Jojo, a skittish pup who is mostly Australian cattle dog, is learning to live with her person in Hampden. (Courtesy of Lavinia Edmunds)

It was not clear when I first picked up Jojo that she would be the domesticated sort.

Jojo, originally named Joyce, was skittish, afraid of her own shadow and me, at every step. 

I enlisted Cynthia to help me pick her up at the designated place in Highland, where the Canine Humane Network had arranged for people to claim their pets.

Howling in trauma, 30 homeless dogs had arrived from Texas via truck that night. 

During Covid, I had been scouring BARCs, Petfinder, SPCAs from Baltimore to southern Virginia, everywhere, for a dog to keep me company. I had moved to a new little house in Hampden in an effort to get a new start after the death of my husband. Everyone was applying for dogs during quarantine. It took months before somehow, someone on the application’s other end, saw that I could be a responsible dog-owner.

I had borrowed a crate from a friend but didn’t even know how to open and lock it. Cynthia knew. She was once a pet columnist for a magazine. And I anointed her as Jojo’s godmother.

We drove to the suburban home where Jojo was waiting inside with her rescuers. She was stunning. She had a classic bird dog conformation with unusual black and white markings, smeared as if someone had sprinkled them over her and then rubbed the spots in. She had a wild look in her brown eyes, the color of a woodland stream.

I brought along some treats to offer her to make friends. But she was scared and dodged them. Friendship seemed a long way off.

Cynthia, now an acupuncturist, stepped in with the magic touch. She must have found my dog’s pressure points; soon Joyce was nuzzling her hand. Cynthia handed the leash over to me. I held it firm and reached out to pet Joyce, but she cowered, as if I were going to hit her. I started to walk, but all she wanted to do was lunge in the opposite direction.

After I attached the lead, Joyce scampered out in the direction of a shopping center. I held firm and called out to her but she did not know her name or me. That was when I knew I could change her name to Jojo.  She just wanted to get away, some place she once called home. Instead of Get Back, as the Beatles sang, I implored, Get Back Here to Where You Belong. Jojo was a loner. . . Pulling tight against me, she was casting me in the mode of her abusers.

“Hold her tight!” yelled one of the dog savers.  “She is very scared.”

Wait, I thought, until she gets to my tiny Hampden house.

I worried whether she would ever adapt. 

And, I wondered, where did this terrified dog come from and what had happened to her to make her fear even my hand?

Well, the long story is she came from Australia, an Australian cattle dog. When the English settlers came to Australia they brought along their sheep dogs, which did not get along in the wide open spaces of the new adopted country. So they developed a cross between the dingo, and the sheepdog, to come up with both the Australian shepherd, that fuzzy, friendly looking dog, and her cousin, the sleek, fast Australian cattle dog-herder. I can see the herding instinct of Jojo, who is for the most part a cattle dog.

She will come up and nuzzle my hand, to get me to go on a walk. Plus she loves to run – and often runs away – as she has done on several occasions.

On our first trip to the country, with three of my close friends, we walked along a dirt road, lined in tall, blue-berried trees mixed with blackberry bushes. We were enjoying the beautiful outdoors when Jojo broke away in a blur of speed. I despaired she would never come back but told my friends, let’s wait before we panic. After an hour, she came racing back to the doorstep. That was close, I thought. At least she was safe in the woods. Suppose she did that in the city!

By last summer, after 4 months, I thought she had acclimated to my home pretty well. We had been walking regularly, morning and night. I had invited some friends to dinner. After weeks of trying to find a date, they all finally committed for dinner at 5:30. So I took Jojo on a walk at 4:30, along Stony Run, along a stream in a band of woods full of birds and greenery.

We got back in time to take the chicken out of the oven–but somehow the door was left ajar for an instant. Jojo, seeing her opportunity, charged out. I dashed after her, but she thought I was playing a game. Down the alley, around the corner, into Keswick Road, she plunged – where I knew she would be run over. Promptly at 5:30, she stopped traffic. My dinner guests were at the front of the halted vehicles, as a policeman–who happened to be a K-9 specialist–screeched to a halt, leaped out of his car, and tried to catch my runaway dog.

I was waiting in the alley with a treat and her leash. The policeman herded Jojo towards me, where I was waiting with some of her favorite treats. (Yes, herding can work both ways.) Not interested, she ran right past me. I signaled to the policeman the direction to my back door, and we guided her inside. 

Meanwhile my dinner guests were marveling at the wild dog running around in the street.  They apologized for being late, and laughed when they recognized Jojo. “That was YOUR dog!” Katie said as she handed me a bottle of wine.

Since then Jojo has gotten into other trouble. At a dog school located at Howl, she failed.  She wouldn’t lie down on command. And on graduation day when at doggie play time, she just kept running around and around and wouldn’t come when called. For 15 minutes, she held the class of obeying mutts and owners hostage as we tried to catch her. Elizabeth, the patient dog trainer, helped to drive her into the adjoining gourmet dog store where we cornered her amid Kongs and bitable bones.

I might have given up, if not for Cynthia, who is always there with a solution. She and her husband Mark have invited us to their home with a fenced-in yard in the wilds of Baltimore County that is perfect for Jojo to run around in. Cynthia’s two very domestic cats are fairly welcoming, given that they are natural enemies and Jojo usually goes into her house and eats up their food. I have spent some relaxing times on Cynthia and Mark’s porch with Jojo curled up at my feet and the cats at bay in the kitchen. I love seeing Jojo curled up and relaxing.

Now when I wake up, instead of sleeping in my room, she trots up the steps and wags her tail and looks at me as if to say, It’s time to get up. She doesn’t bark except when strange people come to my door, like she snarled with bared teeth at candidate Wes Moore (now governor) who came campaigning in the neighborhood a few months ago. That was ok, we had a nice talk through the glass door.

My daughter Emma has tapped into Jojo’s intelligence. She has taught her to spin, lie down, and shake hands. Jojo will crawl onto her like a lap dog. I will not let her loose except for occasional runs in dog parks. Then she will run around and around until she stops for a treat and she herds me back to our happy home.

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