Friday, February 11, 2011

Mojo the Mighty

Not an ordinary dog, Mojo had the strength of many men and could crash through drywall for a tennis ball. In his prime, he was a beast with a hemi V8/400 horsepower engine. His playing weight was around 88 pounds, but he could hang with the fastest dogs on the block no matter what the size. Obstacles? Over or through them. Objective? The ball. Nothing stopped him and his career lasted a solid eight years or so of high-caliber play and an unmatched tenacity to make catches. He is, without question, the greatest I've ever seen and my all-time favorite.

He was a German Shepard-rottweiler puppy, six-weeks old, on the east side of town and he was handed to me by a man I had never met before or since. The man wanted him to go to a good home and I gave him my word. Once Mojo grew out of his fluffy, awkward puppiness, he almost right away became the legend we remember him as today.

The routine trips to the park weren't much of an option for me. A day without going meant a day of him blasting around the apartment being too big and too excited to ignore. So we went. Every day for years and years and years. There he turned his haunches into muscly pistons, his front legs into those of a race horse's, and would thrash the turf between himself and the ball with supernatural force. Our areas quickly became either swampy mud islands or clouds of dust from his powerful running style. And, during his athletic peak, I could never wear him out. Never. I could throw the ball until my arm fell off and he would be back with it at my feet smiling up at me with his obscenely large tongue, waiting for the next throw.

He was never a frisbee dog; he didn't have the patience to wait around for it to land. And he would chase the kong, but didn't like the unpredictable bounces it took—even though I did. The tennis ball was his obsession and he went through hundreds of them. The sport was that I throw it and he catch it on a bounce. For a long time I couldn't over throw him, he was a bullet. A large black bullet.

It wasn't just at the park either; Mojo also had an indoor finesse game that he constantly tricked human beings into playing. His placement on people's laps, on armrests, on the very ledge of an end table, was most impressive. Once the ball had been expertly placed, the human would be distracted by conversation or television or whatever and lightly toss the ball to Mojo. He was a master at getting his way in this regard. He tricked me a million times or more.

There were a couple of ways he played indoor. If it were a close range toss right at him he would snatch it with no problem. In fact, you could put a little heat on your throw, and release it as close as a foot from his face, and he would envelop the ball like a first-baseman's mitt. If it were a lob intended to lead him into a certain direction, that too was no problem, as he could make over the shoulder snags, shoe-string catches and leaping grabs (but only when he had to). He was respectful of wires and electric fans but disregarded everything else around him. Many, many spilled drinks and other disasters came about because of Mojo's recklessness, but it was part of who he was and I rarely stopped him.

If the game was a kicking one, he showed excellent blocking technique by moving his broad chest low to the ground and spreading his legs out wide. He was especially good at using his paws to deflect kicks attempted to go past him. I also enjoyed watching him roll the ball around on the ground for a while with his foot, smash the ball into the floor until it squirted out and then collect it on the backspin he anticipated. It reminded me of a skateboard trick, or spinning a basketball on your finger—pointless, but cool.

Eventually, he slowed down some in the twilight of his life, taking things easier but never giving up all the way. Up to the very end, he played ball at the park and still loved it.

There might be stronger dogs and faster dogs in the world, and many of these will have decent ball skills themselves, but to find another dog with the combination that Mojo possessed is damn-near impossible. That dog could play. The best of all time.

He stays in my heart.