BDN-- Morty is a 4.5-pound chihuahua. He’s a rescue, with special needs, who prances to the beat of his own drum. In doing so, he’s achieved a social media celebrity status of which most humans can only dream.
Morty — who goes by “Morty the Misfit” on his Instagram and TikTok accounts — and also known as “DJ_Mitchythemisfit” describes himself — by way of his owner Danielle Ruffino— as “One missing eye, wobbly legs, extensive wardrobe.”
But what makes him a social media darling, and attracts followers including Cyndi Lauper, Whoopie Goldberg, Carrie Ann Inaba and Martha Plimpton, are his dance moves.
“Morty marches to the beat of his own drum,” Ruffino said. “And he has gone way past any life expectancy than people thought he would.”
The 7-year-old pooch has a laundry list of neurological, musculoskeletal and emotional issues. Ruffino knew and was prepared for all that when she and her husband adopted him from a Texas rescue organization in 2020.
In addition to making life a bit of a challenge for the dog, his health issues give him a rather rounded spine and a jaunty, prancing gait.
Fortunately, he’s not in any pain, Ruffino said, so they happily let him prance his way around their southern Maine home.
One day, Ruffino got the idea to set a video of Morty to music. And a star was born. “I’m not sure what gave us the idea to set him to music,” Ruffino said. “We had put some videos and pictures on an [Instagram] account for him and had some videos of him running around already.”
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The first Morty music video that appeared on TikTok was set to “Run” by Awolnation. “It took like 10 minutes to record and put up on TikTok,” Ruffino said. “It went wild with views.”
That was soon followed up by videos of Morty prancing to a seemingly endless array of musical genres. His wobbly gait somehow manages to match the beat of rock, country, alternative, Motown, doo-wop, hip-hop, disco, easy listening and metal.
To date, his most popular video is set to Harry Belafante’s “Jump the Line” and has garnered more than 26.3 million views on TikTok.
In filming Morty, Ruffino just lets him do this thing. If a line in a song matches up with him spinning around, something he does often, she will edit the music around that. “He’s really just a natural talent,” she said with a laugh.
Of course, no star is complete without a wardrobe and Morty has close to 200 different outfits and a fine selection of bling. “He loves wearing clothes,” Ruffino said. “He hates being naked.”
Last year pop star Cyndi Lauper produced and shared her own TikTok video of Morty which she set to her song “Echo.”
Morty's Tiktok- Watch Here
That level of celebrity status is a long way from Morty’s first five years of life as a neglected dog in Texas.
Morty was born with hydrocephalus, a buildup of fluid in the brain; syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone secretion, a renal condition commonly called SIADH; and joint issues. His original owners could not, or would not, care for those conditions so he spent the first five years of his life locked in a small room by himself.
He was rescued when he was placed in a “free dog” ad and taken in by a foster owner who immediately saw to his congenital medical needs and a severe eye injury that had never been treated.
“We saw his picture online and he was really a mess,” Ruffino said. “We have had special needs dogs before, so we applied to adopt him and his foster mom was very honest about his medical and mental issues.”
Following several phone calls, emails and a FaceTime session between Maine and Texas, Morty was on his way to his new home here.
Right off the bat Morty showed his new family he was ready for his new life in the Pine Tree State.
“He really is not as disabled as we thought he would be,” Ruffino said. “But he turned out to be a lot more manipulative than we had thought.”
Ruffino is quick to say she enables Morty’s manipulations. “Morty does what Morty wants to do,” she said. “Morty does not do what Morty does not want to do.”
This includes not eating anything but a very specific brand of kibble — and don’t even think about adding water to it. When offered anything else, the tiny dog will go on a hunger strike. On top of that, he only eats when being held.
“He won’t bark when someone comes to the door, but if he wants something he will stand in front of you and yell,” Ruffino said. “We stop what we are doing if he wants to eat so we can pick him up, or we let him eat in our bed — he is very spoiled.”
Ruffino loves sharing Morty on social media with his fans, but said there is a lot people don’t see.
“People don’t realize how special needs he is,” she said. “You get to see 30-second clips of his life and you don’t see us helping him get his balance every morning or dealing with his anxiety.”
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That anxiety is doubtless due to the years spent in isolation. It presents in nights of insomnia when the little dog cries and whimpers for hours on end.
Due to the SIADH, his water intake must be constantly monitored as with the rare kidney condition he could literally drink himself to death.
His joints are horribly misshapen and Ruffino describes it in human terms as the knees going backwards or in different directions. That, plus the hydrocephalus, is what gives Morty his signature prance.
For all of his issues, Morty is not on any regular medication. There is no need for pain control and anything they gave him for anxiety, including CBD, only heightened his distress.
“Rescuing a special needs pet is not for the novice dog owner or anyone not willing to commit the time and money,” she said. “Morty is an expensive dog and last year alone his medical bills came to around $12,000.”
Morty has also become an ambassador of sorts for rescue dogs and has assisted in a variety of fundraisers for that cause.
As for his fame, Ruffino said as his popularity soars, she has had to give herself a daily limit on how much time she and her husband Angelo Ruffino devote to Morty’s social media accounts every day.
“People get mad if you don’t post or respond right away every day,” she said. “Now I understand why real celebrities have social media handlers.”