Sarge was found collapsed next to a busy highway in Northern California. A kind motorist spotted the undernourished German shepherd with big brown eyes and graying nose. The motorist stopped and piled the emaciated dog into the back of his car.

Sarge was taken to Cold Nose Kennels Rescue and Sanctuary owned by Gordon Hutting, a friend of Sherry and mine. No one knew much about Sarge’s past (including just how old this old dog was) and Sarge wasn’t about to give up any of his secrets. He was just happy to be safe and free, sharing space with many other rescues. ­­Gordon set up a rehabilitation program for Sarge, and the elderly dog started to gain weight and get the loving care all animals deserve.

Gordon is a dog behavioralist, and he specializes in taking mistreated dogs, ones that have aggressive histories, and gently transforming them into model pets. Gordon’s playbook isn’t a secret: he uses patience, love, consistency and respect. Sarge responded well. He gingerly walked the property, paying little attention to other humans or canines. His legs were so weak, I remember thinking it looked like he was constantly walking across hot, jagged rocks.

I knew it was coming: Sherry fell in love with another German shepherd and yep, it was Sarge.

Gordon brought Sarge to meet our two young, frisky shepherds, Amy Beth Baker and Nigel J. Wiggins. That was three weeks ago. Since then, we’ve welcomed Sarge into our family, and our pups have come to embrace their older brother. Sarge does his best to keep up with them, and although it’s not quite a gallop yet, he hustles up the mountain paths and guards the perimeter fence with an air of pride and authority.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve watched Sarge’s whole personality change. He no longer aimlessly roams our property. He has a purpose. Sarge seeks human attention. He’s a full member of our little pack. His eyes brighten when you call his name, his tail windmills and he loves salmon hot off the grill. And if you throw a ball and say “fetch,” Sarge enjoys watching you fetch the ball.

Last night, I gave old Sarge a goodnight hug and thought about how his story is similar to many productive and joyous people I know as friends and colleagues. Many of them had challenging times in earlier periods of their lives. Some felt abandoned and undernourished in many ways.

Patience, love, consistency and respect is not just a playbook that works for dogs. It is a foundation for positive change for many of us two-legged animals as well.