Category Archives: Good Mojo

Like Dogs With Bones

Bill and I bought Mojo an interactive toy this past Christmas, one we hoped would keep him occupied and engaged on these cold winter days. He can’t go for long walks like he used to, even in good weather, because of his arthritis.

The toy is a round disk made of hard, sturdy plastic with a top and bottom that twist in opposing directions to create a space between its two halves. When the opening is large enough, treats placed inside are reachable. If Mojo is successful in getting the two segments far enough apart, the treats will even fall out – manna from dog heaven.

He got so good at it that Laura had to make it more difficult by tightening it down. Clever dog – but on his way to becoming a fat dog if Laura hadn’t stepped in. But like any dog with a bone, Mojo is not one to give up. He’d work on opening that toy for over an hour before bringing it to Laura, his tail between his legs, whining and crying for help.

If you think about it, people are like dogs in much this same way. We refuse to loosen our grip on all kinds of things. Useless things that clutter our homes – silly knickknacks from one trip or another that do nothing but take up space and collect dust. Things we throw in the car to do something with “later” like gas receipts that pile up in the cup holders, loose change that falls between the seat and the console, and random notes stuffed in the cubby-hole, its little door quickly closed to hide everything thing destined for “later” like business cards from two jobs ago. Then there’s the trunk full of old maps and phone books that never stop coming – and never get cleaned out, let alone thrown out. They’re not hurting anything, and what’s the big deal if last winter’s jacket it still lying on the back seat in August? It’ll be winter soon again anyway.

I’ve heard it said that cleanliness is next to godliness and that, like a line of dominos all falling down because one got pushed over, slovenly surroundings beget a kind of mental sloth as well. Sounds a bit like the slippery slope argument, doesn’t it?

We tell ourselves we might need this or that one day – and we saved it “for a reason,” right? – but how realistic is that? I’ve clung to my share of things, but even a periodic purge of items it’s taken me time to accrue finds me a week later lamenting the loss of something I got rid of in haste (if you can call it that) – and now no longer have. One thing, maybe two, out of more than I care to count.

Tenacity is a good thing when you’re gnawing away at a tasty bone, the goal being testimony to your dogged pursuit of getting a treat. But sometimes we chew away on bones that lead us to a lesser end – those that, if we gnaw on them long enough, will not show a good rate-of-return on the time invested in doing so. Nothing that will make us better people.

Even worse are the kinds of bones that poison us. You know, the ones in direct service of ignoble ends, as loathe as we are to admit it.

We nurse resentments, as if that will heal us in some way, and make ourselves ill with jealously and envy instead. We traffic in grudge-carrying and encourage old wounds to fester and deepen, fueling a desire for revenge. We relish bitterness and get fired-up on anger that leaves a bad taste in our mouths. We punish with harsh words, invitations withheld, love and affection not given, and blackmail – I’m not doing this unless you do that first. We complain and whittle down the bones of others, leaving them little or nothing to chew on.

Nothing good can grow in an environment that nurtures hostility and blame. An environment of finger-pointing, name-calling, or fault-finding. One in which “I’m sorry” is never heard. Sorry is the hardest word – just like the song says.

It’s easier to cultivate poisonous attitudes and hold on to grudges – by our fingernails if we have to. Keep them fresh and alive – even as they eat us up from the inside out. Their gift to us is stress, susceptibility to illness, negative outlooks that permeate the way we see everything and everyone. The pain, the anger, the injustice – we wear them on our faces, too. If we encourage the habit of them, they’ll eventually change what others see in our eyes.

We keep a mental ledger of the wrongs others perpetrate against us, the accuracy of which can always be called into question. In it we calculate the sins of others, somehow forgetting our own. We add up phone calls made and not made. We keep score as to days/weeks between visits, cards sent or not sent, who does or doesn’t do what for whom and how much value to place on how much effort that took.

How tasty do these bones sound to you?

Do we cut anyone any slack? No. We may offer up lip-service to that end, but we’d rather stomp on someone’s toes before we’d try walking in their shoes.

The real challenge comes without strings. Without conditions, no score-keeping. No disclaimers – and no steel-toed shoes either.

In order to get at the good stuff deep inside the hole that goes down the bone’s center, Mojo never gives up digging. He uses his paws like hands, turning the bone this way and that, using his teeth to whittle it down for better access. And that takes weeks sometimes. And then he gets just a taste before he begins again to gnaw away at that bone for more. Talk about dogged determination.

But no matter how hard you try or how deep you dig, you’ll find nothing of value, nothing worthy of the time you’ve invested, in a bone that has no core of good stuff at its center.


Fear and Loathing in Dogville

IMG_0286            We were dog-sitting Mojo when the second Tuesday we had him, he started scooting. At least that’s the first I’d noticed him doing that – and he only did it once. But I called the vet anyway, given I didn’t want anything to happen to him on my watch, and she said, “If he does it two more times, we’ll need to see him.”

Sure enough, Thursday night he dropped and dragged on his evening walk with Bill.  Then again on Friday, so I called Saturday and got him an early appointment. Bill and I picked up Laura’s car – we didn’t relish cleaning dog hair from either of ours – and the three of us left for the valley.

At the bottom of the Portage Trail hill descending into the valley, and one mile from the Akron-Peninsula Veterinary Office, Papa Joe’s restaurant inhabits the corner location – and recognizing where he is, Mojo now knows where he’s going – and he’s not the least bit happy about it. As we approach the traffic light there, Mojo raises his head from the seat and begins to whine. His whining increases as each tenth of a mile brings us closer to – The Dreaded Vet.

Moj doesn’t want to get out of the car but has to pee, again, immediately searching out the fence that borders the side of the parking lot. After that he trots over to a bush near the door, leaving his signature there as well, as if doing it there would keep us from going in. As we step into the small lobby, everyone calls to Mojo, obviously glad to see him again, but he shies back near the door hoping someone, anyone, will let him back out.

A few minutes later we are told which examining room to go to, and as we walk down the hall, Moj spots a door to the outside and pulls me straight toward it. Instead, clinging tightly to his leash, we stop at Door #4, the last one off this hall – except, of course, for the one he desperately wants to get beyond.

Bill and I sit on the bench encouraging Mojo to stay beside us, ready to reward him with a great deal of petting, but he has other ideas.

The door, he’s got to find a way to get back on the other side of that door. He goes to it and stares, seemingly sending telepathic signals that will turn the knob. He whines, looks at us, whines again, comes back to us, looks at the door again. Don’t we get it?

Sorry, Moj. It’s been closed and there is no way out.

After a few more passes back and forth, he leans against my leg, seeking comfort, and as I pet him I can feel his heart racing, his body shaking.

Soon a big, burly attendant comes in with the vet and, leaning down, gives Mojo a treat before placing both hands under him and lifting Mojo to the examination table in less time than it takes for Mojo to consider a protest.

He is too terrified to move, though he is now visibly unnerved.

His back end faces the vet who, lifting his tail, sticks her gloved fingers into, well, his anus, and proceeds by expressing both his anal glands – an expression, that, sadly for Mojo, has nothing to do with words. The right gland is worse than the left, she says, but neither is as bad as they have been previously. We all wonder what kind of life he endured before Laura rescued him from the animal shelter. His life with her has been a dream come true, for both them. No doubt about that.

Laura just switched to this vet, our hairdresser’s vet, after going through two or three others who just didn’t seem to know, or care much, about Mojo’s constant scooting. “All dogs do it,” was their stock reply. Only this vet seemed to genuinely care and outlined a program for ameliorating the problem. Apparently, his anal glands kept filling because they were not being expressed fully before. And though this problem continues to crop up from time to time, this “therapy” does seem to be working.

Poor Moj. How embarrassing this must be for him. Even I’m embarrassed for him – or maybe for myself having to sit here and bear witness to this degrading procedure.

Once she’s cleaned him out, she gives him the gun – a penicillin shot into each gland with a hypodermic-like syringe – and an actual shot of cortisone administered in his haunches.

At this, Mojo doesn’t even flinch, though we do.

But when burly-man sets him back down on the floor, he heads straight to the door, scrambling across the lobby to the exit the second freedom is within his grasp.

The receptionist holds a doggie treat in her fingers and uses it to coax Mojo over to the edge of the high counter. “Mojo, I have a treat for you.” Turning around, he bounds over to the counter, stands on his hind legs, and puts his sock-like white front paws on the counter’s edge, taking the welcome treat he’s earned gently in his teeth. Not wanting to miss the opportunity to escape should the door be opened by someone, he eats his treat right beside the door.




The Ones We Love

Mojo (aka The Moj) is traumatized when Laura drops a glass measuring cup (2 cup version) and it shatters all over the kitchen floor. It’s likely she will find pieces for days afterward, but she has to work in 45 minutes, go to the drug store, and now drop Mojo at my house until she has time to be certain every piece of glass is gone. She grabs the big pieces and vacuums everything else, knowing she’ll find more later, after work. She’d rather get shards of glass in her own feet than have Mojo get them in his paws.

Mojo and Laura

Mojo, a mostly-German-Shepard and part-Sheltie mix, gave Laura love and something other than her own problems to focus on when she needed it most. Ironically, she did the same for him. When she found him at the Humane Society, he was wasting away, sick, and in desperate need of love and companionship, of someone to take care of him. That’s exactly what they did for each other. He healed her, took care of her – all just by loving her and being grateful for her presence in his life. They saved each other.

            Running short on time, Laura tells Mojo to get in in the car. You’ve got to be kidding, flashes across Mojo’s face like words on a movie marquee. He doesn’t want to, hasn’t wanted to in some time. He’s never been enamored with getting into or riding in cars since she got him at the animal shelter eight years ago. He doesn’t like cars and it took several years for him to even sit up and look around in the back seat. Even when he does do that – and it’s rare, believe me – it only lasts a minute or so before he lies back down and waits for it to be over. Lately he’s been having intermittent difficulty with his legs so he’s more leery than usual of attempting to get into the car or even on the bed. Having broken my pelvis on one occasion and torn my hamstrings on another, I am in complete empathy with Mojo. Suffering does not rate very high on anyone’s bucket list.

           Since Mojo is getting older, Laura is always looking for something different to pique his interest and keep him actively engaged. She recently bought Mojo some intelligent toys that require some thought on his part to figure out where the treats are before he can maneuver the pieces around and retrieve them from the toy. Moj loves this game. She got the one with the highest level of difficulty to keep him occupied without frustrating him, but it only takes him a short time to figure out how the thing works. It gives him something interesting to do, and, big bonus, if he can locate the treats and figure out what he must to do extract them, there’s a treat at the end. Don’t we all love a good scavenger hunt.

I’ve got a fresh bowl of water waiting for him when they arrive, and Bill has hidden several small pieces of cheese around the living room. Bill sniffs in Mojo’s direction, a signal for the hunt to begin. Moj is given a few clues – Bill points in this direction or that. If Mojo looks like he might give up, Bill sniffs the air himself a time or two, fueling Mojo’s excitement – his enthusiasm for the hunt, and the game, renewed.

            But Laura is going back home without him. And though Moj knows this happens sometimes, he doesn’t know which way things are going today, not for sure. So he’s keeping a constant eye on her – the other eye is on Bill because that’s where the food is. Bill, Mojo’s Food Fairy.

            When she kneels down to hug him and says she loves him, Mojo sits down on the dining room carpet, his legs sprawling to either side in an “I knew this was going to happen” kind of way. Her attempts to console him are to no avail. When she walks out the door, I tell him to come to the window to watch her go. He refuses to budge.

Demonstrating his distress more pointedly, he slides into a prone position and puts his head down. That’s when he hears her car door slam shut. His ears jump to attention, pointing to the ceiling. Within seconds the motor of her faithful Honda comes to life. Moj then lifts his head from the carpet, and with just a little encouragement, meanders to the door as if he doesn’t actually care. Just curious, his eyes say, that’s all.

But she’s coming back down the sidewalk, having forgotten something.

            “You’re torturing him, you know,” I say.

            She needs the sunglasses she left on the end table as this is one of only five days of sun we get during the winter months here. Maybe this contributes to Moj’s depression, just like it does everyone else’s.

She kneels next to Moj again – the second goodbye in fewer than five minutes. I knew it, he thinks. Moving his head away from her outstretched hand in a don’t-touch-me motion, he walks in huffy-mode across the hall to the living room.

You don’t care, so I don’t either is the message he would verbalize if he could. Punishment, pure and simple. But hearing her car back out, he comes to the door without prompting. How could she leave me – again? His eyes follow her car until it’s well out of sight. Then he sits down in front of the door – to wait.

She’ll be back, I say, she always comes back for you, Moj. We always come back for the ones we love.

© Linda G. White (2013)

Leader of the Pack

This year’s Westminster dog show was recently won by an affenpinscher named Banana Joe, a little dog with black hair that sticks out all around his eyes, his nose, his face. At first I thought he’d gotten his paw stuck in a light socket, electrifying his mane, giving him that look of being scared half to death. I’d thought I’d seen Banana Joe before, or another animal that looked just like him. Then I had

Cover of "The Wolf Man (Special Edition) ...

Cover via Amazon

it – The Wolf Man, the 1941 movie version with Lon Chaney. The hairy resemblance was so close, there’s no way Banana Joe isn’t descended from the wolf man.

Show dogs are groomed to get attention, some outlandishly so. This year there was, among others, a giant cream-colored mop and a sissy with a French “updo” reminiscent of that poufy ball of hair on Sarah Palin’s head. Based on his looks, Banana Joe seemed an unlikely “best in show,” but he was a real crowd pleaser. Mr. Personality plus.

If there’s one thing you can say about all show dogs, it’s that they’re well-behaved, despite the attention, the noise, and strangers poking and exposing them – the humiliation of public display. Fingers in their ears. Their teeth and gums examined and pulled. Measurements taken, bearing evaluated, hindquarters prodded, tails raised, anuses exposed – all ignobly displayed as hoards of onlookers watch. Only vets get more personal than this, sans an audience numbering in the millions.

Years ago, Bill was asked to help another agent search for a Norwegian Elkhound, a dog whose tail naturally exposes the anus to best advantage.  The dog had been

Norwegian Elkhound by the river

Norwegian Elkhound by the river (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

stolen from a dog show in Maryland. This theft represented an unusual violation of the ITSP (Interstate Transportation of Stolen Property) statute. While the FBI doesn’t get involved in dognapping cases as a rule, the statute’s guidelines include stolen property worth over $5000. The elkhound more than met that qualifier.

To the untrained eye, these dogs look pretty much the same, a lot like Siberian Huskies, but the missing Elkhound had one distinguishing feature that set it apart from other Elkhounds in much the same way as a fingerprint. The owner provided a photo of the feature by which they could ID his dog – it was a photo of his one-of-a-kind anus. Is this a career-maker, or what?

But for all they cost to own and maintain, the money these show dogs bring in, and the status they garner in the eyes of canine elitists, in the end, they’re still just dogs. Dogs with animal instincts sometimes tough to contain.

It’s these unleashed instincts that Cesar Millan, the reigning dogdom behavior specialist, turns his

Cesar Millan, the dogwhisperer

Cesar Millan, the dogwhisperer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

attention to when dogs become problems for their owners. Millan can’t help a dog modify its behavior if its owners don’t alter their own habits to gain dominance over their pets. Dogs are pack animals and their owners are part of their pack. But it’s the owner, not the dog, who should be leading it.

I’m acquainted with two families whose dogs are poorly socialized and pretty much completely undisciplined. They hump anyone with a leg, they jump all over people, they bark uncontrollably if shut in another room, and most things, including food, must be put out of reach – all because their owners can’t say no with authority.

Those dogs have been irresponsibly raised and are largely uncontrolled; they don’t stop the unacceptable behavior when told to do so. If you’ve got to carry a dog around to keep him from misbehaving, if your dog doesn’t respond to “no” the first time, if your dog puts his nose or paws on the table or helps himself to whatever he wants, you’ve got a problem others can see even if you can’t.

And if your dog growls at you when he doesn’t get his way because he knows he can count on your refusal to take control, it’s long past time to call Cesar Millan and learn to take charge. To become the Alpha Dog.

Mojo and Laura

Laura took Mojo (her mostly shepherd, partly sheltie mix) to the dog park a few days ago and while Mojo was otherwise engaged in the surrounding flora, a dog somewhat bigger than Mojo took a running leap and jumped on Laura. She barely managed to remain upright. The dog’s owner just laughed saying that’s why he wore his ratty coats to the dog park – in lieu of apologizing for not controlling his dog. She wanted to say she expected pet owners to keep their dogs under control, this being a dog park notwithstanding, but thought better of it given any number of the surrounding dog owners might take offense. She’d never let Mojo jump on someone else. I’d be surprised if he even tried.

Mojo understands his limits. When in doubt, he looks to the alpha dog of his pack – Laura – for confirmation. Not the other way around.

You don’t do a dog any favors by catering to its every whim, by allowing it to growl at you, by letting it gain the upper hand. You are supposed to be the alpha dog and assume the responsibilities that come with that position. In principle, the same thing applies to children. Providing you take charge, children follow your lead. If you don’t, children develop as alpha dogs, and your life revolves around doing their bidding.

There are way too many situations like this where lopsided family dynamics have taken root, sending forth thorns instead of flowers.

And you can say your dog won’t bite you, but one day he just might. To remind you who’s the boss. It does happen occasionally because they are just dogs, animals that live by their instincts if they aren’t trained to curb them.

The Banana Joes of the dog kingdom aren’t alpha dogs. They do the bidding of their owners and trainers. They do what they are told, and when. You don’t get to be top dog by being unruly or ferociously independent.

And for the hard cases, there’s always Cesar Millan.