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United Methodist family rescues New Orleans’ mules

 


United Methodist family rescues New Orleans’ mules

Sept. 26, 2005

A UMNS Report
By Jan Snider*

Within two days of the New Orleans flood, Dick and Amanda Reese of Gallatin, Tenn., had more than 30 extra mouths to feed.

The meals were served up in the form of hay bales and Tennessee pasture land.

The Reeses, members of First United Methodist Church in Gallatin, are mule ranchers, along with Dick’s brother, Rufus. When Hurricane Katrina caused levees in New Orleans to break Aug. 29, the Reeses knew the animals pulling carriages around the French Quarter were in trouble.

Dick began trying to reach the carriage owners. He had originally sold many of the hardy animals to the businesses and wanted to offer his ranch for boarding.

The first owner he heard from was sure her animals had perished in the flood. "She was devastated," he recalls. "She thought she’d lost her business and everything." She soon discovered the mules had been taken to a Baton Rouge, La., shelter.

Dick arranged for trucks to pick up the mules and bring them to Tennessee. Amanda says it is their mission to care for the animals until the carriage businesses can be restored. "A driving mule is hard to come by these days," she explains. "The business owners’ way of life needed protecting."

"There are probably 120 working mules in New Orleans, although only about 25 can be out on the square at a time," Dick explains. "If the mules were lost, that would affect at least 120 families."

The Reese brothers are mending fences along their land to keep the mules from wandering the country roads. "They’re very curious animals," Dick says. "They’ll get into everything; they’ll open gates and get where they don’t need to be. We have to double-team them!"

Reese says he’s banded the mules to indicate which ones belong to the particular owners. He’s observed that even though the rescued mules are sharing pastureland, they do not associate with the mules belonging to a competing company.

To their good fortune, the rift did not extend to their rescue. A New Orleans carriage company owner hauled a competing company’s mules to safety when he discovered they were stranded. Ten additional horses were not so lucky and spent several days on the highway surrounded by water. Those horses are being transported to the Reese ranch.

Mules, a cross between donkeys and horses, are considered personable and intelligent. Carriage drivers are known to get attached to their equine partners, and some have contacted Dick Reese to see how the animals are doing.

"Their homes are under water and they’re probably staying at shelters, but the drivers want to come and visit their mules as soon as they can," Dick says.

A handful of his four-legged guests were scheduled to return to New Orleans, but Hurricane Rita delayed the plans. Dick says one of the business owners is anxious to show people New Orleans will bounce back and that having the working carriages around Jackson Square again will signal survival. The rest of the mules are not expected to be returned to the city until major cleanup efforts are completed.

While many are applauding the Reeses for their time, effort and expense in getting the animals safely to Tennessee, Dick is uncomfortable taking credit. As a member of First United Methodist Church, he has watched his fellow parishioners give time and money to ease the human toll of Katrina.

"This is a small way we can help," Amanda says, "and I think the mules are very lucky to be here on good Tennessee grass."

When word got out that the Reeses were boarding the New Orleans mules, the phone began ringing. "People have called and wanted to donate food or adopt a few of the animals," Amanda explains, "but we are fine right now. We want to keep the animals together." When winter comes, she says, they may need extra help with the cost of feed, but now the mules are dining on plenty of hay and grass.

The Reese Brothers Mule Co. is expected to care for the New Orleans mules and horses for at least six more months.

When asked if this is his form of Christian outreach, Dick says, "It’s just outreach. This is something I can do. I know how to do it, I know the people. Anybody would have done it."

*Snider is a multimedia producer for United Methodist News Service.

News media contact: Jan Snider, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5474 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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