8 Things I Learned From Angel

6. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Don’t judge a dog by its breed.

This might be a very old saying, ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’; but it still rings true today. We would be wise not to judge people by their outward appearance. Many women and men have been victimized by so-called ‘good looking’ serial killers. Just because a person dresses in a simple way doesn’t necessarily mean they are poor. We need to treat people nicely no matter what they look like. It is better to reserve that judgment of one’s character to a later time when you have learned enough about the person.

What is the point exactly? I guess it is simply this – ‘Don’t judge based on appearance. For the dogs, don’t judge a dog by its breed.’ Each pet has its own personality, regardless of the breed. Some pets are more loving than others, but you have to give them a chance to show it. The down side of pre- judging is you could miss out on some really great relationships. Also the reality is pre-judging is discriminating, it is viewing the world thru bias-filtered lenses.

Many people are intimidated by Angel’s appearance. They fear her when they don’t know that she is really nothing but a love sponge. I am so glad and grateful that my honey took in Angel. She has shown us the best side of a pitbull mix, she has shown that she is all about loving and affection. We adopted her but she has adopted us. All we gave her was love (and okay lots of food and treats, too, LOL) and she has given us a thousand joys, a million kisses and inifinite love. If we had just dismissed her for being a scrawny, thin, scarred and hungry little mutt, can you imagine all that we would have lost?

Don’t judge a dog by its breed. Yes. Angel taught me that!

Copyright karen galarneau 2013

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My Dancing Angel

You can teach old dogs new tricks. We taught Angel her new tricks only this year (she’s now three years old). I believe she can still learn more tricks in the future. They say that some dogs love to have tasks, they love to help. And just as much, they love to do tricks because they know they get their treats for doing them. I have a feeling that another reason is they can feel their tricks make us happy and they love to please us.

My husband Scott and I taught Angel to dance. I saw a youtube video of the winning dancing dog on the British Got Talent show. That gave me the initial idea to teach Angel how to dance. What we taught her is not a complicated routine. It’s simple really but she has learned it and we have a lot of fun with it. Angel loves to perform and she does it even when we have guests. She is a natural entertainer and we are very proud of her. She used to be shy about it but over time she has found her confidence and her rhythm.

I remember when I was very young, I liked to go to dog shows at the veterinary college. My mom was the pharmacist at the vet college hospital pharmacy and we lived on campus so it was easy to attend these dog shows. I was interested in dogs and wanted to be a veterinarian so my mom really encouraged me to go to these events. This is where I first learned from veterinary students how to teach your dog to sit, lie down, come, roll over, and stay.

There are many books on training dogs and also there are obedience schools that would teach your dog for you. But if you have the time and interest, you can try training your dog yourself. The process will be definitely fun and memorable for both you and your pet. The key is to use one syllable words. Also be sure to teach one trick at a time, keep on it until the dog gets it, before moving on to the next trick. This way the dog doesn’t get confused. You just need to be patient, it will be worth it in the end.

Deciphering Angel’s Dog Talk

I wish I could interpret everything Angel was trying to say to me, every time. But I just don’t have the complete guide to decoding her language just yet. I am not giving up yet though. My very own version of Scooby-Doo never ceases to amaze me with her efforts at speaking people language, or at least communicate with me. I swear I’ve never met a more expressive dog than Angel. And she is not loud at all, just communicative. She hardly ever barks. She is really always quite a good girl, very quiet and well-behaved.

For what it’s worth, here is a short list of my translations :

Licking my hand, and excitedly wagging her tail, after getting up from sleep – She wants to go outside
Licking my hand and excitedly wagging her tail plus soft whimpering sounds – She wants to go outside NOW!
Bringing her leash, or shirt to me – You’re right, she wants me to take her for a walk
Bringing her ball to me – She wants to play fetch
Bringing her stuffed toy to me – She wants to play fetch
Licking my hand as soon as I let her back into the house – She’s grateful that I let her in
Licking my hand as I walk by her when I am cooking or preparing food – She wants to taste what I am cooking
Licking my hand, my toes, or my clothes – She wants some food
Bringing me her empty food bowl – She wants some food
Bringing me her empty water bowl – She wants water
Licking my hand while I am sitting or studying and she has not been sleeping – she wants me to pet her
She lifts her paw to shake my hand – she wants to do her tricks i.e, dancy-dancy, shake hands, lie down and roll over, for treats
She suddenly becomes alert, looks at the direction of the front door, gets up and comes over to me – Daddy’s home
She suddenly becomes alert and looks out the windows and stands behind the front door – strange dog is outside our yard or on our porch

My husband teases me and says I got it backwards. That I should not try so hard as to understand what Angel is trying to tell me. He says what matters is that Angel should understand what I tell her to do. Maybe he’s right. But I just like to solve the puzzle that is Angel code. I figure I’d at least try, after all she tries so hard to understand me.

How about you and your pet? Do you have your own key to your pet’s code?

Copyright Karen Galarneau 2013

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WALKING WITH MY TRUE ANGEL

Do you believe our pets can sense our feelings? I believe Angel has kept me healthy and happy. Since the first time I walked with Angel, it has been quite impossible for me to lie in bed and be sad or depressed. She just wouldn’t let that happen. She would either jump in bed with me, or do something funny like bring me her leash, her toy, her “walking” shirt (a dog t-shirt that says “rescued and loved “ which I have been making a habit of letting her wear when we go for a walk). One time she even brought me one of my running shoes. It just tickled me so.
I remember one time when I had to work on completing a chapter for my dissertation and I thought I just didn’t have the time to walk with Angel that day. And so I tried to be smart and I put up all Angel’s leashes, far away from her reach, so she couldn’t bring them to me. At this time, by the way, my loving husband had also started his project of converting our carpet into hardwood flooring and some of his stuff were on the floor. To my surprise, Angel brought me my husband’s tape measure. She must have thought it was a leash because it had a black lanyard which resembled the black cord on her leashes. I couldn’t stop laughing. I had to call my husband and tell him. I guess you know what happened after: I ended up taking her for a walk when I took a break from studying. I figured she deserved it for all her efforts. I must have thought I was rewarding her by taking her for that walk, but after taking the walk, my mind was so clear and I was able to finish the chapter quickly that I was probably really the one who got rewarded.
My daily walks with Angel have indeed kept me healthy and happy. As you know, sometimes when you are writing your dissertation, self-doubt could rear its ugly head, and if you were not careful, it could rob you of your joy and inspiration. I believe that walking with Angel really helped me through those challenging days until I could finally finish my dissertation. Could our pets really have this positive effect on us? Yes, yes, yes! A friend of mine told me a while ago that her cats were the only reason she got up every day when she was clinically depressed. She had to get up to make the cats’ meals. Now that she is feeling much better, she is so grateful to her pets for her survival. And just yesterday I was reading a touching story about how a Labrador helped a lady from suffering depression after her brother, whom she loved very much, passed away (www.thepetplace.com). This dog did everything it could to get her out of bed including pulling her blanket or the sheets and even barking at her to the point that she would actually get up. The Labrador also helped cheer up another dog, her brother’s dog. It was so touching how this Labrador was able to help the lady and her brother’s dog in dealing with their grief and loss. Maybe you also have heard of other stories of the effect of the love of a pet on people’s lives, maybe you even have your very own story to tell. This human-animal bond can be so strong that it can be a source of healing.
Of course, there are those wonderful physical benefits of exercise that walking with my Angel has given me: a chance to better enjoy sunny days and get Vitamin D, get some fresh air, improve my cardio and overall improve my health. But more than that, I have found that walking gives me energy and focus. The walks also get me out of the house and give me a chance to take a break from house chores or from studying. It is fun for me and I know it is fun for Angel. She loves walking. Sometimes, I bring my Ipod and listen to an audiobook of John C. Maxwell’s “Talent Is Not Enough”. And sometimes I pray while we walk. I praise God and thank Him for His many blessings. I pray for our family and friends especially those who are sick. I pray for special intentions. I pray for our family. I pray for our friends. It is wonderful that in this sense, my pet has been like a true angel: bringing me closer to God.
Sometimes when we walk, I pat Angel gently and she looks happily back at me, with her mouth open as if smiling, her eyes almost winking. As we end our last lap, I say “Good job, Angel, you did three laps today!” I hug her close, just before I let her get in the backseat of the car. It’s time to go back home, after another day of walking with my Angel.

© Karen Galarneau 2013

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Lessons from Angel Part 2 – Understanding My Angel

I have my friend Peggy to thank for getting me started with walking outside for exercise. She had started walking as an exercise towards a healthier lifestyle. One day she posted on Facebook inviting her friends to walk with her. She had been posting that she walked around 5 laps a day. I was interested but I wasn’t sure I could do five laps. I replied to her post and said just that and she said to come on. So I did and I really enjoyed it. That first day I actually did 4 laps. I told my husband I really loved it and would like to do it again. He encouraged me to do it and he suggested that I bring Angel along. I asked Peggy if she would mind if I brought my dog along and she said she would ask the Fire Chief if it was okay. Within the day, she sent me a text that it was okay as long as the dog was on a leash, and that she’d see us the next day.

Angel was so happy that first time I took her walking. I got up early that morning, I had coffee and a small breakfast. I said to Angel, “do you want to go walking with Mommy?” She looked at me as if I had lost my mind. I said “where’s your leash Baby, go get your leash”. She seemed to understand that. She looked around and saw her leash on the floor and she picked it up with her teeth and brought it to me! I was so happy, I patted her, and hugged her and said “good girl, good girl!” as she wagged her tail and her whole butt. We left at around 8:00 am. I put her in the backseat of the car and threw her leash in there, too.

When we got to the park, I introduced Angel to Ms. Peggy and I knew she liked Ms. Peggy. I tried to walk her on my left side so I could walk with Peggy on my right. But Angel preferred to walk in the middle, so she could look at me on her left and watch Ms. Peggy on her right. My sweet pooch Angel, she just was so happy walking that very first day. She smelled the air, and she had her head up, and her mouth open just like she was smiling, you know. And she looked at me, smiling like that, and when my hand brushed next to her, she kissed it. Like saying, “I love you Mommy, thank you for taking me walking”.

So the next day, I was sleeping really well. I was thinking, maybe no walking today. Maybe I sleep in today. Sleep feels so good. Maybe because of the great exercise I had the day before. Then I felt Angel licking my hand off the edge of the bed. I took my hand away, I said, “Go back to sleep, Angel”. Then she was licking my toe that was on the edge of the foot of the bed. I pulled my leg back under the covers, saying “Angel, no, Mommy’s sleeping”. What happened next stunned me, woke me from my slumber, and got me straight up and out of bed. Angel had jumped into the bed with me! As if to say, “if you’re going to sleep all day, I will sleep right here on the bed with you!” She had never done that before. And I just knew that the only way I could get her off the bed was to get out of bed myself, and I was right. As soon as I got up, she got off the bed and followed me. I looked at the clock and sure enough it said 8:00 am. It’s as if Angel knew it was time for walking again. I couldn’t help but smile to myself. I went to make coffee and toast some bread. Suddenly I could feel Angel fussing at my feet. When I turned to look she had her leash in her mouth and she was wagging her tail and almost skipping with excitement. As if to say, “let’s go walking now Mommy, I’m ready.”

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Tomorrow, Part 3 of Lessons from Angel

Lessons from Angel Part 1: Understanding My Angel

One of the consequences of spending time with someone is you get to know them really well. So well that you can learn their body language and understand them better in general. This is easy to explain when we are thinking of our friends, family, or even our spouse. The longer we know someone, lived with someone or been friends with someone, the better we understand them. Well, if we really listen, that is. Don’t you just know when your friend or family member is not okay even though they say they are fine. I have realized that this is also possible with your pets. The longer we spend time with them, the closer our bond, and the better we understand what they are trying to tell us.

I am reminded of the time when I was a young veterinarian, my father used to tell his friends that the veterinarian’s job was more difficult than the medical doctor’s. “We tell the doctors what we feel and where our pain is, but the animals can’t speak, so the veterinarians, they just got to know,” he used to say with a glimmer of pride in his eyes.

It’s true that as veterinarians we are trained on signs and symptoms of illnesses and diagnostic tests that help us determine what ails the animal paient. We also learn about animal behavior and physiology which help us even further to understand and interpret animal behavior.

But just like any other pet owner, I learned Angel’s “language” by spending a lot of time with her day in and day out. For example, i learned that when she suddenly comes up and licks my hand a lot, especially when i am busy like studying or on my computer, it usually means that she needs to go outside. Now when she does that, I ask her “do you want to go outside?” If she does, she would be very excited and wag her tail and start heading towards the door and exits the door as soon as i open it. If she sits down and turns her head away from the door, then she didn’t want to go outside. I look at her food bowl and if it is empty, i go to fill it up and sure enough, she was hungry, and she was trying to get my attention so i would put some food, or water whichever might be the case. It is funny how other times she cannot be more clear when she actually carries her empty food bowl in her mouth and drops it at my feet.

Next, I will tell you about how the funny thing she does when she wants to go for a walk in the morning.