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5 ways to make this year a better year for you — and your dog

Those of us lucky enough to live with dogs already know that life just doesn’t get any better.  But sobering headlines about animal abandonment and abuse serve as reminders that there is always room in our hearts — and in our lives — for improvement. So why not let the approaching New Year serve as the perfect time to let at least one of your resolutions go to the dogs?  Here are a few places to start:

1. Personal training: Before you write another big check to the gym, consider — instead — taking a long, daily aerobic walk with your dog. Dogs make wonderful personal trainers and usually have the stamina to push you to go the distance. If your routine already includes one dog walk, add another. Your dog’s behavior — and your waistline — will benefit.

2. Volunteer at a local shelter: Whether you plan to spend one hour a week or several, volunteering at a dog shelter will change your life. Every moment spent making a dog’s life better will improve your own tenfold. If you’re not up for the physical challenge or time constraints prevent you from showing up in person, consider sponsoring a shelter dog or lobbying for one of the many worldwide canine causes. Check aspca.org for local as well as global options.

3. Canine emergency kit: Put together a small backpack for your dog that contains important contact information, as well as a few doses of any essential medication in the event of an emergency. Discuss a contingency plan with a friend, family member, and/or a neighbor, in the event that you need them to unexpectedly care for your dog. Make sure your dog’s I.D. tags are current. Listing your cell phone number as the contact will help your dog get back to you safely and swiftly, no matter where you are.

4. Discover that inner talent: Take the time to notice what your dog is good at.  If he/she spends more time jumping out of your yard and into your neighbor’s, he might win a blue ribbon in an agility competition. If his focus on a ball borders on the compulsive, search and rescue could be his forte. Or, if he’s a social butterfly who would do anything to sit on someone’s lap, you might just have a therapy dog on your hands. If you’re not sure what your dog might be good at, try looking at him/her through the eyes of a canine talent scout. You might just gain a whole new appreciation for his/her particularly quirky behaviors.

5. Time is better than money: Promise yourself that you will try to arrive home at least 30 minutes earlier than is customary and spend it with your dog. No matter what your paycheck says, a little more quality time with your best friend is priceless.

There are of course countless more ways to pay homage to a species that has for centuries steadfastly served us by day and slept lovingly at our feet by night; these are just a few of mine. Regardless of which resolution(s) you ultimately choose, have a happy and healthy new year. And as each of us contemplates how we might do our own part to help make the world a better place, remember that small gestures — even those that go to the dogs — can make a big difference.