Found by the dog catcher, running on the highway in New Jersey, Theo was an eight month old whippersnapper when I first met him at the shelter in Old Bridge, New Jersey where he’d languished, un-adopted for over three months. Though he was hampered by lack of training and the security of a good home, after playing and working with him on the grounds of the shelter for nearly two hours, I was certain this spastic, out of control mutt had tremendous potential to work. He displayed an exceptional eagerness to learn and his natural tendency to make sustained, relaxed eye contact was my first clue that he was ready to be sprung from the shelter and cultivate higher aspirations.
After a year of focused training, Theo’s transformation from pound dog to therapy dog was complete. And since then, it’s been his job to volunteer his prodigious talents in service of those in need. He’s worked at a children’s hospital and an AIDS hospice and now relishes his post at Manhattan’s Mulberry Street Branch of the New York Public Library in Soho, where he offers his time as a reading partner. The children sit with Theo for one-on-one reading sessions, and with his presence, he grounds these early readers and encourages them with adoring looks and a steady mien. This is a dog who loves to connect, and it’s a beautiful thing to witness.
Like his stray dog brethren, Theo is a constant reminder for me that belief, love and unwavering commitment can overcome adversity. I love that he inspires me this way, and so I’ll forever be devoted to him, as he is to me.
– Kimberly Wang, Eardog Productions
I am a foster and active member of Neuse River Golden Retriever Rescue in North Carolina. I also have a particular spot in my heart for older dogs who have been cast aside. Two years ago I had a foster dog who I was taking to our adoption events. After going to several of these events I noticed Casey… patiently waiting for someone to to stop to meet her. She’d roll over for a belly rub and smile her smile. She tried hard, but everyone eventually walked away. She had three strikes against her. She was “old,” she had been returned by a previous adopter and she was afraid of thunderstorms. I couldn’t let her continue to be passed over any more. I adopted her.
Casey (who is probably around 12 now) and her rescued brother Sam, have been wonderful with all of the foster goldens I bring into our home. She quickly overcame her fear of storms, she graciously shows all the new fosters her backyard, and shares her beloved tennis balls and squeaky toys. She also visits with me every morning in my bathroom to make sure my shower is taken properly and my makeup is applied correctly… at the same time rolling over for a belly rub or two. And, you should see her in the water, what a retriever! There is nothing she loves more.
– Wendy Wilson
Bernie may be the only dog in the world that has his own pet, really he does; a beta fish named after his favorite treat, ‘Cheese.’ I sit him on the counter every morning when I feed the fish and Bernie watches and grunts very intensely. When someone comes over, he will bark and walk them over to his fish so they can see it. Bernie is a 6-year-old Yorkie mix that has more spunk and personality than his 5 pound body can handle. When he greets you he does this smile thing where he actually tries to smile and show you his teeth, that’s how you know he is really excited.
Seeing he loves everyone he meets, I took classes for Bernie to be a Delta Therapy dog and we volunteer with The Brody Project doing Animal Assisted Therapy. Not only does Bernie love this work, but the residents also look forward to his visits. And when back at home, Bernie rules the roost of his other 4 furry siblings.
-Lauren Mack Cooper
My dog Slim Jim – A canine James Dean complete with bad boy appeal and effortless cool, Slim Jim’s expressive eyes, perfectly lined and depth-defying, sparkle with a mischief that says, “we’re having fun, what’s next!?” When I first saw this six-month old treasure, he was in the slammer for the third time: trouble locked up in a county shelter. I was determined to find a dog that would sharpen my training skills, so I adopted my perfect cause-with-paws. While I kind of enjoyed Slim’s acrobatic half-pikes on the furniture, his broaching the length of the house without touching down, I also realized friends and fauna dared not tread too near my precocious handful. I needed help; I found it in The Other End of the Leash by Patricia McConnell, the book that impacted our lives and added a public dimension to our adventures. I quickly registered for a McConnell seminar and then… we trained!
Between Slim’s innate love of living and my complete belief in his abilities, we forged a partnership which morphed him from Holy Terrier into Wholly Champ. Proving the competitive worth of mixed-breed dogs, Slim was the first mix to earn “Rally Novice” in several Northwest states, then his “Rally Excellent” title. He’s become the mixed-breed representative for “Helping Idaho Dogs, Inc.,” and is the dog you dream about, who fills your world with happiness and every moment with laughter. He keeps me young and gives me that deep sense of connection and belonging that only comes with absolute, unconditional love. That’s my dog, Slim Jim.
– Tammy Wallace
Meeka is our 1 year old Border Collie. She was found in southern Illinois as a stray when she was only 3 months old. She was rescued by Midwest Border Collie Rescue where she stayed with a foster family for a little over a month. A friend told me about her, so I looked her up online. When my husband and I saw her and read about her online, we just had to meet her. We loved her from the first time we met her. She did come with a small handful of issues, including resource guarding, some fear issues, & car chasing/motion sensitivity. We’ve worked through almost everything now. Most people we meet can’t believe she’s a rescue dog. She enjoys playing with her little brother, Ralphie the Papillon, even though it took about a month to convince him it might be fun to play. She also loves walks, hiking, running in the fields, swimming, learning new tricks, training for agility & obedience, and is always up for a good cuddle. She is a blast and we couldn’t have found a better pup!
– Shannon Baade
Pipit was about one year old when she was picked up off the streets of Portland by the county animal control and taken to their shelter. Pip presented very poorly in her kennel there–she was nervous, often human aggressive, and clearly very stressed. As a Pit Bull mix in a system already overcrowded with dogs, she was very lucky she wasn’t euthanized. Instead, some wonderful person at the shelter arranged to have Pip transferred to a no-kill, kennel-free rescue, where I found her. She was extremely shy and fearful, but we connected immediately. It’s been two years of non-stop, daily training with positive reinforcement techniques to help her overcome her issues, but she can now walk down a busy sidewalk calmly and happily, without going into a barking, snarling panic attack. She is whip-smart, amazing with my children, and the sweetest, most cuddly dog I’ve ever known. Pip is my heart dog. We are still working on her being comfortable allowing strangers to approach her. Maybe one day she’ll figure out that humans are sticky and full of treats and belly rubs. One thing I know for certain: there is no way a punishment-based training method would have helped a dog this fearful. Gentle methods and lots of praise has taught her that the world is not so scary after all.
– Min McGregor
Tess is my sunshine girl. She is also nicknamed Boo Dog which comes from Blue Dog. We adopted Tess through Arizona Border Collie Rescue when she was 8 months old–ABCR had pulled Tess from the pound in Tucson. With a little digging, we found this sweet girl had also been at the Humane Society and in at least 3 other homes before she came to us. All I can guess it that people were attracted by her looks without understanding what a young border collie can be like! Tess is a super silly (all right, dorky) girl who loves to play and herd our other dog, Trip (an ACD/BC cross). She also does agility and herding and is a very good long distance runner often accompanying my husband on 15+ mile runs. When we recently bought a new house in Portland, we intentionally chose a house at a trail head with access to miles and miles of trails for running Tess. Tess is very sweet but also very sensitive, as many border collies are. She is scared of young children and loud noises which require us to stay home on holidays like Halloween and the Fourth of July and take special precautions. We have spent years working through her sensitivity issues; the latest training courses we have found to help are the Control Unleashed classes. Those techniques (especially ‘look at that’), and a lot of agility and exercise, have made a world of difference.
– Allison Duncan
Lucy came to me at almost a year old, as a foster dog. A hound mix bred as a research dog, Lucy started her life in what was essentially a USDA-approved puppy mill. She wormed her way into my heart while I came to realize that nobody sane would want her, and became my first failed foster. Lucy has high prey drive, noise sensitivity, and energy level, but zero toy drive and minimal interest in food treats. A situational impulsivity/overreactivity issue manifested in some terrible attacks on our other dogs, until help from a behaviorist led us to a successful program incorporating conditioning, environmental management, and Prozac. On the plus side, Lucy is sweet as pie with people, snuggly, smart, and funny. Five years later, Lucy is becoming an easier dog to live with. She’s earned her Canine Good Citizen, has done several years worth of agility training and is starting to trial, and (one of my proudest accomplishments!) has an off-leash recall more often than not. Knowing what I know now, what I wish most of all is that I had had higher expectations for both me and Lucy from the beginning. I made a lot of excuses for her, due to her less-than-ideal start in life as well as her breed. However, we do love her dearly, she cracks us up with her goofiness, and I’ve learned immense amounts from her.
– Sarah Jones
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"The Education of Will delves deep into the minds of people and dogs, and into the effects of trauma, showing that healing is possible. McConnell gives a voice to those who can’t speak in words and provides hope for fearful animals everywhere."
—Temple Grandin, author of Animals Make Us Human and Animals in Translation.