Rooting for Each Other -The Friendship of Jake and MoDo The Therapy Dog

Below is the final segment of a three-part series on Eagles defenseman Jake Marto and MoDo, the Colorado Eagles Therapy Dog. Jake helped MoDo through her battle with cancer this season and she would like to say thanks to #25.

By Kitt Amundson:

 

What you need to know about Colorado Eagles Defenseman Jake Marto, as told by MoDo

 

“I’m just a girl (dog) standing in front of a boy (hockey player) asking him to love her”.  Those words went through my mind the day I met Jake Marto.  Ok, so I stole the line from Notting Hill, but as soon as I met this North Dakota native, it was impossible not to love him.  He is polite, kind, intelligent and has a great sense of humor.  I love that he took time out of his summer, before training to drive from Windsor to Loveland just to meet me.  It was just three days after my surgery when we met.  Clearly, I didn’t look my best-which any girl would like to do when meeting a guy like Jake for the first time. They had shaved my neck and upper abdomen for surgery and my ugly stiches were showing but that didn’t bother Jake.  Right away he called me a “pretty girl” (he still calls me that) and sat on the floor beside me to get better acquainted. He was so friendly and gentle.  He wanted to see my tricks and best of all, he fed me lots of cookies.    I knew then we were a perfect match.  We have a lot in common, Jake and me.  I like cookies, Jake likes cookies (especially chocolate chip).  I love hockey, Jake plays hockey.  I was named after a Swedish hockey team and Jake played hockey in Sweden.  Jake and his wife Krissy (who by the way is as wonderful and kind as Jake) were already thinking about adopting a puppy.   I like to think I played a role in them deciding to get one.  I am a therapy dog.  Many referred to Jake as my “therapy human” when he decided to take this journey with me.  I prefer to think of him as my “Therapy Dude”.

 

In our previous stories, you have learned about me, my cancer journey and the great folks at the Flint Animal Cancer Center at CSU.   Now, I get to tell you all about my BFF-Jake.

 

Here are 25 things you should know about my pal:

  1. He is a native of Grand Forks, North Dakota.
  2. He doesn’t remember a time when he didn’t play hockey.
  3. He started skating at five and playing hockey when he was six. “That’s what you do when you live in North Dakota, MoDo” he told me.
  4. His Dad built a skating rink in their yard every year. It was called “Marto Arena” complete with an arena sign.  His parents still have that sign.
  5. In high school Jake played three sports: football, baseball and hockey and was named an all-state athlete in all of them.
  6. I heard that he won the “Mr. Hockey” award for the state of North Dakota his senior year. Of course, I had to find out on my own because Jake is much too modest to tell me that himself.
  7. It was a hard decision for him to determine if he should play baseball or hockey after high school. When it was all said and done, Jake chose to become a hockey playing Fighting Sioux at North Dakota which was located right in his home town of Grand Forks.
  8. Before starting college Jake played two years of junior hockey for the Omaha Lancers of the United States Hockey League (USHL). The USHL is the topjunior hockey league in the US. It is a place for guys to play hockey after high school yet preserve their amateur status for the NCAA.  As you might imagine, he is still very close with his billet family from Omaha.
  9. Jake was 21 when he started as a freshman at UND. (If you see him, be sure to give him a jab for that one).
  10. He had an amazing collegiate hockey career. He received four collegiate athletic letters for hockey participation.
  11. As a freshman he was awarded the Tom Hoghaug Memorial Scholarship, which is given to the UND freshman hockey player who best demonstrates initiative, determination and excitement.
  12. As a freshman, he scored the only goal for the Fighting Sioux in the NCAA Frozen Four semifinal against Boston College.
  13. His sophomore year he was named to All-WCHA Academic team.
  14. During his junior year at UND, Jake was named a WCHA Scholar-Athlete, and for the second time named to the All-WCHA Academic team. He also received the UND Coaches Unsung Hero Award.
  15. In his last year at UND, Jake was the team’s Assistant Captain. He was named to his third straight All-WCHA Academic team.  He won not only the hockey team’s Unsung Hero award, but the Unsung Male Hero Award which was selected from all male athletes at UND.
  16. After graduating college, Jake signed a professional contract with the Winnipeg Jets’ organization.
  17. He has a bit of a romantic side. He proposed to his now wife Krissy in a really special romantic way, at special place at an event that was special to them.  (I won’t share his special moment, you’ll have to get him to share the details with you but it was pretty cool.)
  18. He played with the St. John’s Ice Caps in the AHL (affiliate of Winnipeg).
  19. He played a season for the Södertälje SK in the Allsvenskan League in Sweden.
  20. He played a season for the Graz 99ers of the EBEL in Austria.
  21. His first NHL idol was New York Rangers Defenseman, Brain Leetch.
  22. He just had the best season of his career. (I like to think it is because we’re BFFs).
  23. He had his first professional hockey fight last season (not because we are BFFs).
  24. He loves playing for the Eagles, being a part of their organization and living in Colorado. He can’t think of any place he would rather be or any other teammates and coaches he would want to have than the ones he has right now.
  25. And, just in case you didn’t know………………. he loves dogs.

 

Why would a guy volunteer to cheer on a dog at the Doggy Olympics?   Jake and I were hanging out the other day and he shared his thoughts with me.  “When they first asked me, it was just a simple question-did I want to go to the Doggy Olympics with you? I said yes almost immediately.  There was no way you would know it then MoDo, but I love dogs.  I have always loved dogs and animals. I thought it would be a lot of fun to hang out cheering for you at the Doggy Olympics.  Then, I got the call that you were not able to participate in the Olympics because you had been diagnosed with cancer.    They told me that there wouldn’t be a story because of your diagnosis.  I said, ‘why don’t I take the journey with you, be your therapy human?  And that, MoDo was the beginning of our friendship.”

“When we first met even though your neck and belly were shaved and you still had your stitches from your surgery, but you were eager to show me how smart you were, all the tricks that you could do. Then, when I found out you were a certified therapy dog and had worked with autistic kids, and visited other folks to help them feel better-I was hooked.  There is something about you, MoDo that drew me to you right away.  I think it is how smart you are, your independence.    You don’t have to always be with us, but when you do want attention you become a pain until you get it.  I think you are not just a stinker, but a smart stinker.  You always do your own thing and are kind of a smarty pants with your attitude.  I remember after your first chemo treatment I came to visit you and you snuck upstairs away from everyone to hang out under the bed in the guest room with just your feet sticking out.  Like the scene in the Wizard of Oz when the house lands on the wicked witch. “   What can I say, a girl gets to have her special place doesn’t she?  Mine just happens to be under the bed.

 

“To see you get cancer Mo (that’s his nickname for me) especially at twelve, I thought it would be a battle.  You inspired me.”  I try to let him know, show him that he inspires me.  He was a true teammate who had my back all the way.  When I dropped the gloves on cancer, he was right there, ready to give it a go with me.  I hope he knows how I feel about him.  I hope he knows that “…he had me at hello”.  Ok, so I stole another movie line, but if the shoe fits…..

 

“You know, MoDo, I think cancer is hard on everyone whether you are a human or a dog.”  Jake continued, “I have had some people very close to me battle cancer and it is no fun.  You are the first dog I’ve known to fight this ugly fight.  People may call you a pet but you are more than that, you are family.   When I met you, just after your surgery, you hadn’t started your chemotherapy treatments yet and your energy was still pretty good.  I especially remember when we getting ready for me to meet your doctors at CSU for your post-surgery checkup.  We put some treats in a bag by the door.  I turned my back and saw the stinker in you for the first time. You had pulled the treats from the bag, opened up the plastic bag and just helping yourself to them.” So, maybe I am a bit of a stinker, but you still can’t help but love me.

 

Jake continued sharing his thoughts on us. “Watching you go through chemo, seeing the effect it had on you, MoDo, was hard.  It was hard on me to see how it affected your energy and appetite.  I never told you this, MoDo, but I know your good friend, former Avalanche player, Ian Laperriere (Lappy to his friends) would be so proud of the determination, grit and spirit you had through all of this and he is one tough guy. “

 

I had no idea that this was hard on Jake.  He is so positive and supportive and upbeat all the time.  Dogs can’t cry but knowing it was hard on Jake too, certainly brings tears to my eyes or would if I could get them. Do you know he had a jar of treats for me in his stall in the dressing room? He even enlisted his teammates to help encourage me to eat when I had no appetite. They all tried everything but sometimes I just couldn’t eat.  Jake came to visit me after my first three chemo treatments.  He was with my family waiting for me after my fourth and last treatment.  He brought my new friend Jovie for even more support.  I was so happy that they were there to see me come out of treatment wearing a “Cancer Survivor” bandana.

 

“MoDo”, Jake said, “To see you come out on the winning side of this cancer was inspiring.  It was awesome.  Ours could not be a better story.  To meet you, take this journey with you and get to know you was awesome.  To have this incredible outcome- we couldn’t have written a better story line.  No offense MoDo, but I sure hope that I never have to take this journey with you or any other family member whether they have two or four legs.  Because of you, I am not afraid of this cancer.  I saw how you handled it, and I know that if I ever have to face something like this again with a pet, I will go right to the great folks at CSU.”

 

Jake takes a pause before continuing.  I am pretty sure he doesn’t want to admit this next part.   But with a smirk on his face he says “I think you did help me want to get a dog, MoDo. Watching you get your energy, spunk and smarty pants attitude come back after your chemo was great. You acted like a youngster again.  Seeing how smart you are and how playful you are, made me want to get a lab too.  I think that we ended up being a great story. You are perfect for the Eagles. It is awesome when you come to our games and connect with our fans. I probably didn’t tell you this MoDo, but I have gotten quite a lot of feedback about us.  I sort of expected folks around Northern Colorado to talk about us, thinking that our story is great.  On our last trip to Alaska, however, I had an Aces fan come up and ask if I was the ‘guy with that dog’, and they wanted to know how you were doing. It shows you how much people care about their pets and how much the love the relationship between a dog and a person: having them as a friend and family.   I believe in Karma, MoDo.  I believe that if you do good things, good things will come back around to you.  This was a great thing for everyone.”  Darn it, this guy choked me up again.  He is certainly at the top of the Karma list, and should have many, many good things coming his way.

 

As I mentioned I have met Jovie, the Marto’s puppy.  She is exactly what you would expect a puppy to be:  full of energy, rambunctious, ready to play and curious and always wanting to eat my food and treats.  She has become a good playmate, and I love having playdates with her.  She brings out the young in me.

 

I want to find a way to tell her about her new family.   I want her to know that she will be so very loved in her lifetime with them.  I want to tell her that Jake’s heart is big enough to love two dogs at the same time; but she will always top dog.  I want her to know that she will be well taken care of, and certainly have many fun and exciting adventures.  I want to tell her it is ok to behave, be calm and to mind your manners-but she should also know that every once in a while, it is ok to be a stinker just because you can!  I want her to know she has a very special new family.   I want to say, “Jovie, the greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love, and be loved in return.”  Ok, I know, I stole another movie quote but let me leave you with just one more…. “Dogs just need you and love, that’s all”.  I think she knows.  Every dog should be lucky enough to have the love of a BFF like Jake Marto.

On the day following the Eagles’ last regular season game on the road in Rapid City, I was having a very difficult time.  I had not eaten for five days, I was feeling pretty badly and it seemed to get worse each day.  My family was really worried that I might not be able to keep fighting much longer.  A few hours after he returned home in the wee hours of the morning, Jake sent my family a text wanting to know what was up and why I wasn’t eating.  They told him they were not sure but that I was not doing very well.  He told them that he and Jovie would come to see us.  When I heard he was coming I sat at the top of the stairs and watched the front door waiting for him to arrive.  He called me pretty girl, asked me why I wasn’t eating, and then offered me a treat.  I can’t tell you why exactly, but when the treat came from Jake I wanted to eat, so I ate it.  It tasted ok.  I had another one, and another one, and pretty soon Jovie and I were both trying to get his attention for treats.  Jake told my family I was tough and a fighter.  I love this guy.  When someone like Jake says you are tough, a fighter and that he believes in you-how great is that?  Therefore, I will remain tough, strong and fight- I would never want to let Jake down.

 

This is not the end of the story, though.  The Eagles finished their season strong and headed into the playoffs, looking to win the Kelly Cup.  This was a team that would not quit, that believed in one another and they persevered through four rounds of play, finding ways to win where there did not seem to be any, many times in dramatic fashion.  This story ends with Jake and his teammates hoisting the ECHL Kelly Cup as the 2016-2017 champions.  It was a very special year for a very special team.  It was very special to me to see my pal Jake have such success.  Who says that happy endings are only for fairy tales?