Catherine Dawn Arlett

Obituary: Catherine Arlett rescued camels at her El Dorado County sanctuary "Camelot"

Published: Friday, Sep. 6, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 4B
Last Modified: Friday, Sep. 6, 2013 - 6:32 am

Catherine Dawn Arlett, a generous woman who cared for rescued camels at her El Dorado County ranch, died Aug. 25. She was 73 and had emphysema, said her sister Janis Vogel.

Never married, Ms. Arlett was an unassuming person who spent her life helping others. She worked for 40 years in state service and retired in 2001 as a program administrator for the California Department of Aging.

A breast-cancer survivor, she volunteered with the American Cancer Society and was co-chairwoman for the local Relay for Life charity race. A whiz at technology, she helped friends with computer problems and tutored kids after school.

She supported local charities, sent gift packages to troops overseas and shared the bounty of visits to Costco and other shopping trips.

"Every summer when the peaches got ripe, she would go down to a local farm and bring back boxes of peaches for everybody," neighbor Helen Willey said. "She was the most giving person."

In the early 1980s, Ms. Arlett read a newspaper story about a herd of neglected camels in need of help. The animals had been imported to California from Australia for the movie "Hawmps!" about camels used by the Army in the Old West.

She joined a group of volunteers to form the American Camel Association and raised money to board most of the herd at a ranch in Esparto. More than a half-dozen others found a home on a 10- acre ranch she bought in 1987 near Placerville as a sanctuary that she called Camelot.

"People were always stopping up here to look at the camels," Willey said. "It was like having your own live Nativity scene."

Ms. Arlett cared for the animals with help from residents in the close, rural community who kept an eye on her ranch and kept out would-be trespassers while she was at work in Sacramento. She lived in a converted barn and shared her property with a young couple who helped with the camels and also looked after her in recent years.

She kept 25-pound bags of carrots on hand for visiting youngsters who delighted in feeding the exotic animals. She welcomed the births of three camels and donated the remains of animals that died for study by UC Davis veterinary students.

"She'd always had animals – horses and dogs and pets, not camels," Vogel said. "But my sister was a very loving person. She loved her camels like anybody would love any pet."

Ms. Arlett was born Aug. 25, 1939, in Taft in Kern County and moved with her family to Auburn and Roseville. She graduated from Roseville High School in 1957 and from California State University, Sacramento, in 1961.

In 1987, when a group of volunteers from Marin County moved most of the camels in Esparto to the Bay Area, Ms. Arlett vowed to keep her animals at Camelot. Three camels that remained on the ranch at her death will be placed at another sanctuary.

"She always said that she wanted to live one day longer than the last of her camels," Vogel said. "She felt responsible for them."

In addition to Vogel, Ms. Arlett is survived by another sister, Diane Boisa, and a brother, Don. A celebration of life is planned for 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 14 at Camelot.

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Call The Bee's Robert D. Dávila, (916) 321-1077. Follow him on Twitter @bob_davila.

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