“Please pull your mule over to the side of the road,” the voice came to us loud and clear, polite yet firm, from a North Liberty Police squad car behind us.
It was a late summer afternoon, Sabra and I were on our way to Bob’s Place, a tavern in North Liberty about two miles from our home. Sabra was riding Dan, the one-eyed mule, and I was leading Buzz, my beloved dog of many years. We adopted Dan a year earlier, and he proved to be a great addition to the family.
Dan joined Buzz and me on our daily walks through the scrubby woods near our home, and proved to be a fine companion, unlike his half-brother the horse. I’m not an expert, but I do know enough to say that horses can be skittish in the woods. A horse might balk at crossing a stream, for example, or refuse to traverse a rocky slope. Not Dan. He’d go through, over, or under anything you pointed him at. I especially appreciated him when we’d come to a patch of multi-flora rose, the biological equivalent of concertina wire. I could point Dan into it and then get behind him in his wake, holding his tail, while he plowed through the tangle, his leathery skin oblivious to the sharp barbs.
Sabra loves all animals, the bigger the better. Dan was the biggest and she loved him the most. Nothing was too good for Dan including: the building of a special addition to our barn to shelter the beast; the declaration of war on the flies that tormented him; and an operation to deal with his eye.
As detailed earlier, Dan’s bad eye was an oozing, disgusting mess that his previous owner dealt with by covering it with a crude patch made of a fly screen, duct tape and the cup from an athletic supporter. Out of sight, out of mind. Our mule must have it better, and the call to the vet went in shortly after adoption.
To my surprise, the procedure was performed on site. I helped by holding and regulating the IV bag full of saline solution and sedative. While I watched, the vet pulled out a pocketknife, splashed it with alcohol and gouged out the eye with all the ceremony of preparing a grapefruit for breakfast. Once the eye was removed, he sewed up the now-empty socket with needle a thread, and I added mule surgeon’s assistant to my resume.
The trip to Bob’s Place was our first with Dan. Bob’s Place was particularly animal friendly. Depending on which patron brought what pets, there might be more dogs in the bar than humans. There was even a hitching post set up in the shade on the property, mules welcome.
We were in sight of the bar when the policeman told us to pull over, not a hard task as we were traveling at a rate of about two miles an hour. The cop told us that it was illegal to operate a mule on city streets but we politely disagreed with him. “The previous owner road him into town frequently and he said it was legal,” I told him.
The policeman, being reasonable, agreed to go check while we had a beer in the bar. When he came back, he admitted that we were right: riding a horse or mule on city streets was specifically permitted. “But,” he added, “if you’re here after dark he must have DOT approved lights.”
So we got our ass out of town while there was still daylight. We didn’t want to risk an DMWU, driving a mule while unlit.