Blind and disabled, Moby the off-canter canine finds winter the most wonderful time of the year. He flops on his back in the snow, buries his face, bats it with his front paws and snaps snowflakes from the air.
The 2½-year-old border collie-Great Pyrenees mix runs in a specially designed wheelchair that supports his back legs as his front feet stumble along. He is a regular at an off-leash park near his home in Airdrie, a suburb north of Calgary. An Instagram account under the name @Mobywobbles documents his life.
“It is hard not to smile when you see him running with his tongue hanging out,” says his owner, Alex van Veldhuizen. “People usually describe him as the happiest dog they have ever seen. You can feel he has a spirit, and wants to be alive.”
Afflicted with a rare neurological disease called cerebellar hypoplasia, Moby loves other dogs. They are often afraid of his wheelchair, however, or uncertain how to approach because of his jerky, exaggerated body movements. Once, when accidentally knocked out of his chair, he laid on the grass in the park, feet up like a frightened possum.
“It is tough to watch him sometimes,” Ms. van Veldhuizen says.
She is 20, and calls him her therapy dog. Despite Moby’s developmental disabilities, the dog has helped her overcome anxiety issues that have haunted her all her life.
“The two of us are interdependent,” Ms. van Veldhuizen says of her speckled hound. “I look forward to coming home and helping take care of him, and he makes me feel needed and really, really loved. My mother says I have never looked as happy as when I am looking at Moby.”
He was adopted and returned to the shelter three times before Ms. van Veldhuizen and partner Jovan Kvill gave him a forever home.
“I have always known I wanted a special-needs dog,” she says. “We have the time and heart for it. We didn’t want Moby to live his life in a shelter.”
As she talks, Moby sprawls on his bed and gnaws on a bone. He tries to scratch an ear, but his paw stabs erratically at the air.
There is no cure for the condition, which can happen when a cat or dog’s brain is too small or doesn’t develop.
Without his wheelchair, Moby needs to be strapped into a harness and carried like a suitcase, his paws grazing the ground. He has trouble controlling his muscles. He constantly bangs his chin on the floor.
“He doesn’t seem to notice,” says Ms. van Veldhuizen, who walks 20 dogs a day and has worked as a veterinary receptionist and technician. “He is not sad.”
Ms. van Veldhuizen was born in the Netherlands and moved to Alberta when she was 3.
She met Mr. Kvill when they worked at a coffee shop in North Calgary. They never dated until he left to pursue a job as a machinist, but have been together now for two years.
A Christmas tree stands atop a table in their living room. Three stockings hang from the wall: one for each of the humans and another in the shape of a bone for Moby.
She and Mr. Kvill discussed getting a dog and began searching online. They found Moby at a no-kill shelter named Old MacDonald Kennels near Ponoka, Alta.
The facility is operated by Martine Huijssoon, an animal-services officer who posts pictures on her website of cats and dogs who need homes. Moby was days old when brought to her. Four of his five siblings also had cerebellar hypoplasia, although his mother and one puppy did not.
Ms. Huijssoon adopted one of the litter mates with cerebellar hypoplasia and began to seek families for the others. Moby was the last to be adopted, and then was returned several times.
“Sometimes with special-needs animals, it’s hard,” Ms. Huijssoon says. “Many people find that they can’t make that big of a commitment.”
Ms. van Veldhuizen and Mr. Kvill noticed Moby each time he reappeared on the website. They eventually decided to travel the more than two hours to meet him. They had agreed to go home and discuss the pros and cons of adopting afterward, but the plan was hastily abandoned.
“We fell in love with him instantly,” says Mr. Kvill, 25. “He climbed into Alex’s lap and started to snort. He broke us down in 20 or 30 minutes.”
Moby’s best friend is a black bunny named Mickey that likes to cuddle with him. When he plays or wants attention, Moby stomps his front paws on the floor.
He has a bin full of toys but mostly prefers to play with it rather than what’s inside. He has eaten one television remote without consequences. He rarely barks and sleeps between the couple, with legs outstretched so he can touch both at the same time.
Moby is named after the great white whale in Herman Melville’s novel. The couple met working at a Starbucks; Starbuck was Captain Ahab’s first mate in Moby Dick. Moby’s favourite toy is a plush whale named Ahab.
For Christmas the couple plans to bring Moby to a pet store to pick out a gift. They bring him toys and he sniffs. Last December, he picked Ahab.
This year, Ms. van Veldhuizen says, he will likely choose another whale.