By Shirley Zindler, Animal Control Officer, Sonoma County Animal Services
As an animal control officer I heard some reports about the mules by people concerned about their welfare but in each case they were gone when we arrived. A friend was following them on Facebook so I read up on them and found their journey fascinating.
On a Saturday afternoon I was working when a call came in of the mules walking alongside a nearby highway. The caller was concerned about it being too warm and the mules carrying packs that looked heavy. I was eager to find out for myself how the mules were. When I pulled up I could see them grazing happily beside the road. They appeared healthy and in good condition with excellent feet and they weren’t even sweating. I quickly introduced myself to their person and told him how glad I was to meet him. He said his name was John and answered my questions politely.
They weren’t far from my home and I asked John where he was staying that night. He said that he didn’t know and I offered my small fenced pasture. I have to admit that later when he had the mules unpacked and grazing in my field I checked them over pretty thoroughly. No sores or wounds from poorly fitting or over crowded packs. No swelling of the legs indicating overwork. The mules were in excellent lean and healthy condition.
I was amazed that the oldest mule, Lady, is 36 years old and that she and John have been traveling together for 31 of those years. I hugged Lady’s big long face and felt her warm breath on my skin and my heart swelled with love. She was in fabulous condition and way past the age that most equines live so John was obviously doing a good job caring for her and the other mules. I heard some criticism that she should have been retired but really the mules were living a more natural life than most. People would have been happy if the mules had been sitting in a small stall or paddock day after day but seemed bothered to see them on the move. The mules had good care, daily mental and physical stimulation, they had each other and they had John looking out for their every need.
That night as I was settling into my comfy bed in the house I thought of John and mules out there under the stars. I could hear the soft calls of an owl through the open window and I almost wished I was out there with them.