Are Dogs, Cats, and Other Animals
Teaching People about Life?
By Allen and Linda Anderson



Has an animal ever taught you about gratitude, survival, courage, forgiveness, or unconditional love? Have you been protected from danger by an animal? Has a beloved pet or an animal in nature helped you to create a better life for yourself?

If you've answered yes to any of these questions, then you've met an "angel animal." This is a term that we, two life-long animal lovers and writers from Minnesota, have coined to describe animals who help us understand ourselves and enrich the quality of our lives. Since the Greek derivation of the word angel means messenger, it only seems appropriate that animals, bringing us the message that there is love in this old world, have earned the right to be called "angels."

We felt that animals have shown us the true meaning of so many virtues‹compassion, joy, survival, patience‹to name only a few. Since 59 percent, or 58 million, of U. S. homes have at least one pet, we wondered if others were having similar experiences in their relationships with animals. So we placed announcements on the Internet and in pet publications to ask if people had stories to share about the spiritual lessons they're learning from animals and beloved pets. Within only a few months thousands of letters and phone calls from people all over the world poured in. It seemed like everyone had a special "angel animal" in their lives.

A Three-Legged Dog Teaches Forgiveness
We received the following remarkable story from Donna Lengyel in Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania. Donna is a homemaker, mother, and part time bartender who does stained glass and ceramics.

Donna says that since she was a child she sent her allowance to the North Shore Animal League, a no-kill animal shelter funded through private donations. When she and her husband decided to adopt a dog, they went to this well-tended shelter and found a dog named Dillinger who changed Donna's life. Donna says, "I first saw Dillinger resting on the floor of his cage and was moved by the beauty and sweetness in his face. When I leaned over to get a better look at the dog, I was shocked to see that Dillinger was missing a leg and I burst into tears." Donna read the tag on the dog's cage noting that Dillinger was a "special adoption." She felt so sorry for this three-legged dog that she immediately asked one of the volunteers if he could walk, and was assured that the dog got around just fine.

Donna was curious about Dill-inger's background. The story a volunteer told her about this sweet-natured creature horrified her. After Dillinger arrived at North Shore Animal League, the shelter vets operated three times to try and save his leg, but the nerve damage was too severe. One day the staff caught Dillinger trying to gnaw off the injured limb and so they finally had to remove it.

This dog had suffered severe abuse by his previous owner. Holes had been burned into his back by cigarettes. Massive scar tissue under his neck indicated that someone had used a metal training collar, yanking Dillinger until his skin tore. The dog's jaw had been broken and several of his teeth were missing. "But," Donna says, "his loving eyes revealed that in spite of all his pain and suffering, Dillinger's strong, golden heart still beat just fine." When Donna's husband saw the look on her face, he asked, "Is this the one?" Knowing Donna's own history, he figured that the poorest, most abandoned animal would the one she'd want to take home.

Why was Donna so attracted to this mistreated creature?

Even though now Donna was married to a man she calls, "the nicest guy in the world," Donna had been severely abused in a previous relationship. Her experiences left her feeling bitter and angry and her husband hadn't been able to penetrate the emotional walls Donna had built to protect herself. All her life Donna had trusted animals more than humans. Now, this three-legged, tormented dog would be a creature Donna could trust. As she looked at Dillinger, she empathized with him and remembered her own suffering.

Dillinger Learns to Trust
Donna recalls, "For the first month after the adoption, Dillinger was a great dog but he seemed to miss the only people that had loved him at North Shore. He didn't know whether or not to trust us. All the friends and family who met Dillinger were shocked that he could have been so severely abused and missing a limb yet still be so sweet."

Donna and her husband worked different shifts. They were also both home on weekends, so Dillinger was never alone. The couple didn't pen up Dillinger. He had full run of the house, yet he automatically had no interest in climbing on the bed or furniture. Dillinger had very little hair on his chest and stomach so he used to get a rash from lying on the carpet. Donna and her husband made him a bed out of a big sheet so only cotton would touch his skin. Wherever Dillinger went, the couple took his bed along. They couldn't help but spoil him knowing what a rough start he'd had.

Dillinger soon became super attached to Donna and her husband. He held no bitterness and didn't punish them for what his previous owners did. Donna began talking to Dillinger about how mean people can be. Donna says, "We carried on one-sided conversations, yet the expressions of interest on Dillinger's face assured me that he knew exactly what I was saying."

Donna says, "I spent so much time exploring Dillinger's mind and soul that I eventually began to realize I was learning something very valuable from him. Dillinger was teaching me not to punish others for mistakes people had made in the past. If any dog anywhere in the world had a reason to be mean or distrusting, it was Dillinger, yet this dog had forgiven and allowed himself to love and trust humans again."

The "Wonder Dog"
Dillinger's love extended to his fellow animal creatures. Donna believes that Dillinger, who she calls "the wonder dog" is a guardian angel for her and any creature who needs his help. This human/dog duo work as a compassionate team. If Dillinger sees an animal in trouble, he immediately brings the creature to Donna, knowing that she'll help. Without question, doubt, or jealousy, Dillinger accepts that he has to share Donna's love with other animals.

For example, Donna found an abandoned ten-day-old kitten that didn't even weigh one-half pound. She named him Grady. He had to be bottle fed, so Donna, always accompanied by Dillinger, would get up like a mother in the middle of the night to take care of Grady. A veterinarian said that Grady had little, if any, chance of survival. Dillinger watched and somehow knew that this cat needed his help. After each bottle feeding, Dillinger would open up his bed so Grady could sleep in it. Even though the carpet irritated his skin, Dillinger slept on the floor while this tiny kitten with a bad eye rested in his bed.

When Donna became pregnant, Dillinger seemed to know that a precious baby was coming. Donna remembers, "He'd rest his head against my belly and listen to the baby's movement and then smile contentedly. Since the day I conceived, Dillinger became even more of a constant companion and protector. When I got morning sickness, Dillinger would come into the bathroom and sit behind me on the floor with his paw up on my back as if to comfort me."

After all the years of having Dillinger in her life, Donna realized that it is he who helped her to let go of the anger she held in her heart from being abused. Donna concluded her story about Dillinger by writing, "There is an old Indian legend that dog is God spelled backwards and at rough times in your life, sometimes an animal will come to teach you something or get you through the rough spots. They say that when their work is done, the animal leaves. If that's the case, I hope I'm a slow learner, and that Dillinger will keep teaching me things for many more years. A lot of people don't believe animals have a soul. I didn't know what to think until Dillinger came into my life, but I know that he has one of the best ones around. If there is a heaven, that's where he'll be, with the angels someday, as I believe he is one now. I think he was a gift from someone up there that knew I needed help. Thank you, Dillinger, for teaching me that love is timeless and all my yesterdays are gone. Even though we "saved" your life, I will be forever indebted to you for turning my life around. I love you, little buddy. You're my best friend and the smartest boy I know."

Are There "Angel Animals" in Your Life?
Are angel animals bringing miracles into your life, too? Are you, as happened with Donna, regaining hope, confidence, or self-esteem through your relationship with an animal?

So many people worldwide, from all different cultures, backgrounds, and ages reported in the stories they sent to us that miracles are possible and animals can help us receive them. The hundreds of dramatic, inspiring, and joyful stories we received were too wonderful to keep to ourselves. So in January 1998, we published our first issue of Angel AnimalsŪ, an eight-page, nondenominational newsletter that people everywhere can subscribe to or get as gifts for their animal-loving friends. In Fall 1999, Dutton, a division of Penguin Books, under the Plume imprint, will publish the Angel Animals, Exploring Our Spiritual Connection with Animals, a book with over one hundred amazing stories to inspire readers everywhere.

To receive a FREE sample of the Angel Animals Newsletter, write to Angel Animals, P. O. Box 26334, Minneapolis, MN 55426 or send your mailing address by e-mail to or fax (612) 925-4729. Or you can call (612) 925-3309. Visit the Angel Animals(R) web site at .

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