.
"She's got the same eyes as Kazzy," she said.
While the Lyons spent months finding Keesa, the Keeslings had no idea how the money they donated was being used. Last Friday, the day after Keesa came home, Coulston and Robin Lyon schemed up a way to get Frank and Arlene Keesling to the bank so the benefactors could be the first in Sonoma to meet Keesa.
"They pulled a number on me and Arlene at the bank," Frank Keesling said with a laugh. "The doors open and this creature just walked in. I just lost it. I fell back in my chair, just in tears. I was totally, totally, totally surprised. It was the coolest thing."
The Keeslings also got to name the new baby camel, picking Keesa for the similar sound to their family name. They look forward to watching her grow, both in size and in training as she matures into a therapy animal.
And grow she will - at an average rate of about a pound a day for the next two years. Fully grown, she will likely weigh more than 2,000 pounds. But her training is already in full force, as the Lyons first work to get her to trust them. Then the couple will work to expose her to different places, people and situations to get her comfortable riding in elevators, hearing sirens and other activities she will encounter as a therapy animal.
"We trained her last Sunday to go in and out of the electric doors," Robin Lyon said.
As for the Keeslings, they plan to continue to bring animal delight into their lives. The same day they met Keesa, a ceramic camel Arlene Keesling ordered arrived in the mail.
"Arlene just looked at me and said, 'It's serendipity,'" Frank Keesling said.