He was an adorable ball of fluff, around 3 months old, when we first met him. Immediately, we knew he was “the one.”

I had been looking for a companion for my senior dog when we saw “Salty” posted online for adoption at a rural municipal shelter. On our first meeting, this puppy wanted nothing to do with the shelter staff nor us. However, the moment that he met my senior dog, Fatz, he clung to him like Fatz was his mother. We took him home and named him Charley.

Charley took quite a while to get used to all of us. No one knew his history but it was obvious that he had not had much interaction with people in his short life.

We spent a lot of time working with him and bonding with him, and his older “brother” taught him how awesome people can be.

After a short quarantine period of keeping him at home, due to treatment for parvo, we started taking Charley on outings. He was skittish of everything and wasn’t a fan of the outside world at all.

In time, Charley learned to love and trust all of his family members, but it was evident that he would always be a “mama’s boy.” He learned to enjoy affection, meet new people, and enjoy outings.

It’s been nine years now. Although he often displays wariness toward strangers, through the years he has mellowed and learned to accept new experiences and, often, new people.

Charley is as soft and loving with people, especially children, as he can be yet, on the flip side, he can stare a perceived threat down with stiff poise.

I’ve watched Charley grow from a wary, skittish puppy, to an adolescent trying to understand his place in the world, to becoming a wiser, more mature “big brother” himself, helping us raise other puppies. Sadly, he experienced sadness along with us when we lost his furry mentor and best friend, Fatz to cancer.

Today, Charley is a steady, dependable force that keeps watch over our home and welcomes new foster dogs with interest and calm acceptance. All 70 pounds of him likes to steal my pillow and sleep on my head, always getting as close to me as he possibly can.

It’s a far cry from the puppy who, at first, wanted nothing to do with me.

Each dog that comes into my life has taught me new lessons. One of the things that Charley has taught me is that, over time, we can change and better ourselves and our situations, no matter where we come from.

He’s taught me that love and trust can’t be forced. It has to be earned. He’s taught me to be more patient when working with pups (or sometimes people) and to work at their pace.

He’s taught me that time and dedication bring results. He’s been one of the ones who has reminded me that, sometimes, taking two steps back and starting from scratch is OK, and that if we mess up, we can always get up and try again. He’s taught me forgiveness of others and, in doing that, he’s also taught me how to how to forgive myself.

I think those of us who are pet owners have wonderful gifts entrusted to us that others don’t realize they are missing out on. We have in our homes creatures of light whose only vices are the instincts of survival.

They love us, comfort us, teach us, and speak to our hearts when there are no words. Even in the midst of our current unthinkable circumstances, they are here with us when our human companions cannot be.

They don’t worry about the future or dwell on the past. They constantly adapt and grow. They show love to us even when we don’t feel like we deserve it. Sometimes, they have to tell us to get our lazy selves up when we get off routine.

When a pet is rescued or adopted, people say they are so lucky to have found a home, and they are. But I think we, their humans, are really the lucky ones.

Lori Rice is a volunteer with A Better Life Animal Rescue.

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