The Just Love Project 029: Mahalia Takes the Reins

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With a household of four cats, two dogs, & a rabbit, it’s not hard to tell how much the Hodges love animals. So when 11-year-old Mahalia first fell in love with horseback riding, her new passion wasn’t exactly out of character. Neither was the way she wanted to make sure horses could be a consistent part of her life: By adding more animals to it, of course.

When most 11-year-olds want something, the solution usually lies somewhere between performing household chores and being on your best behavior. Mahalia’s not like most 11-year-olds. At the age of 9, Mahalia’s solution was to start a dog walking and boarding business called Paws and Claws. Armed with flyers, business cards, and a salesperson’s charm that most adults would envy, Mahalia came to her parents, Emily & Dan, with her new pitch.

Budding entrepreneur

“My dad just said, ‘Oh, well . . . okay then!’” Mahalia remembers. “And my mom just told me that I would have to make sure I did a really good job if people were paying me.”

Challenge accepted. Two years later, she’s succeeding with flying colors. Beyond helping to make horseback riding a reality, Mahalia’s reasoning behind starting a dog walking business is pretty simple.

“I just love dogs,” she declares. “They’re like BFFs in dog form.”


Growing up with Chester, 11, & Scooter, 6 – she’s been surrounded by dogs her whole life, and much to her delight.

“We call them our in-home entertainment,” she says.

Thanks to Chester & Scooter, Mahalia learned very early on about the nuances of dogs’ different personalities and has continued to build on that experience, helping people care and love for their pets every day. And, as her service continues to shine, her pack can get pretty big. She’d have it no other way.

“One time I walked five of them at a time, and it got a little crazy,” Mahalia says with a laugh.

Expert wrangler

Mahalia loves all the dogs she cares for, but perhaps none more than Chester – the canine resident who’s likely the oldest, and most certainly the weirdest, of them all – but in the most wonderful way.  

“He’s very special,” Mahalia says laughing, “He barks at the things if they get put out of place. He sleeps straight on his back like a person sleeps. And, he constantly licks everything – the air, the ground, your foot if he can find it.”

“He’s like some sort of strange person trapped in a dog’s body,” Dan adds.“But, we love him to death. Him & Scooter both.”

In addition to the four cats, two dogs, three humans, & one rabbit, the Hodges’ pack can get pretty big at home too. With about 20 animals in total that they provide care for, Mahalia loves them all. Her enthusiasm is quickly contagious, and her reflections on why she loves dogs prove why she’s cut out for her current line of work.

“They’re so sweet. They don’t judge you. All they want to do is love you and have you love them back,” Mahalia says.

Today with regular horseback rides, a daily routine full of as many animals as she could dream of, and summer vacation finally in full swing, it’s clear Mahalia’s strategy two years ago has put her in her happy place. And, who could blame her.  

Mahalia, Emily, Dan, Chester, & Scooter’s story is part of Mutt Jackson’s THE JUST LOVE PROJECT – our blog series dedicated to celebrating the extraordinary bonds that exist between humans & their dogs. Every Wednesday, we’ll be sharing a new piece – be sure to subscribe to our newsletter so that you don’t miss an installment! And, if you or someone you know think you have a tale to tell, please shoot us an email at – we’d love to hear from you!