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JoJo's miracle: Rescued pup, a therapy dog, is in line for national fame
By Victor R. Martinez / EL PASO TIMES
Posted: 08/01/2010 09:25:12 PM MDT
EL PASO - JoJo, an 11-month-old pit bull, is more likely to lick than to growl. Which makes her the perfect candidate to be a therapy dog, one who helps people who are recovering from injuries.
"She loves being around people," said Ann Marie Giron, an occupational therapist with the El Paso Orthopaedic Surgery Group and Center for Sports Medicine. "When clients are on the ground doing spiderman crawls, they stay low and JoJo keeps them moving by licking them all the way down the line."
And the clients couldn't be happier to see JoJo.
"A dog is a man's best friend," 56-year-old Miguel Mercado said. "I like JoJo a lot. She encourages me to keep going when I get tired."
JoJo - a loveable-looking pit bull with a white face, yellowish brown spots throughout her body, and a pink nose - simply wagged her tail and licked Mercado on his knee before he left rehab last week.
JoJo is certainly a star at the rehab center. But she could also receive national fame.
She is one of 10 national finalist in the Purina ProPlan Dog Food and Rally to Rescue "Doing More for Pets" contest. The competition honors the survival stories of pets that have come back from the brink of death and are thriving thanks to animal rescuers, rehabilitators and veterinarians.
"If JoJo wins, she'll bring national recognition to El Paso, to the plight of injured stray dogs, and to pit bulls everywhere - the vast majority of which are wonderful pets," said Brandi Gardes, founder of From the
Heart Rescue, which helped foster JoJo.
In March, JoJo's journey nearly ended on the side of the road in Alpine, about 200 miles from El Paso.
"A good Samaritan found her (with a broken leg) and took her to a shelter in Alpine," Gardes said. The injury was so severe that JoJo could have been euthanized. But no one wanted to do that.
Joyce Wood, a receptionist at the Alpine Small Animal Practice, remembers JoJo. "That little dog was so precious, we wanted to keep her," Wood said. "She was so sweet. I don't know what it was, but we knew we had to save her. She stole everyone's heart here."
Dr. Mary Dodson, the Alpine veterinarian, called Dr. Jim Koschmann at the Crossroads Animal Hospital in El Paso. Koschmann called Gardes.
"He said he would do the surgery if we could pick her up," Gardes said. "It really does take a village to save an animal. It was all of us coming together and getting it done."
So instead of being euthanized, Jojo was brought to El Paso, where she was treated, rehabilitated and finally adopted by Giron.
"She had a femoral fracture in the left rear leg," said Mark Carrasco, a surgical technician for Koschmann. "It was a pretty bad fracture, because it was right above the knee and those are always difficult to get into place. When she came in, she had a lot of swelling and all the muscles where pulled in together."
Because JoJo's muscles on the injured leg did not stretch enough, Koschmann had to cut a quarter inch off the bone, which makes JoJo walk with a slight limp.
From the Heart Rescue serves Las Cruces and El Paso, and has a branch in Austin.
Each year, the coalition helps and places more than 400 abandoned, orphaned, abused, injured and other animals with medical or emotional problems.
The nonprofit organization provides lifesaving surgeries, medications and special care. Once the animals are restored to health, From the Heart finds each animal a permanent home.
JoJo's new owner, Giron, has fostered many pets in the past.
"I went on the From the Heart website and saw JoJo's picture, read her story, and I knew I had to have her," said Giron, a self-described stray magnet. "Usually they don't allow foster families to adopt, but I fell in love with her right away."
With a shaved hind leg - "driver's side rear," Giron says - large rows of incision staples and an external fixator sticking out of the top of her hip, JoJo went into service as a therapy dog, encouraging patients to strive toward recovery and health.
"The patients say, if she can do it, they can do it," Giron said. "She was hobbling, she couldn't put weight on her leg, and she was going through therapy herself."
The four-footed therapist offers emotional support and is used mostly to put patients at ease.
"It has been clinically proven that through petting, touching and talking with the animals, patients' blood pressure is lowered, stress is relieved and depression is eased," Gardes said. "
JoJo is not yet certified but will soon go through obedience training to become licensed.
"JoJo is so beautiful, and she is so calm," Gardes said. "She has never met a stranger she didn't like. Anybody who walks through those doors, she runs over there and says, 'Hi, how are you doing? Will you be my friend?' That is the perfect temperament for a rescue dog."
JoJo's fixator has been removed and is she progressing with her own therapy. The limp is barely noticeable.
She continues to help the patients at the orthopedic rehabilitation center, demonstrating the loyalty and intelligence of her breed. And even more, she seems to enjoy inspiring and giving love to people who are in pain, because she understands them.
"This is truly what a pit bull is," Gardes said. "What you see in the press about the pit bull attacks, that is the minority. Pit bulls make great pets - it's just how you raise them. If you raise them with love, they will be loving dogs.
"I have been doing rescue for more than 30 years and I've been bitten by more Chihuahuas than I have pit bulls."
Gardes said Giron was allowed to adapt JoJo because it seemed like a natural match.
"This was the right placement for her," she said. "Our concern is finding the right home for every dog, and this was the right home. Ann Marie and her husband are great parents. They have worked very hard, and she adores her."
Victor R. Martinez may be reached at email@example.com; 546-6128.
From the Heart Rescue
From the Heart Rescue is an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization. It receives no government funding and is not a United Way agency. Its work is supported by the individual donors. Donations are tax-deductible.
It provides surgeries, medications and care to abandoned, orphaned, abused, injured and other animals with medical or emotional problems.
Once the animals are restored to health, From the Heart finds each animal a permanent home.
Each year, the coalition helps and places more than 400 animals. It serves Las Cruces and El Paso, and it has a branch in Austin.
How to vote
The "Doing More for Pets" contest sponsored by Purina ProPlan Dog Food and Rally to Rescue honors the survival success stories of pets who beat the odds, came back from the brink of death, and thrive thanks to the efforts of animal rescuers, rehabilitators and veterinarians.
The winner receives $5,000 in ProPlan food and the dog is introduced to the public at the National Dog Show in November.
To vote for JoJo, go online to http://rallytorescue.com/doingmoreforpets/Vote.aspx
Voting ends at 11 a.m. Oct. 1.