COLUMBIA — Louise was a mule, but she wasn’t stubborn. In her 27 years in Columbia, she got along with many of the people she met.
With her partner, Hillda, Louise traveled all over Missouri as the mascot for the MU College of Veterinary Medicine. Hillda and Louise attended as many as 50 events a year — parades, church picnics and even weddings. They made appearances at alumni events and festivals across the state, including the Soybean Festival in Mexico, and the Maple Leaf Festival in Joplin.
Last week, Louise had to be euthanized at the age of 35 because of deteriorating health. Over the nearly three decades she spent in Columbia, she became so popular that alumni and other visitors sought her out when they were on campus.
“I really underestimated the impact she would have on the public and on the students," said John Dodam, chairman of the department of veterinary medicine and surgery. "From people that come to the mule barn on Sundays to feed the mules carrots, to alumni showing their kids the mules on a football game weekend, I never knew any of this would happen.”
The pair of mules came to MU in 1984 after Robert Kahrs, former dean of the Veterinary School, purchased them from a farmer in Fayette. When a new team of mules was purchased in 1996, Louise and Hillda retired.
Physically, Louise was distinct from her partner and the other mules. She developed more white on her face as she got older, and she was easier to spot around the pasture. Hillda and Louise weighed between 900 and 1,000 pounds, about half the weight of the other mule teams, Dodam said.
Compared to her partner, Louise developed a personality that set her apart.
“Mules tend to bond with individual people and act a little standoffish toward strangers," said Dodam, who's also an adviser to the Mule Club, which is made up of students who exercise, groom and feed the mules. "But Hillda and Louise were two mules that both seemed to get along with all kinds of different folks — Louise even more so than Hillda.”
Those who interacted with her said Louise was reliable and smart.
James Thorne, another Mule Club adviser, worked with her for more than 20 years.
"She was a good mule and not as flighty as Hillda," Thorne said.
Louise also played a part in the education of veterinary students by giving them an opportunity to work with the mules on the road as well as on campus.
“This teaches students how to handle the mules, as well as how to interact with the public, which can be a relatively stressful situation when dealing with such large animals,” Dodam said.
The Mule Club has not decided on a memorial for Louise but has discussed planting a tree in her honor or spreading her ashes in the mule pasture.
“She was such a reliable and steady partner when it came down to it," Dodam said. "She played a huge role in training our students, both to the mule drivers and veterinarians, and we certainly appreciated her patience.