By Sheltie Nation guest author, JANET WHITCOMB
Planned communities built adjacent wilderness areas have been a growing trend in the United States. People like the idea of living next to nature while, at the same time, being able to access many or most of the conveniences they enjoyed in long-established city and suburban areas.
All the same, there’s trouble in paradise. As new homes and businesses encroach upon wilderness areas, we displace and often surround animal populations, creating situations dangerous for them, for us, and for our pets. I know this first hand. Fourteen years ago a job offer in the planned community of Rancho Santa Margarita, California, caused me to move to this relatively remote area of Orange County. Realizing that Rancho is bordered on all sides by county wilderness parks, I kept my pets inside at night and most of the day. But that wasn’t enough. Since that awful morning when, home sick with the flu, I foolishly let my cat out earlier than usual and woke up hours later to find only fur and one small piece of flesh, I’ve been adamant in keeping all subsequent pets inside 24/7 or on close leash.
Sometimes, however, even our best intentions fail. And now as a freelance writer I’ve heard about many Rancho pets that have gone missing, never to be found again. For example, earlier this summer John and Mellisa Henry, the owners of a local auto repair facility, told me about the disappearance their own pet, a 17-month-old Sheltie called Mojo. But quite miraculously this story has a happy ending. What follows is an interview with Mellisa about the story of Mojo’s survival.
JW: I know you’ve always been very careful about Mojo, so how did this happen?
Mellisa: In late June of this year my husband, daughter and I were about to leave for a vacation to Cancun. The morning of our departure we left Mojo with a friend who, like ourselves, lives adjacent a wilderness area. Later that evening, about an hour before the airport limo was scheduled to pick us up, she called us, exceptionally distraught, to say that Mojo had run away.
JW: You’ve told me your friend is an experienced pet sitter and that she and Mojo get along very well.
Mellisa: Mojo was asleep on our friend’s couch when the doorbell rang; it was an expected visitor. But within seconds of our friend opening her door, Mojo ran right past both her and the other person. Mojo had never given any indication of being a wanderer. But Shelties are normally “home bodies” and we think she just wanted to find her way home.
JW: From her viewpoint that’s understandable, but what a horrible situation.
Mellisa: John went to assist in the search but only briefly because we had to go on our trip or forfeit all of our money. So we continued to stay in contact by cell phone and of course we were worried sick.
JW: And then what happened next—especially in our area—was something of a miracle.
Mellisa: Yes. About 36 hours later a woman driving near Santa Margarita Parkway and Buena Suerte [a busy intersection about a quarter mile from wilderness] saw a dog in traffic. It was Mojo. At the same time a young man on a bicycle also saw Mojo. He and the woman stopped and together they managed to catch her. At first they didn’t notice Mojo’s injuries due to her coat, and seeing our phone number on her collar they called us and left a message. Then they they discovered her injuries—including a stick protruding from a wound they originally thought was simply tangled in her coat—and after loading the young man’s bicycle in the trunk of the car, they sped off to Santa Margarita Animal Care Center.
JW: Fortunately Mojo had been micro-chipped.
Mellisa: Due to the extent of injuries, though, they didn’t scan for her chip at that time, but left another message on our number. But it didn’t take long before one of the employees as well as several customers—all of whom also bring their autos to our shop—recognized Mojo. They called John’s assistant at the shop. He’d been left the number of Mojo’s pet sitter, so he called her, and she was beside herself with joy.
JW: It wasn’t over yet, though, was it?
Mellisa: No, because in the meantime Mojo was being prepped for surgery, including having about 90% of her body shaved. So our pet sitter gave the staff at Santa Margarita Animal Care our regular vet’s contact information, then he was called for Mojo’s medical history. Next Mojo underwent almost four hour of surgery, including a 6″ x 5″ skin graft on her right side, resulting in stitches there and down the front of her throat and hind end, plus several other individual stitches on her legs and head. Mojo had lost a lot of blood and by the time we got in touch with the center—about halfway through her surgery—we were told they weren’t even sure if she would survive. They also told us it looked like Mojo had been attacked by several coyotes and somehow got away from them—probably due to a distraction—but that large patch of skin had been ripped in the process.
JW: How did Mojo cope?
Mellisa: She was on antibiotics for about 3 weeks to stave off any infections. Everyone at the vet center said she was so sweet, even as she was being treated for her injuries. She’s generally kind of shy—a normal characteristic of Shelties. If she does bark at someone, it’s usually from the safety of hiding behind one of us. Her disposition hasn’t changed, except that she will growl at a large dog that gets a bit rambunctious. But she is fine and doing amazingly well, the only visual damage of the attack—except for her haircut—being a nasty scar on her right side.
JW: And how has the reaction been to her story?
Mellisa: Both the woman and young man who rescued Mojo have come to the shop to see how she is doing, as well as many of our customers who heard what happened. The staff at South County Bank, where Mojo accompanied John almost every day of the week, sent her a get well card and a gift card to Petco. (Mojo picked out two new toys and some treats!) We are so happy that Mojo has recovered and so grateful to everyone who helped. Plus we have a new respect for the wildlife that is still a part of our neighborhood.
Many thanks to Janet Whitcomb – a freelance writer living in Rancho Santa Margarita, CA, who helped us bring this great story to Sheltie Nation!