Mojo's 13th Birthday

Mojo is my baby. Sure, he’s a 120-pound, fur-covered baby, but my baby nevertheless. He’s a gorgeous combination of malamute, german shepherd, rottweiler and wolf. Long, thick black hair with sparse tan markings, tall and long-bodied. Amber eyes and a thick, bushy tail, just a bit wolfy-looking. When he stands on his hind legs, he is taller than I am—okay, with me being 5’2” that’s not saying much, but still. Mojo doesn’t stand on his hind legs much these days; today is his 13th birthday.

We got Mojo at the age of six weeks. It was after the southern California earthquake. The aftershocks were making everyone very nervous, including us, so my husband and I decided to head for solid, stable New Mexico for a short vacation. Our goal was to land in Albuquerque and drive up to Santa Fe, but we got snowed in and couldn’t leave Albuquerque. Looking through the local newspaper in our hotel room, I noticed a classified ad for “wolf hybrid puppies.” Having worked with wolves and wolfdogs, this caught my eye, although I had no intention of purchasing a pup. I am not an advocate of wolfdogs as pets, but I thought it would be interesting to go visit. Besides, we had nothing else to do.

The pups were of very low wolf content. The mother, Diva, was a sweetheart of a low content malamute/wolf mix, and the father, a rottie/German shepherd mix with a bad attitude. You’d think as a professional dog trainer that the father’s temperament would have dissuaded me from even considering purchasing a pup, but noooo… despite my initial intentions to just go see, we had been looking for a companion for Soko, our then-eleven-months-old German shepherd. And we fell in love with Mojo, who at the time was named Fester. Fester! Can you imagine? They’d named the litter after characters in the Adams Family. His sister was named Pugsly. Next thing we knew, we were making plans to take the newly christened Mojo back to Los Angeles.

Even as a young puppy, Mojo was huge. Although the airline regulations assured us that a small sized crate would have plenty of space for an eight-week-old pup, when we actually tried to stuff his sixteen-pound body inside, it became obvious that Mojo was just too big. Tufts of fur sprouted crazily from the crate in all directions. We traded up for a medium, and flew our now-comfortable puppy to his new home.

Mojo was an adorable, confident, playful pup. Unfortunately, by the time he was six months old, one of his back legs was dragging badly. It turned out his hip had practically no socket to speak of, and surgery was necessary—expensive surgery, a triple pelvic osteotomy. More than a few people actually advised me to put him down instead! Sure, I told them, I’ll take your kid with me and we can do a two-for-one deal…sorry, but this is my kid, and you don’t abandon hope when something is wrong, you fix it! So we did.

As he developed into an adolescent and then an adult, Mojo’s temperament revealed some traits from his father’s side, and others from his mother’s. He seemed to have inherited his mother’s absolute loving sweetness toward humans, and his father’s obnoxious attitude toward other dogs. I’m sure his penchant for bullying wasn’t helped by the fact that Soko, although older than he was, was so submissive that Mojo never learned as a young pup not to push other dogs too far. (Because of his developing hip issues, even at a very young age, we had to limit his play with other dogs.) Over the years, as a dog trainer, I learned a lot by having to work Mojo through his eventual aggression toward other dogs.

The years passed, my husband and I bought a home, and Mojo and Soko had about as good lives as dogs could hope for. They both got lots of love and affection on a daily basis, along with all the everyday basics to keep them healthy and happy. Soko’s big thrill in life was to chase the ball, and she got to play daily. Mojo’s big thrill was to wait until Soko started to chase the ball, then chase her and drag her to the ground by her collar. I had to teach Mojo that throwing the ball was his cue to come to me instead. What a brat! He was smart, though. Through clicker training, Mojo learned tricks like “turn out the lights” and “say your prayers.” And he turned my husband, who was raised in the south where dogs were hunting dogs more so than pets, into a real dog-lover.

This past April, at the age of 13, Soko passed away. My labor of love dedicated to her was a book called “Help for Your Fearful Dog.” Soko had many fears and anxieties throughout her life, and she taught me so much that I now pass on to my dog training clients. Mojo took her passing fairly well, although he did become a bit more clingy toward me and my husband.

Mojo’s back end has been weakening for some time. He’s losing muscle mass, has arthritis, and that old metal plate and pins in his hip. In addition to his various daily supplements, we take him weekly for hydrotherapy, where he walks on a treadmill while submerged to the chest in water. At those sessions he also gets massaged, stretched, and even balances on a doggie equivalent of a balance board. Then he comes home and naps. We joke that he’s like a little fur-covered rock star. We’ve also done “pulsed signal therapy,” which is meant to reduce inflammation and help stimulate the growth of cartilage. Of course, this involves great expense as well as an hour drive each way, but those are small matters when it comes to helping a family member you love and cherish to be in less pain and hopefully live a longer, healthier life. And although he is practically deaf now, if I lay my head on Mojo’s side and sing to him, he can feel the vibrations and still breaks out in that great doggy grin.

And so, on Mojo’s thirteenth birthday, I gaze at this bundle of love lying by my feet; this beautiful, joyful being who gives unconditional love, who can be made to smile by a mere tummyrub, who enjoys life to the fullest. He lies by my feet as I write my books, stretches out beside me as I do yoga (yes, downward dog is his favorite pose), and he is always, without fail, thrilled to see me when I come home. If that happens to be mid-day when he is snoozing, he’s in half-asleep doggy heaven, melting in the throes of welcome-home snuggles. He really is my best buddy, and is one of the most laid-back, loving dogs I have ever known. If we were all more like Mojo, the world would be a better place. And for however much longer Mojo is on this earth, we have been truly blessed to share our lives with him.

Note: This was originally written on 12/18/06. Mojo is still doing great and lying at my feet as I post this. He sends fondest woofs to all.

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