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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, August 07, 2002

Doug Winslow's Wild Kingdom Doug Winslow's Wild Kingdom (August 07, 2002)

Midpeninsula resident's home resembles Noah's Ark

by Rachel Metz

The folks living at Doug Winslow's sprawling 40-acre La Honda ranch can be unruly -- they scratch, howl, jump on the hood of your car to take a nap, and go to the bathroom wherever they please.

True, they're a naturally wild bunch, but you'd think they'd act a little more civilized when a guest comes to visit.

Then again, maybe not. After all, they are a bunch of animals.

With four zebras, two camels, two llamas, assorted emus, ostriches, sheep, horses, pheasants, pigeons, pot-bellied pigs, rabbits, enough birds to stock an aviary and assorted other animals, Doug Winslow, 46, leads a full, loud, and sometimes smelly life.

"It just makes me so content...It's like taking the best, some of the most beautiful things from our planet and putting them all together in one place, in a sort of serene, gorgeous, Palo Alto mountaintop setting," Winslow said of his 40-acre Skyline home.

Winslow has always loved animals. As a child growing up in Palo Alto's Barron Park neighborhood, he tended pigeons and chickens with the knowledge he would acquire more animals when he grew up. His grandfather, who lived in Hollister, took care of pheasants and smaller ornamental birds and bred cockatiels.

Winslow said he learned about animal husbandry from his grandfather.

"He was my main contact for how to handle them and how easy they were to take care of," Winslow said. "He always told me that the people that are well-connected with animals and with nature live a much longer time."

From 1975 until about 1982, Winslow also tended land owned by Palo Alto Medical Clinic founder Russel Lee. Lee was a strong influence, helping cement Winslow's desire to live a rural life.

"I sort of got the bug of living out on the land," Winslow said. "(I) started getting some of the animals as a caretaker for the Lee property and then he passed away in the '80s and I had to eventually move on, but I had a lot of animals by then that I'd accumulated."

Finding new living accommodations, however, proved to be a challenge.

"My options were limited...I'd look for a condo in Palo Alto but I'd wonder, 'Where am I going to put the sheep and the peacock?' I remember looking at a condo, thinking, 'That little lawn out front could hold a couple sheep,' and then thinking, 'Nah, better not.'"

After leaving Stanford in 1977 several units shy of a communications degree, Winslow ran an unsuccessful bid for a seat on Palo Alto's City Council in 1981. The loss didn't deter him from politics, and he became interested in behind-the-scenes political strategy.

In 1985, he founded American Data Management, a company that specializes in data processing and voter-file targeting for Democratic and progressive political campaigns. He also runs Emu Printing, but is in the process of scaling back both businesses so he can focus more on his work as a political consultant.

"I think that being a trainer of wild animals gives him a good basis for working with political candidates," Mountain View Mayor Sally Lieber said.

She first met Winslow while running for Mountain View City Council in 1997 and worked with him on a successful campaign for the Democratic nomination for state Assembly in March 2002.

Lieber added, "I have been up to his ranch and frankly most of his pets scare me -- they're not something I would ever have around the house...But he is really the master of his domain up there and it's pretty amazing. I actually call him the 'Camel Whisperer.' It's amazing the relationship he has with the animals."

Winslow paid $215,000 for his 40-acre Skyline home in 1987, dubbed "Rancho Pavo Real" (Peacock Ranch). He resides in a white, double-wide trailer left on the property by the previous owners.

Winslow lives "off the grid" -- without any standard source of available electricity -- and adopted a system of solar panels and batteries to power his washing machine, computer, satellite Internet access and satellite TV.

"He loves the trailer and he loves having solar power. It's a source of great pride. We just have to remember not to turn on all the appliances when we go visit. But he has his own well, he has solar power, he has a wood-fired fireplace and he does just fine. As long as he has a telephone he's OK," said Winslow's sister, Palo Alto city auditor Sharon Erickson.

After he finishes paying off his mortgage, he may build a house on the land. In the meantime, he has plenty to keep him busy. Winslow spends about 40 hours each week working on his "downtown" jobs, but makes sure he takes plenty of time to stop and smell the animals.

He enjoys his companions -- all approximately 273 of them. They are allowed to wander around his property in a loose rotation system that ensures too many animals aren't running free at once. Winslow said animal care requires at least two hours each day, and he spends time building and improving cages and pens for his pets, as well as performing light veterinary activities like stitching up animals if they suffer minor cuts or wounds.

Food for the group runs about $1,200 each month and many of the animals eat "cob," a mixture of corn, oats and barley. Winslow said veterinary fees cost several thousand dollars per year.

"It looks like a lot of work," Winslow said, referring to the time required to feed, care for and entertain his troops. "But it just isn't as much work as it looks like. I still think having a couple teenage kids would be a lot harder than 273 content farm animals."

Clearly, the animals are happy to be home with Winslow. Dharma the Brahma bull trots after donkeys Thurber and Madge, while two rabbits laze about in a pen containing an assortment of multi-hued pheasants and other birds. The camels, Omar and Marrakesh, hang out in an enclosure located behind a row of bird cages.

Winslow said friends have told him he lets the animals boss him around, but he tries to keep control.

"They have a lot of droppings, so I'm keeping them in their pens more because I get tired of the droppings all over the place. So you want to be tidy and yet you have all these animals running around and it's hard. Or you leave the door open and you forget you left the door open and the sheep are in the house eating the house plants or something," Winslow said.

He does bring baby animals inside the house, and occasionally wakes up to find sheep or llamas in the house. Winslow said he is unperturbed by their unexpected appearances.

At times, animals graze in the direction of Winslow's neighbors, the MacNivens.

"Every once in a while, maybe once a year, they'll say the camels are eating the wisteria off their building or the zebras got into their garden, so I'll keep the animals in more in their pens if I think they're wandering over there a little much. If their place gets a little lush and my place is a little eaten off, they'll start wandering over there," Winslow said.

"But (the MacNivens) are conflicted because they love sitting in their breakfast nook or having friends over and having a herd of zebras walk by," Winslow said.

The animals rarely scuffle and he has never suffered any serious bites or injuries while caring for his pets. The male ostrich can get territorial when the females are laying eggs, and one of the llamas likes to push visitors around, but the vast majority of Winslow's pets are mellow and friendly.

Zebras, commonly thought to be difficult animals, are cucumber-cool on Winslow's land. One zebra that came to him wild and unmanageable was quickly placated by the other animals. Right now Winslow has one male, Spot, and three pregnant females, Zelda, Zambesi and Zephron. Baby zebras are expected between April and August 2003.

"People say you can't tame these zebras, but look at them," Winslow said, gesturing to a striped group hanging out near the edge of a ridge.

Although Winslow bought the zebras for between $3,000 and $5,000 each, about half his animals are rescued. Without his aid, some faced uncertain fates -- such as the ostriches he acquired after a couple bought the birds for their meat and couldn't resell or adequately care for them.

"The ostriches came from Redding, and a couple paid $38,000 for the first pair of them and they gave them to me for free...By the time I got them they said, 'Can you just please take them? You'll save my marriage," Winslow said.

Besides taking in homeless ostriches, he helps zoos and breeders maintain healthy numbers of animals such as the golden pheasant, of which he has several. He cannot take in every animal offered, but Winslow has found homes for sheep and camels.

Visitors to Rancho Pavo Real do like to gawk at the squawking peacocks and Oliver the cockatoo, who is known to say "tickle, tickle." Winslow allows the Emergency Housing Consortium to bring teenagers to his land, and local shows "Evening Magazine" and "Bay Area Backroads" visited this spring to tape pieces on him and the animals.

"It's been a lot of fun for our children to visit Uncle Doug. Over the years he has accumulated more and more animals of different types and all of us are constantly amazed when he gets a new critter. Camels was a good one," said Winslow's sister, Sharon Erickson.

From his Skyline perch, Winslow is content to take care of his animal family, watching it grow as baby parrots and newborn donkeys enter the fray.

"I just love them all so much," Winslow said. <@$p

E-mail Rachel Metz at [email protected]


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