When Herb and Bummy Yantis celebrate their birthdays Dec. 7, they’ll risk being upstaged by a four-legged farm animal.
Herb, who turns 90 on Dec. 31, and Bummy, who turned 85 on Nov. 12, have decided to include their 50-year-old mule in the festivities.
Ted, as the beloved animal is named, won’t be attending the birthday celebration at the Newaukum Grange, but Bummy plans to have a carrot cake in his honor. A large poster comprised of pictures of the mule will also be on display.
“We’ve just enjoyed him so much,” Bummy said Wednesday while providing Ted his morning feast of chopped up carrots, bananas and apples.
The diced meal is more practical than doting.
As he's grown older, Ted has lost many of his teeth. On two occasions, an apple has become lodged in his throat, requiring the services of a veterinarian to dislodge it.
“From then on, we grind it up,” Bummy said.
He’s also blind in one eye, though he is an otherwise healthy beast of burden, Herb and Bummy said.
His advanced age is somewhat shocking to some. Mules normally die by the age of 35. Ted was already 10 when they bought him at an auction for $100 about 40 years ago.
A veterinarian who helped dislodge an apple from Ted’s throat was amazed by his age.
“She said she’s never worked on an animal this old,” Bummy said.
Ted outlived his partner in crime, a fellow mule named Jack that Bummy and Herb bought after they already had Ted. The two became accomplices and friends, sometimes escaping their enclosure and wandering around the Frogner Road neighborhood where the Yantis family has lived for four decades.
Jack, who was younger than Ted, died about eight years ago.
“This mule went crazy,” Bummy said, pointing to Ted. “He ran and ran the field. He would just stand where Jack died.”
Ted, who is named after a horse Bummy had as a child, is still active. He likes to meander around the large, fenced Yantis property, occasionally stopping at a neighbor’s house for a few bites of alfalfa.
He acts as a “guard dog” when coyotes and other animals invade the area, notifying Bummy and Herb with body language and brays.
When Herb is walking the property, Ted enjoys following him.
“Oh, we’ve had some times,” Herb said as he stroked the mule’s graying muzzle.
Herb gives Ted cough drops to snack on, a treat that seemed to excite Ted as he pressed his nose against Herb’s leg.
The secret to his longevity is simple, according to Bummy.
“We have spoiled him,” she said.
With the exceptions of a few occasions when Herb would harness the two mules and use them to move logs around his property, Ted has never been required to perform manual labor. Ted is and always has been a pet, first and foremost, Bummy said.
The idea to celebrate his birthday came as the couple accepted that Ted won’t be around forever.
“We just don’t know how long we’re going to have him,” Bummy said.
It’s been a good run though, both Bummy and Herb admit.
The brown mule purchased at an auction has given them countless memories and acts as a reminder of the last 40 years and all the couple has experienced in that time.
They will be sad to see him go, but Ted has provided a great ride.
“He’s sure been a good mule,” Bummy said.
Eric Schwartz is assistant editor of The Chronicle. Contact him with comments and news tips at firstname.lastname@example.org or (360) 807-8224.