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What Can an Injured Stray Dog Teach You?

They were the dogs no one else wanted. The dogs with under bites and knock-kneed hind legs. The dogs who were old or sickly.

They were the dogs no one else wanted. The dogs with under bites and knock-kneed hind legs. The dogs who were old or sickly. The injured or abused dogs that some vets said were simply beyond help. They were the dogs that taught a high-energy, Type-A personality how to tame her simmering impatience-- along with a few other crucial lessons about success, attitude and the overall belief that there’s a greater power at work in the universe.

Meet Randi Berger. Her fiery red hair, headstrong determination and precocious nature set her apart from the crowd when she was a kid. She picked her first puppy from an animal shelter when she was just 7 years old. Little did Berger know how she would later look back on that day as a pivotal event in her life, fueling what would later develop into a full-blown addiction to soulful eyes, scruffy fur and canine kisses.

Berger, author of the award-winning book, “My Recycled Pets: Diary of a Dog Addict,” returned to that same animal shelter as an adult, to pick a replacement for her original dog after he passed away. She was horrified to discover how many dogs were euthanized; particularly the ‘unadoptable’ dogs who were older, homely or shy. Compelled to save them all, Berger started in small steps, rescuing dogs from shelters and bringing them home to nurture them back to health or teach them how to trust people again. When they were presentable, she’d arrange adoptions for them.

Sounds simple enough, right? Not exactly. You see, Berger didn’t believe in caging the dogs. So she had to make sure the menagerie of dogs could get along with each other. Plus, never one to shy away from a challenge, Berger had a knack for choosing the most difficult or unattractive dogs; which meant they’d be the toughest to place.

“If they had buck teeth or a broken tail, I couldn’t resist,” says Berger. “I found that dog adoptions really honed my salesmanship skills. My goal was to describe a dog’s personality to a potential adopter over the phone and make them fall in love before they ever laid eyes on the dog. And most of the time, it worked.”

Salesmanship wasn’t the only skill Berger sharpened by founding one of the most successful animal rescues in Southern California. She managed to reign in her sarcasm and temper, all in the quest of achieving a goal.

“There were times I’d go to shelters and encounter uncooperative people,” says Berger. “My natural reaction would be to knock them down a peg with some type of biting comment. But in trying to help the dogs, I learned how to mask that irritation.”

While anger management is a skill most of us can use, some of the most valuable lessons Berger learned from the dogs themselves. Of the more than 10,000 dogs that Berger rescued, she worked with many dogs that were initially timid, hyper or unfriendly. Through her perseverance and uncanny ability to determine the cause of the dog’s behavior, Berger wound up transforming many ‘worthless’ strays into canine actors. Her training and obedience work paid off with movie and TV roles for some of the dogs that shelter workers, vets, or trainers deemed prime candidates for being put to sleep.

“The dogs would actually try to express their feelings,” says Berger. “I had to learn to listen to them and understand if they seemed withdrawn, it’s because they were grieving for their owner. Some dogs that seemed destructive would change their behavior once I started working with them and demonstrating that I believed in them. That was a really powerful lesson about the energy of our thoughts-- it showed me that through our thoughts we have the ability to create a better reality for ourselves and our pets. If I believed in them and worked with them, they believed in themselves too. In my mind, that’s a lesson that transcends all areas of our lives. That belief in not giving in to the negative diagnosis that these dogs were worthless showed me that we can all transform some part of our lives for the better.”

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