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[whitespace] Camels Animal Instincts

Political consultant roams with animals, lives a simple solar life in the hills

By Will Harper

DATA MANAGEMENT executive Doug Winslow drives past the "Llama Crossing" sign at the driveway entrance of his sprawling homestead in the mountains above Saratoga and taps the horn to his baby-blue BMW Z3 Roadster a couple of times. This lets everyone on the ranch know he's home from work, where he's been poring over spreadsheets and schmoozing clients.

As he pulls into his parking spot atop a grass landing, the teeming four-legged masses are already galloping toward his sports car.

And when he disembarks, Winslow navigates through a tide of animals approaching him like a rock-star Dr. Doolittle making his way through a mob of adoring fans. He pats a goat's head here and a sheep's back there, continuing to walk forward calmly among his flock, seemingly without any worries about stepping in the abundant supply of goat shit, sheep shit, llama shit, emu shit, chicken shit and horse shit.

Winslow is tall but not towering, slim and fit, with dark eyebrows like Gregory Peck's.

Then approaches one of Winslow's most adoring followers on his exotic animal farm, a 4-month-old Brahma bull--the kind commonly seen roaming the streets of India. His name is Dharma. Winslow nursed the young calf back to health over a two-month period after adopting him from a local breeder who had given up hope.

Dharma ambles up to Winslow and nuzzles his face against his owner's side. Winslow gives him a peck on the head. As Winslow shows me around his property, Dharma follows him around like a puppy.

It was Winslow's grandfather from Hollister--a lover of cockatiels and small exotic birds--who got him into animal collecting. By the time Winslow was 12, he obtained his first pair of pheasants, his favorite bird. In college he added a few more animals to his collection, including a pet squirrel that ate his Stanford roommate's pot plant.

But it wasn't until he bought his current 40-acre homestead--for a paltry $215,000 in 1987--that his collection really took off. His ranch supports some 276 animal occupants--who require 100 pounds of feed a day--including 104 rare ornamental pheasants, 10 emus, five llamas, three cats, two horses, two dogs, two rabbits and a headstrong young camel named Omar. At one point while I'm scribbling notes, Omar nibbles at my fleece. Winslow explains, "He just wants to taste you."

In Realtor-speak, Winslow's Rancho Pavo Real (Peacock Ranch) is about as "rustic" as you can get in high-tech Silicon Valley. Everything runs on solar power. Not that there's a lot to power up. Winslow lives on the property in a modest two-bedroom mobile home that features a few basic household appliances--TV and refrigerator--and not much else.

The primitive atmosphere of Rancho Pavo Real is in marked contrast to the hectic political suit-and-tie world Winslow inhabits during the day.

The 44-year-old businessman, who owns American Data Management in Santa Clara, sells voter information to Democratic candidates. A pioneer in the use of computerized voter data, Winslow was one of the first political vendors to make use of bar codes on precinct lists in 1988. His client list includes Gov. Gray Davis, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Zoe Lofgren.

"It's a nice contrast," Winslow says of the difference between his work life and his home life. He concedes, though, that sometimes he worries about clients and techies finding his living situation a bit weird. "I certainly get a lot of comments from people who come up and say, 'You live here?' "

A bit defensively, he adds, "All those people in Silicon Valley with their computers making love online, they are eccentric. These," he says, motioning to the redwood trees in the distance, "are our roots up here. ... I don't want a big Saratoga home with my neighbor 10 feet away."

The nearest neighbor right now is about one-quarter of a mile away. Which also means that the nearest person is a quarter mile down the road. Winslow has been living by himself for this year after breaking up with his longtime partner, Rick. "Do you realize how tidy most gay men are? Before I start dating," he deadpans, "I must clean and scrub, tell Dharma he must not follow me into the house, and teach Omar to not get jealous."

Over the hills in the distance, the sun is beginning to sink behind an obscured horizon.

Winslow will wake up the next day before it rises again so he can feed the horde. He wouldn't have it any other way.

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From the December 16-22, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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