Column: My dog changed mine and my family’s life

In Columns, Lifestyle
Angeles the dog holds his chew toy in his mouth.
(Brian Besci / Daily Titan)

It was a cold, dark night in the Arizona desert. I was on my way to visit my girlfriend in New Mexico when I found a dirty dog begging for food at a McDonald’s drive-thru. It was a small, tricolor dog with pointed ears like a German shepherd.

I thought of the roadkill I saw on the highway and all the stray dogs I had already seen. I immediately opened the door, and he laid down on his back and presented his belly to me submissively. Not thinking twice, I scooped him up and put him in the back of my car.

When I arrived, my girlfriend wasn’t thrilled with me bringing a new friend. We set up an extra plastic dog house, padded it with blankets and tucked him in. I checked on him throughout the cold night; he was awake and smiling. I named him Angeles after the city.

We bathed him together and she paid to take him to the vet. Our relationship didn’t last, but I still think of her everytime I look at him.

It wasn’t the most stable time of my life. I had skipped classes to go on my trip to New Mexico. My landlord did not want another dog so I decided to move back home. I finished my finals but failed that semester — the following semester I dropped out for a while.

Afterwards, I took Angeles with me everywhere, just roughing it and living the life. At first, my parents only tolerated the dog while I was figuring out what I wanted to do.

Considering that he was a bit of a ruffian, he actually got along with our other dog Kona, a very simple, peaceful golden retriever who just recently passed away last year. Angeles was smaller, but he was definitely the dominant one.

Life at my parents’ house was pretty good for me and Angeles, and I think that got to his head a little bit. He became possessive of me, and began nipping aggressively at my friends when I wasn’t looking. My uncle, a fellow dog person, tolerated several of his provocations.

I would eventually get into some trouble of my own, and it fell on my mom to care for him. After I made it back home, she and Angeles had begun to develop a bit of a bond, except for his aggression. Even when I took him on walks, he would bark ferociously at other dogs — sometimes at other people.

It could’ve been disastrous. The gardener where I lived was cool and knew how to frighten him out of biting, but one time he got out in the yard and bit an elderly electrician. It was actually pretty scary.

It was definitely too much for my mom to handle on walks. She talked to some of our family and my dad found a dog trainer online. His name was David, and he had a lot of experience working with dogs that’s had a rough past.

David knew the key to fixing behavioral issues in animals was earning their trust. Fundamentally, Angeles didn’t trust my mom to look after herself. He was aggressive because he was protective.

My mom took to the training enthusiastically, tolerating nips and bites with much more grace than I would’ve managed. She recognized that she was afraid of Angeles, and David helped her overcome that.

I remember David working with Angeles in the living room. He had Angeles’ leash in his hand and was giving him commands. When Angeles growled at him, he asserted control using the leash. Angeles nipped and David pulled the leash tight and popped him firmly on the nose.

It scared him so badly that he urinated right there on the floor. Mom was nervous but she trusted David and realized that he wasn’t going to hurt Angeles. If she was going to earn Angeles’s trust, she knew she needed to command his respect.

She picked up on the confidence and learned to command the dog’s attention and the results were transformative. He stopped barking and shaking his head furiously at other dogs when they were out on walks. She worked with him every day, and he quickly stopped challenging her commands.

Pretty soon, Angeles and my mom were the closest members of our family. He gave her his undivided attention, following her everywhere around the house. My mom would even put him on leash when family members were around and he would tolerate them in his space.

To clarify, his space includes our cars, couches, beds and, most significantly, our hearts. As I write this, he lays under the glass table in our living room.

Angeles is about 10 years old. Fortunately, Australian kelpies tend to live long lives, so I’m hoping he will be around to see me graduate college. It’s tough to imagine life without him, but he’s taught me so much about gratitude and devotion that it would be impossible to imagine never having met.

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