5 Things I Learned From Charlie

What a sweet, stubborn, rescued street dog taught me about being a pet parent, a business owner, and a good human.

For those of you who may not know the story, Janery began as a labor of love for a sweet, occasionally incontinent, rescued dog named Charlie. I could never have known that the day I took her home from the veterinary hospital would change the course of my life, and several lives since.

Here’s what I learned from knowing and loving Charlie, and now what you can learn from me.

1. Aggression is sometimes a misplaced stubbornness for survival.

While Charlie was eager to please those she trusted, her body showed the abuse of the streets.  A bullet in one leg. A poorly healed bullet path fracture in her other leg’s bone. An eyeball we had to remove, thanks to an injury the vet said could only be caused by a blow to the head.  

Charlie’s life had clearly been a fight for survival, so I wasn’t surprised when she showed aggression to strangers, especially men. When my parents first met Charlie, they said, “You need to put that dog down, she’s going to get you sued!” But everyone underestimated the stubborn determination that Charlie and I both shared.  

I worked incredibly hard, devouring training books, firmly asserting myself as the leader, and making it clear that aggressive behavior was unacceptable. Within months Charlie’s behavior was transformed, and my parents never stopped commenting on how amazed they were by the transformation.

We humans could take a few notes from Charlie, who had to open her world to a new (and no doubt vulnerable) way of trusting, living, and connecting with those around her. This training doesn’t always work (*see safety note below), but it helped open Charlie up to more people who couldn’t wait to love her.

2. Stubbornness is an immensely useful (albeit frustrating) trait.

Growing up, I struggled with ADHD and focus, and I would never have thought myself capable of consistently training a dog, let alone starting and growing a business. Charlie taught me that I am capable of more than I gave myself credit for—I just needed a really good reason. This determined confidence started with Charlie and then seeped into other areas of my life. I witnessed the transformation of a dog. I launched Janery. And, most importantly, I now know that nothing can stop me when I believe I can do it.  

3. There is immense value in a proper introduction.

As I worked with Charlie to refine her behavior, I quickly realized that many people—adults and kids—lacked proper knowledge of the best way to approach a strange dog. Even after we resolved her aggressive behavior, I had to be alert when walking Charlie.  

Having lost one eye, Charlie was easily startled when surprised from her “blind” side. I quickly learned to head off advances from children, adults in hats, and dogs on extendable leashes, and almost all could use a lesson on how to approach strange dogs for the first time.

    1. Slow down or stop.
    2. Ask the pet parent if it’s okay if you pet their dog.
    3. If ok, gradually extend a hand, palm-side down, so that the dog can sniff without fear of being touched.
    4. Pet accordingly.

This is the best way to ensure the dog isn’t threatened and therefore has a chance to act on its best behavior. I’m sure we could all name a human or two who would benefit from this sort of warning!

4. Never underestimate the power of loyalty.

If I had to choose one word to describe Charlie, it would be “devoted”.  Two words? “Stubbornly devoted.” I hadn’t understood the depth of a dog’s devotion until I brought her home. She loved many people she got to know, but I was her person.  She would have followed me to the end of the earth, and I’m convinced it was her desire to please me that helped her overcome her aggressive behavior.

For us humans, loyalty takes a few different forms. It’s what keeps us happily married. It’s what holds us fast to our personal beliefs. When I set out to create a dog bed company founded on ethical manufacturing, unparalleled materials, uncompromising function, and generous philanthropy, I channeled my inner Charlie—and I’m as loyal to those founding principles now as much as ever.

5. The easiest hellos can make the hardest goodbyes.

Before Charlie, I stood with hundreds of pet owners in the veterinary hospital as they said goodbye. I awkwardly witnessed their pain firsthand time and time again. But nothing prepared me for the difficulty of ending the life of my companion of over 10 years. I knew it was the kindest, most ethical choice, but that didn’t make it easier for me to rest my forehead against hers as she took her last breath.

Maybe you have been there, feeling the palpable hole that’s left behind, as if your house and heart both feel emptier and quieter. That feeling of loss is a sign of a relationship that matters. And the emptiness you feel shows you just how much love you are capable of giving--and how much they taught you to stretch. And I always find that comforting.  

It just goes to show that life presents you with many opportunities to learn and grow along our little journeys.  I, for one, am glad Charlie walked with me for a while on mine. Robert Frost would call it “the road less traveled.” I called it a dank corner in downtown Richmond. Either way, it has made all the difference.

*Safety disclaimer:  It’s best to consult a behaviorist at the first sign of aggression in a dog.  Sadly, not every aggressive dog can be safely rehabilitated, and a professional can help you make the best decisions that respect the lives of your dog, your family, and the people around you.

PS:  Charlie also taught me the importance of a really good, waterproof dog bed. We learned together that not all dog beds are made well where it counts—and that stinks (sometimes literally!). Learn more about the dog bed Charlie inspired!.

Janery Blog Lessons from my rescued street dog Charlie