Stubborn sidekicks

Tim and Terry are learning to pull their weight
as the MU veterinary college’s latest mascots
Thursday, January 15, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 1:12 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

Tim and Terry are ready for their official MU photo shoot. They stand proud and look straight ahead, ignoring a biting breeze during the cold snap last week. The flash goes off and Terry, caught off guard, is burying his head behind Tim’s. The two 10-year-olds are MU’s star pair of mules.

“Come on, mules!” shouts Sarah Hesse, vice president of MU’s Mule Club, trying to get the mules to look at the camera. “Tim, Terry, come on!”

Another flash and Terry is getting restless.

“Sarah, move his butt,” cries Jenny Comte, treasurer of the club.

Hesse pushes Terry, almost three times her size, back in place. This afternoon, Tim and Terry are decked out in their parade harnesses and pulling MU’s College of Veterinary Medicine wagon. One more shot and they can go back to being regular mules.

“Submit your modeling fee to the university,” Randy Mertens said, laughing. Mertens is coordinator of vet school publications and the one responsible for making Terry uncomfortable.

This photo shoot is a taste of the many events at which Tim and Terry will have to be at their best in the near future. The two mules have been on campus for a month and will start making public appearances soon, pulling the vet school wagon in parades and other events. Pulling the wagon and acting as public relations officers for the vet school is their job here.

Hesse and Comte are joined by Romy Troy, president of the Mule Club. They are all up in the wagon driving it back to the barn. The mules have done well. Along with the club’s secretary, the girls are the four main caretakers of Tim and Terry.

They feed the mules grain, hay and vitamins twice a day. About three times a week, Tim and Terry get walked, practicing their wagon pulling. They are new to this, Hesse said, as they have lived on pastures for most of their lives.

Hesse and the other club officers are new to wagon-driving as well, so they are learning along with the mules. All of them are second-year veterinary students and have been taught by former club officers. The Mule Club, which has about 30 members, hands down the art of mule-driving from one generation of students to the next.

The mule is Missouri’s state animal, and farmers used the animals to work their fields. That happened before tractors came along and left mules without a job. Troy said few people drive mules anymore. She considers this a unique chance.

Finding the two mules was difficult, Troy said. A vet school search committee tested about a dozen pairs to replace Jill and Shirley, who retired in the summer after seven years at MU. They now live on a farm near Springfield under the care of an MU alumnus. Tim and Terry, from Springfield, proved to be the complete package, Hesse said. The committee wanted to make sure the mules were road-safe and would not skitter in traffic. They also had to be in good health because pulling the wagon on hard concrete is tough on the knees.

The club officers’ duties also include cleaning the stalls, brushing the mules and changing their water. They spend 15 to 20 hours a week caring for them. Their work is voluntary, but the mules’ living arrangements are supported by the vet school dean’s office.

“When I was a kid, I had horses,” Troy said, explaining her passion for mules.

Tim and Terry were old enough to be trained, Troy said. They are draft mules, which means they are raised for work and pulling a wagon, not for riding. Hillda and Louise, MU’s original pair of mules, purchased in 1984, are still alive. They are now in their late 20s and get along just fine with Tim and Terry, although the latter can be a pain to live with.

“Terry is the boss,” Troy said of the camera-shy mule. “He chases the others off and lets them know who runs the show.”

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