Dogs no one wanted. Dogs with underbites and knock-kneed hind legs. Dogs who were old or sickly. Injured or abused dogs that some vets said were simply beyond help. These 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 a belief that there’s a greater power at work in the universe.
Randi Berger picked her first puppy from an animal shelter when she was just 7 years old. Little did she know that 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 “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 being 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 arranged 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,” said 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,” said 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, Berger learned some of the most valuable lessons from the dogs themselves. Of the more than 10,000 dogs that she rescued, many were initially timid, hyper or unfriendly. Through perseverance and an 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. Some dogs that shelter workers, vets, or trainers deemed prime candidates for euthanasia landed TV and movies roles.
“The dogs would actually try to express their feelings,” said 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.”
A new, updated edition of “My Recycled Pet: Diary of a Dog Addict” is now available on her Recycled Pets Rescue web site and will become available on the major internet book outlets, amazon.com and barnes-noble.com in mid-September. The original edition, published in 2004, received an honorable mention in the inspirational category of the 13th Annual Writer’s Digest International Self-Published Book Awards, placing in the top 5 among nearly 200 entries. For a minimum donation of $30.00 to Recycled Pets, signed copies will be sent anywhere in the U.S.