Of all the backyards in all of Sisters, the camel walked into the one that belonged to Jack Kelleher.

Kelleher is a retired rancher some call a “camel whisperer.” He worked the past four decades at the former Patterson Ranch in Sisters, where he helped raise at least 20 camels, along with llamas and elk.

He was sitting in his hot tub with his wife, Julie, on Sunday when the Bactrian camel strolled by.

It was a surprising sight, but Kelleher knew how to corral a camel.

This two-humped dromedary was no wild animal, though. It was tame and wanted to be found, Kelleher said.

“We got out of the tub, got dressed and went to get the camel,” he said.

What happened next sparked a mystery that remains unsolved nearly a week later: Who owns the camel?

The camel’s tale, complete with video, was shared by media outlets from Oregon to the United Kingdom and debated on Facebook. It generated smiles all week, but no answers. Many people mistakenly thought the camel was Bubbles, a beloved Bactrian camel who lives at the former Patterson Ranch, now the Cole Ranch, and is well-known to Sisters residents for her appearances around town, including past Christmas parades.

After Kelleher got the camel, he briefly spoke with the camel’s owner, a Bend man who walked up from a house down the street. But the rancher never got the owner’s name. The man told Kelleher that his camel was a 5-year-old named Durango, which he keeps at his east Bend home — not far from a neighbor who owns a zebra.

The owner was visiting friends near Kelleher’s home on Chestnut Drive and brought Durango. He tied up Durango in his friend’s front yard, but the camel somehow got loose and walked away.

Durango’s first stop was a pasture owned by Sisters resident Esther Cottrell, who said on Facebook the camel broke through her fence and scared her horse. She wasn’t sure what to do, so she called 911.

“He stole my horse’s breakfast,” she wrote on Facebook. “Glad he got home safely.”

Deschutes County Sheriff’s Deputy Jay Minton responded to the alarm call and found the camel in Kelleher’s yard. Minton saw the camel was reunited with its owner, so he left without getting the owner’s information.

But Minton took a video of Durango walking by his patrol car, and it was posted to the sheriff’s office social media accounts. The video quickly went viral. It has 63,000 views on Facebook and was shared more than 1,000 times.

Many of those who responded to the video on Facebook were convinced it was Bubbles.

Sisters resident Diane Prescott, who sells hay for the Cole Ranch, where Bubbles has lived for the past 20 years, knew it was a different camel. Prescott often watches the 345-acre ranch and brings her donkey to keep Bubbles company. She said Kelleher may be the most knowledgeable camel handler in Central Oregon, which is why she calls him a camel whisperer.

Bubbles, whom she’s known for about 10 years, is an entertaining and lovable animal with a unique trick: a camel kiss. Put a peanut in your mouth, she said, and Bubbles will come to you and gently remove it with her large lips.

Bactrian camels like Bubbles and Durango originate from Central Asia and are accustomed to winter weather. Oregonians do not need a special permit to own a camel, but they can be expensive — about $25,000 to $30,000, Prescott said.

Bubbles was thought to be the only camel in the region, Prescott said.

“I never even heard there was another camel in Central Oregon,” Prescott said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7820, kspurr@bendbulletin.com

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