Gene and Jan Kammerzell have had their 21-year-old mule, Jake, since the pet was only 4 days old, after he was born on the Fourth of July of that year.
That long relationship is what makes the current situation tough, they say.
They haven’t seen Jake since Sept. 13, when flood waters rushed across northeast Colorado, and the chaos of efforts to rescue Jake and other pets and livestock spooked him and sent him — and other animals — running.
In the several weeks since, Gene Kammerzell has been up and down the South Platte River, looking for Jake, but has never found him, dead or alive.
It’s an issue other residents have experienced following the historic flood.
“It’s just strange at this point, and hard to figure out,” said Kammerzell, who, along with neighbors and strangers, helped rescue his animals and others in chin-deep waters on the day the flood caught him and much of Colorado by surprise. “Others around here are still missing animals, too. We’ve been up and down the river, but haven’t found them ... and if they were dead, you’d think we could smell them when we’re down there. But that hasn’t been the case.
“I don’t know at this point if Jake’s dead or alive, or if somebody else has picked him up.”
Kammerzell’s neighbors in the Milliken and LaSalle, Colo., area who know Jake had reported to Kammerzell they’d seen or heard him in the distance, but he was never able to find Jake once he arrived at the location.
“I might have been only few hundred yards away at times ... but just couldn’t get to him,” he said.
Kammerzell’s concerns for Jake grow each day as winter draws nearer, he explained. Jake has arthritis, and being a pet as long as he has been, he’s used to warm bedding in the winter.
“Before too long, the elements alone might kill him,” said Kammerzell, a Weld County, Colo., Farm Bureau board member, who, along with Jan, owns and operates Arborland Nursery near Milliken.
Kody Lostroh, too, still has animals missing. The 28-year-old, professional bull rider, who lives in Ault, Colo., and leases pasture ground from Kammerzell, has three missing cows.
Lostroh raises bucking stock for the rodeo industry, and in addition to the three missing cows, Lostroh said one of his bulls, two calves and four cows were killed by the flood — leaving him now with only 13 of the 23 head of animals he had before the disaster.
A number of Lostroh’s animals had fled in the midst of the flood, but some were found.
“We found some tracks going west ... and others going east,” he explained. “We found the animals that went west ... but not the ones that went east.”
Lostroh is hoping to get back the three missing cows — one 5 years old, and the other two 3 years old. Raising top-notch bucking stock for the rodeo world requires time and close attention to genetics, among other efforts. One of the three missing cows was one of only five selected out of Lostroh’s herd of about 60 cows he had at one time to be used for his embryo-transfer program.
Lostroh said the unique genetics of his animals — raised to be “more wild” than normal cattle — could make it tricky to track them down.
“They’re more like deer than cows,” he said. “They don’t like being around people. If they have some kind of food and water, they’ll hide in the trees.
“I don’t expect anyone to see them until the winter.”
Like the Kammerzell’s mule, Lostroh’s cows are branded, and the owners of the animals have stayed in close contact with the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s Brand Inspection Division, but they haven’t heard anything about their animals yet.
Keith Maxey, Colorado State University Extension director in Weld County, said there aren’t any official numbers of missing or lost livestock from the flooding that he’s aware of, but he noted that he’s heard of some instances where owners are still looking for animals.
“For the most part, animals have been returned to their owners, or found dead,” he said. “But there are still some animals out there missing.”
In the case of Jake, the Kammerzells are at a point now where they’re offering an $800 reward for the return of their pet mule.
“He’s just as much a pet as anyone’s dog ... and we’d really like to have him back,” Kammerzell said. ❖