Much Love for our Mika Girl

Mika checking out the surf at Venice Beach, California 

Mika (pronounced: Mee-kah) is a cross between a Chow-Chow and a German Shepherd—Well, that's the best guess anyway. (See * below for an update on her breed.) She was saved by Much Love Animal Rescue and we adopted her from them a few years ago.

Much Love shows available dogs in Santa Monica across from the Farmers Market on Sundays and this is where we first saw Mika-—though that wasn't her name then. She had already been given two different names in her unstable little life and neither of them felt right to us. It was a new beginning and we decided her name should have meaning and significance for us.

Mika is Japanese and means "new moon." We thought this was appropriate given that we were all about to go into a new phase of our lives together and it just had a good ring to it. We realized after the fact that some people think we are saying "amica" but since that's Italian for "friend" we think that works too.

Mika has a very beautiful, lustrous coat—but that wasn't always the case. She was malnourished in her former life and although she had been spending some time with the wonderful people at Much Love—no doubt receiving much love and nourishment from them—her coat was still dull and fuzzy looking.

One of the volunteers there, (a bit apologetically) commented, "She is a great dog and good-looking, but..." (smoothing her coat) "…has an unusual texture to her fur."

That day at the adoption I immediately gravitated towards her, but I was looking for a sign to let me know I was making the right decision. Just some little connection from her—a wag when she saw me or some interaction to indicate she would like to be ours. I called my daughter Alex to come help me decide and she too tried making a connection, but received no validation for her efforts. Mika was looking around at the other dogs, but didn't seem to care that we existed. Even so, there was something about her and before too long we were filling out the forms.

As per their protocol, we had to take Mika on a trial basis and make sure it would work well for all of us. Even though she still made no real signs of bonding with us those first few days, it didn't matter. Alex and I are sentimental and attach quickly and there was no way we could have returned her. We called Much Love to give the final confirmation and never looked back. She was part of our family.

First we focused on her nutrition. Her new diet consisted of vegetables, rice and a protein: chicken, turkey or salmon. In those first weeks, we went through a lot of salmon. I knew it would be good for her coat and sure enough, it wasn't too long before I noticed new shiny sections on the back of her neck. These areas of healthy fur continued expanding down the length of her almost daily, it seemed. Several weeks later, her coat looked completely new all over and she began receiving compliments on her sleek and shiny coat everywhere we went.

The only real concern when we adopted Mika was whether or not we would be able to handle her one big behavioral issue they had warned us about. Though she appeared quite docile most of the time, it wasn’t too long before we witnessed this behavior firsthand: What I eventually dubbed her, "wild woman episodes."

She would be fine until something set her off (the most common trigger was getting her leash out for a walk) and then she would go into "crazy" mode—jumping up and biting whatever was in her way. Mostly, it was nipping at air bites or mouthing your arm, "I'm-trying-to-tell-you-something" biting. But we soon learned her behavior would escalate rapidly out-of-control if we didn’t succeed in calming her right away.

It's a mystery as to where or why she developed this behavior because she is such a good dog otherwise and very smart. For example, if we tell her, "We will be right back. You are staying here. We'll be right back." She understands—and even more amazing, accepts this! She may look dejected and go lie down somewhere, but she lets us go out the door with no ado whatsoever. Even if she is up at the door looking hopeful or is following me around the house as I'm getting ready—it just takes communicating to her she'll be staying behind and she is fine.

"Yay! Road Trip!" 

"Are we there yet?!" 

As far as getting out the door (calmly) for a walk, she is much better than she used to be. A number of times she has actually quietly bowed her head into the harness when instructed and then stepped in without any problem. Other times, however, she will at least make some indication that she is fighting the old "demon within."

We have to turn away and try and keep a serious face when this happens so as not to encourage it further. It is quite hilarious: She grabs part of her harness as you attempt to put it on, then gnaws on it vigorously—with her tiny front teeth only—all the while grumbling, "arr,arr,arr,arr." It's as though she has some inner struggle going on and is doing her very best to contain her frustration:

I really want to go for a walk, but I can't believe I'm subjected to such nonsense. This stupid @#&! thing they want me to wear. I hate it! I hate it! I hate it!
(By the way, her harness couldn't be more comfortable, so we know that's not the issue.)

It takes several "do-overs" before we can get out of the house in a completely calm and submissive mode on those days, but we have high hopes of eventually getting her past the last of that behavior, as well.

The glazed and distant look she had when we first met her is a distant memory now though it is heartwarming to reflect on those early days and realize how much she changed—the shift—as she became more and more sure of her place with us here.

Now she interacts with us and her eyes register her affection for us. Unlike those first days, now she can't help but wag whenever we talk to her. I like to tease her about that: She used to be such a tough girl and now she just can’t hide how happy she is!

When we are out walking she will randomly look up at us happy-as-a-clam, her eyes sparkling with an unspoken "Thank you." And she will come and put her head on the side of the bed or the chair you are in, asking for interaction and affection. Not that there is any shortage of attention in our house! Alex and I initiate doggie massages several times a day and we talk to her and sing to her all the time.

Mika and "friend" snuggled up for a nap. 

"I have no idea what you are talking about. 
I've never seen this thing before in my life." 

In a long-standing tradition passed down from my mom, all our dogs get "theme songs" created for them/sung to them. Not that we sit down and plan them, mind you—they just sort of evolve and before we know it, these goofy little songs (as well as silly rhymes and nicknames) are being repeated (and expanded upon) by everybody in the family.

For our last dog, Sasha (a beautiful blonde Golden Retriever), the song was, "Coppa Cabana." (Her name was Sasha. She was a show girl. And her tail hung down to there, but she really didn't care. She was a show la la la...)

Mika has several songs, but one of our favorites is"Hey Micky" by Tony Basil:

Hey, Meeky, you're so fine. You're so fine you blow my mind, Hey, Meeky (clap-clap-clap - clap-clap-clap - clap-clap-clap)...Hey Meeky..." (Well, you get the picture.)

When I am on the yoga mat, she likes to be right there, too. A couple of times I have been lying on my back in Shavasana and opened my eyes to see her face right over the top of me, her skin folded forward by gravity into a comical Shar-Pei-like expression—just staring at me intently. (I wonder: Can she see my third eye?!) Other times, I'll be in a pose and she'll come in and wag as though she knows the importance of it and is happy to see I'm back on the mat.

Of course, all dogs naturally do "downward facing dog" but Mika learned early on to do it on command. The amount of time she spends in downward dog depends on the size of treat you have offered. If you are cooking and she can smell something wonderful she'd like to be in on, she will assume downward dog all on her own and then look up at you as though saying, "Hey. I'm given' my best stuff here. Anything? Anything at all?"

She also does "shake" and "high five." And if she really wants something from you, she will perform the "Mika Lightning Round" —a quick combination of everything she knows-—a down dog, a shake and high fives (both left and right) and back again to downward dog.

She has been taught to sit and be polite before her food is served and she does this very well (albeit with a bit of drooling, at times.) Then, when she is finished eating, she always goes searching for me. I don't recall how it started really, but she can't seem to relax until she has found me and I say, "Did you eat all your food? Good girl." Once I've acknowledged her, she is content and goes on about her business.

First picture: I just took the photo and said nothing. Second photo: I said, "Say Cheeese!" and sleepy girl obliged me. :) 

On warm days like today, her most important business entails sun-bathing on the deck. She likes to alternate between there and napping on the cool tile floor of the studio here where I'm writing. Every so often, I say "hi" to her and ask her what she is up to and if she is thinking about her boyfriend, Tyler. (He lives on the canals and she loves to walk by his house. He is half her size, but she doesn't seem to notice.)

She is used to this by now—me launching in to random conversation throughout the day—and breaks from her nap to give me a doggie smile and compensatory wag. She just ambled over for a good ear massage, then returned to her favorite spot for more sleeping.

—I think it's safe to say her dreams are only pleasant ones these days.

Tired but happy. -Mika Girl at the beach. 

"Mr. Demille...I'm ready for my close-up." 

Mika's "Count Dracula" impression 

"Sigh. I'm trying to nap here. Is misting me with the garden hose really all that funny?" 

The art of camouflage..."They'll never find me here." 

"Uhhhhhh——Is it my favorite treat?!"     (Mika with her Christmas stocking.)

"Love. Ain't it grand?!" 

much love

{Mika! - Pinterest}

Mika enjoying her morning cappuccino - (sans the espresso, of course!)

* update 2014:  For those of you inquiring about Mika's breed, we recently discovered pics of the Finnish Lapphund —definitely (a big) part of the mix! 
update 2017: We discovered Mika happens to be a common name in Finland. (On some level, we knew her origins all along!)

"Our Mika Girl" on
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