Vampire bats share blood with sick bats too ill to get their own. Who would have thought? Rats laugh when tickled. Who would have thought? A biologist recounted how his dog followed a cart carrying the body of a mule who had been his companion for 12 years. When the mule was buried, the dog walked slowly over to the grave of his friend and wailed. Who would have thought?

Our four-legged significant others have the same emotions as we do. They know joy, happiness, fear, sadness, stress and grief, and are able to mourn. A dog’s ability to aid and improve the life of a human is virtually limitless. People with dogs live longer, dogs lower our blood pressure, they guard our homes, they serve as ears for the deaf, eyes for the blind, rescue avalanche victims, find missing people, detect many types of cancer, make the best termite inspectors, eliminate loneliness, and on and on. We humans give our dogs what space, time and love we can spare. In return they give us their all. It’s the best deal man has ever made.

Prior to moving from New York to the Vineyard I made my living training dogs. I had about 800 training appointments a year, half for serious behavior problems. Whether it was teaching a dog not to eat the couch or the neighbor’s kids, I was basically paid to enter the home and create people-dog harmony. I also provided my services, free of charge, to the local shelter.

The shelter in my county was a kill shelter, and it did a lot of killing. About 80 per cent of dogs brought to shelters are there for behavioral reasons. What a waste. If the owners had only reached out for some help in a large majority of cases the behavioral problems could have been solved. So I began giving out my business card and a note saying “free training” to go home with every adopted dog, because if the dog was returned, whether for growling once or pooping on the carpet one time too many, there was a good chance it would be put to death.

When I moved to the Vineyard I started offering my services to the local shelter here to help make dog adoptions stick. Again, no charge. My pleasure. Truly my pleasure.

As far as I’m concerned the people who work at the Edgartown shelter are beautiful people, the true good ones. They are in the trenches, dealing with the mundane, everyday needs of the animals housed there. Keeping the place clean and odor free, exercising the animals, getting the altruistic vets to take care of the medical needs, finding, interviewing and checking out potential adopters, and giving these abandoned animals desperately needed love really makes them true angels.

Not long ago I received a call from Lisa at the Edgartown shelter asking me to check out a pit mix named Rocky to make sure he was suitable for adoption. After spending a half hour with him I felt comfortable with his potential as a companion dog. All he needed was a loving home and some proper direction.

A few days later I was in Rocky’s new home with his new pack members, Nick and Catherine. The owners were great people, responsive and conscientious as I taught Rocky to stop jumping on people, to come with an automatic sit, to stay, and how to prevent separation anxiety from developing. I also taught Rocky to “leave it,” it being whatever you want him to leave alone, be it a squirrel or your lunch sitting on the coffee table. The next lesson had to do with a visitor ringing the doorbell. It’s what I call the “door turmoil routine,” a routine to eliminate out-of-control-barking and charging at the door and basically molesting the incoming visitor. The routine consists of redirecting the dog’s territorial response to a polite greeting instead of jumping, mouthing and crotch sniffing.

Real training is diverting a dog’s exuberance, not suppressing it.

On another occasion, Gordon at the shelter told me about a new adopter named Pat who was having some difficulty with her new family member, a dachshund mix named Copper. Copper was having accidents in the house and was afraid to negotiate the stairs. It always elicits laughs when I say to people, “It’s amazing how much of my life revolves around feces and urine.” But it’s true. It doesn’t matter if your dog can do your kid’s homework and load the dishwasher, if it poops and pees in the house it get real old real fast.

I met with Pat and Copper, setting Pat up properly with all the dos and don’ts for reliable housebreaking, and helping Copper overcome his fear of the stairs, to Pat’s great relief. My pleasure.

There are 77 million dogs in the U.S. There are approximately 300,000 dogs taking Prozac and Prozac-type drugs to help deal with behavioral issues. Seventy per cent of people sign their pet’s names on greeting cards and 58 per cent include pets in family and holiday portraits. The American pet industry is an annual $32 billion business, and yet 90 per cent of owned dogs have no formal training.

America is a truly dog-loving country, except for one glitch, one large glitch. Thanks to the puppy mills and irresponsible breeding, the U.S. euthanizes approximately three and a half million dogs a year, and thousands of dogs every day. That’s why the shelters are so very important, and why those people manning them are true, unsung heroes.

In the Bible, the Book of Genesis, God gave us dominion over all living things. Does that mean we can kill and mistreat them, or does dominion mean responsibility to care for and ensure survival of all living things?

It was John Muir who said, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”