Kadle, whose family hunted with mules for generations, drove to Arab to pick out the animal — the hybrid offspring of a female horse and a male donkey. He negotiated a price for a 14-year-old male mule from a man who said he had personally trained him.
The price was $850, and the mule’s name was Radar, chosen because, when hiking, he seemed to have some magic radar that always brought him back to the place he’d started.
When Kadle went to load the animal onto his trailer, he figured he’d walk him around the building.
“Just bring him right through here,” the man said, indicating his business office. Kadle shrugged, took the harness, and walked the animal up three steps. He led it through the office and down three more steps — a task that would make most mules balk. But not Radar. His desire to please Kadle was the beginning of a love relationship between Radar and the entire Kadle family.
Kadle, an employee at Hartford Insurance Company, drove Radar home and introduced him to his wife Donna, daughter Sherri, who was about 22 at the time, and son David, who was 14.
Radar proved to be a loving pet right from the start, and he did not disappoint when it came to hunting coons. The mule rode hunters on his back through the forest, treaded lightly around hunting dogs, jumped fences and logs, and led his rider to the treed coon.
For the last two decades, Radar has made his home with the Kadles on a few wooded acres in Saks. He has befriended the family’s other mules and nuzzles his owners. He’s entertained at children’s birthday parties by performing his trick of jumping rope and giving rides. He’s also given rides to a new generation of Kadles — David’s children, 8-year-old Elizabeth and 5-year-old Jack.
Over the years, the stories about Radar have piled up. Once, when a fellow mule died, Radar mournfully stood over the grave for a long goodbye. Another time, just before Kadle was to ride him through the woods, Radar took off running up a pathway and left the family standing there, puzzled at the uncharacteristic stunt. Before Kadle could saddle up another mule to search for Radar, they heard him racing back as fast as he had left. When he arrived, he stopped and walked to the trailer as if to say, “No big deal.” The best Kadle can figure, Radar just needed a moment of freedom — but didn’t like it too much when he found himself alone.
One morning that Kadle was away from home, Donna threw on her fuzzy leopard-print house robe and headed out to feed Radar. But as she approached his stall, she realized something was wrong. He backed away. He snorted. He refused to eat. Donna looked down and noticed the leopard spots.
“I guess it was in his DNA to be afraid of a leopard,” she said.
Radar also refused a ride to a little boy dressed like a bear during a Halloween party.
Now 34, Radar is in the later years of his lifespan, about 30 years for mules. He’s in good health for his age, though — which reminded Kadle of another Radar story.
“He once stuck a thorn in his back right foot,” he recalled. “The veterinarian said he might get well if he would soak his foot in Epsom salts.”
Both the vet and Kadle knew it was not in a mule’s nature to stand and soak a foot, but Kadle decided to give it a try. He filled up a bucket with water and the salts and told Radar to put his foot in. After a moment’s hesitation, and after a few songs hummed by Kadle, Radar did as he was told. Two weeks later, after a 15-minute soaking each morning and night, Kadle reported to the surprised veterinarian that his mule was well.
Nowadays, Radar no longer hunts. He watches over the family’s chickens and cats and gives rides to family members.
Recently, Radar, who has never minded having his picture taken, posed for the cover of Delta resident Beth Duke’s new book, “Don’t Shoot Your Mule.” Duke is Kadle’s cousin, so when she needed a photograph of a mule, she knew exactly where to find one.
“We were so excited that she used Radar’s photograph,” said Donna. “It is a culmination of his wonderful life.”
Email Sherry at firstname.lastname@example.org.