On April 23, 1999 in a small village outside of Guadalajara Mexico a puppy was born, one who would change our lives forever. He was one of several born of working line Belgian Malinois, a breed I had never heard of despite being a crazy animal person, and unwittingly crossed paths with the breed many times without ever knowing it. It would be about 4 months before my husband met him for the first time, and 5 before I did.
In August of 1999 I was in New York packing up and selling our condo as we fully transitioned to living in Mexico. My husband, who had become heavily involved in training dogs while there went to an exhibition and fell in love with the breed. He had watched, as he told me excitedly through emails and phone calls, as these dogs ignored all the hot dogs that were being thrown at them and instead, focused on the job of guarding the basket. He had to have one, he said, and as “luck would have it”, there was this one that Paco told him about that was available.
While in NY I researched the breed and talked to a few breeders. I was concerned for a few reasons. Everything I had read said the breed was very strong, intelligent, active and protective. This was an aggressive breed, and I was newly pregnant. I spoke with breeders, who I came to learn were normal Malinois breeders, almost talking newbies out of the breed by making them aware that these were not just any dogs. These were not easy and required an intense amount of training and attention, always. These were not “mini German Shepherds”, despite looking like them.
I was also worried because it had only been a couple years since a very nasty dog attack sent me to the hospital. Sure, I had gotten another German Shepherd after that, and we now had a Great Dane, but would I be able to be comfortable for me and our baby around a protection dog? It was a rhetorical question, of course. In my heart I knew my husband had already picked him, or rather, been picked by him.
When I returned to Mexico in September I met this hot little freak of a pup. Jocko, was his name. Technically, we learned later upon getting his papers, his name was Yako, which given to him by the breeders who noted how quickly he did everything … Ya ‘Co May’ (come, phonetically he already ate), and in Spanish the Y sounds like a J, so Jocko it was. As I mentioned he was a little freakish boy. Malinois do not look like puppies for very long, so by 5 months old he was a smaller version of himself already.
He was supposed to be MY dog. Not long after I went up to NY there was an incident in the village we lived in where an older gringo couple fell victim to a weekend of violent torture before being killed. So Jocko was to be for me, to be protection for me and the baby. But he didn’t like me. He liked Joe. He snapped and snarled at me when I went to pick him up. He would have none of that. He looked to Joe for reassurance when I went to pet him. When I would pet his back or his legs he would growl and snap. On a leash he wouldn’t “do his business” unless Joe was holding the leash. He was obsessed with Joe, freakishly obsessed with him.
The first night home was funny. Otto, our Great Dane, wasn’t too pleased with this new little creature demanding attention and he refused to let him on the floor of the house. It was a bit before he realized, and you could see it in his eyes, that hmmm, if he’s not on the ground, then he’s on the couch, with them. So up came Otto on to the couch, pushing Jocko off. It was the start of a beautiful (if short lived) intense friendship. (More on that friendship later.)
Jocko went to training with Joe every day, Otto went several days a week, too. Joe was training him in French Ring, which is like the doggie decathlon, with obedience, bite work, agility and much much more. The little freaky boy was getting pretty good, and the plan the trainers had of giving the “dud dog” to the gringo wasn’t panning out too well. Jocko went to his first competition a year later and got almost all the points he needed for his first title. (By that time we had a baby, another Malinois, and … well, were on the verge of having a boat load more as the other Malinois Olga was about to give birth to 10 puppies.)
Jocko had slowly warmed up to me, but was still aloof and preferred Joe. He had to be trained to take food from me. Part of his training was food refusal, which was to only take food from the designated person (hence the ability to have hot dogs tossed at them during their exercises without eating them.) This had practical benefits as well as they would not eat food tossed over the walls of the homes that may have been poisoned (a tactic used by burglars in Mexico to “disarm” the home). He did eventually allow me to feed him, and was always good with me and the baby. He never got over his freakish devotion to Joe, though.
We left Mexico in September of 2000 and Jocko, Otto and two of the puppies came with us. Things changed when we left. No longer were there daily training sessions, and no longer were there regular competitions. For a year or so there was some weekend work that Joe and Jocko would go to; a local street ring club (that’s what they referred to it up here) wasn’t too far away and Joe kept active in that while he could. Life changed though, and the pups became house dogs, and their competition careers came to a close. Tanya, one of the puppies, reached the age of maturity, and that all but ended the friendship between Otto and Jocko as they both claimed to be her love object, and eventually began regular fights over her.
A few years later life changed again, this time by way of an accident, and Joe was not able to be the main care giver to the dogs. They always loved me, but I took over their care and near constant attention giving during this time, and assumed the role of alpha with them. Joe would always remain their king, but they now looked to me for attention, care, exercise and play.
Then life changed again, and Jocko ran off. He was gone for six months. It was a horrible time. But during that time I became involved with the Malinois Rescue clubs, and my support network grew. Upon Jocko’s return he became my ambassador Malinois as we went to homes on behalf of the rescue group for home checks, evaluations, and even just introductions. Each time people exclaimed how incomprehensible it was that he could have run off since the second I’d move he’d be watching for me intently, freakishly, the way he used to give his undivided attention to Joe.
One day I saw it … we were outside and Joe wanted to show Jocko’s talents off to a friend. (Despite not having regular training, he was still very alert and attentive, and quite active. He hadn’t forgotten any of his training.) This wasn’t an unusual situation as Jocko always loved to show off, and loved to get praise. What was different this time was that I was there. In a fraction of a second of Joe giving the command, Jocko looked to me before doing it, as if to make sure it was ok. All three of us noticed the change in the universe in that moment.
Jocko forever remained quirky, freaky. A very sweet and needy boy, he was a mouthy one. He was talking most of the time, barking, whining, holding your hand if you weren’t using it to pet him. Yet he wasn’t overly affectionate, and rarely licked. He did like to spoon though, and if you were in the room and he was awake, you had to pet him. HAD to. He liked his belly rubbed, but didn’t want anyone to know that, so the only way you could do it was to pretend to be distracted (by another dog, talking on the phone) or gently telling him that yes, he was a good little bad ass dog. He HATED his back legs touched, which of course meant it was impossible to get the undercoat out of his legs. He had thick “baggy pants” for years.
Last year I was in the middle of a rescue dog transport and this one would have to overnight at our house. She had been a stray and was a young pup, so Jocko would be perfect to introduce her to other dogs. He was great with other dogs, so he would be good to get a few manners taught early on. It didn’t work out that way though. When I got her home I went to bring Jocko out to her but he couldn’t walk. It was sudden, and he was in pain. I didn’t know what to do. The vet had me bring him right over.
We got there and they checked him out. Nothing was broken or felt, so it was likely a nerve/disc issue. He was given pain meds and sent home. It was a difficult night dealing with the one dog in pain, the other one (Tanya who does not like other dogs at all, not one little bit) and this skittish little rescue dog who was just stopping by. The next morning I took the rescue on her journey, and came home to tend to Jocko. He was able to walk a bit, the pain had subsided with the pain meds, and he was in need of attention and cuddling (did I mention he’s also quite the drama king?). I called the vet and found out they offered laser therapy, so we tried that for his back and it worked well. Thus began a year long adventure.
A month later he was taken off the meds, and was doing well. Age was clearly settling in and his activity level, at the age of 13, was finally subsiding. One a fateful day in June I came home to find in his boredom he had ripped off his elbow pads, … down to the bone.
So the laser therapy was extended to his elbows, after the surgery to close them failed, and then to his knees, and while his wounds healed (even his elbow holes!) and he relaxed into his weekly treatments with his girlfriends at the vets office. He was the celebrity there, the dog who had to be muzzled at first, who now sprawled out for his sessions and even wore the glasses.
After reaching the age of 14, his body began to win the fight, and he was losing more and more muscle tone, and more and more steadiness. The freaky boy who wouldn’t let me pick him up was letting us know it was time. Despite spending more and more time with him, not wanting to be away, he waited. He waited until he was alone to pass on his own terms, to let go when he didn’t feel he needed to watch out for us, to protect us from the world.
In his life he changed so many, not just us and those in our family and network of friends. He served as an ambassador for Malinois Rescue, and for the breed overall as more people met him, and touched lives across the continent as they followed his story when he ran off, and then came home.
The support and messages I got from across the globe, as news of his passing spread, reminded me of how my freaky boy touched so many, and how I will miss his obsessive stares and his whiny barking, and yes, even the ceaseless barking that would tell you that yes, he loves crates, but don’t you DARE close that door or you will be sorry and your bleeding ears will tell you why.
He will forever be a part of our lives and our story. And the emptiness will only be filled by the memories he has left us with.
I will close with this, one of the messages of support I received from one of the groups I’m involved with.
“So sorry to hear this. I remember all the Jocko stories on PB. A good dog that was well-loved. What more can a dog or human ask for?”
To read more about Jocko’s journey from when he was missing, and to get tips and resources for finding lost pets, visit his website at www.Jockodog.com
“More time? But … that would be selfish, he was in pain. And besides, you’d have to ask for forever for it to be enough time.”