COLUMBIA— Two rawboned 10-year-olds from outside Springfield have been chosen to represent the University of Missouri-Columbia at events ranging from the governor’s inauguration to the State Fair.
Tim and Terry are replacing Jill and Shirley as the university’s mule team.
“These are the first gelding mules we’ve ever had, and they’re maybe not as good looking as the mare mules, but the university is an equal opportunity employer,” Dr. John Dodem quipped to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He’s a professor at the college of veterinary medicine who led the mule search team.
Missouri’s mascot is the tiger. Still, the College of Veterinary Medicine has had a team of mules since 1982, a nod to the animal’s role in the state’s history. This is the third pair.
For the first century of statehood, Missouri was the epicenter of mule breeding, and the savvy, homely animals carried the state’s economy on their backs, serving in the fields, the mines and the logging camps.
Mules were large enough to pull the vet school’s 12-person wagon that is used for appearances at various events. Nowadays, the animals are smaller and lighter, making the hunt for a large, well-matched, well-mannered pair more difficult.
Plus, the big draft mules that are available don’t always get adequate traffic training. In August, Dodem and his committee of vet school students and community mule experts thought they’d pinpointed a suitable pair of individuals. Randy Mertens, editor of the vet school’s publications, notified the press.
But two weeks later, Mertens sent out a second e-mail: “It looks as if the team may need additional training around large vehicles, particularly garbage trucks. I’ve been told, and this is secondhand, that when the garbage truck was making its regular rounds, the candidate mules got spooked and ran into the barn to hide. It is essential that our mules be cool around cars. The number of drivers who feel compelled to honk their horns ... is incredible.”
The search committee plodded on, rejecting scrawny mules, ill-tempered ones, undertrained ones and ones that weren’t born in Missouri.
“I am not about to select some out-of-state mules and put us in line for an expose: Mizzou’s Missouri mules hail from Illinois!” Dodem declared at one point.
Finally, Tim and Terry were discovered.
The animals weigh about 1,500 pounds each and have proved cooperative and laid-back about everything from hoof care to garbage trucks.
Purchased with a $5,000 donation from the farm vehicle supplier Sydenstricker Implement Co., the mules are irrefutably of Missouri parentage.
“Tim is a little higher strung, but Terry is a good anchor,” Dodem said. “I think we have finally found the right pair.”