Know When and How to be a “Sheep Dog”

Sheep Dogs Life Leaders

People tend to be born–and many continue–to live with the mindset of sheep. They need to be fed and protected or they may die. Sometimes, it’s fine to be sheep–eating, sleeping, being part of a herd. Sometimes, we need to be Sheep Dogs–the one or one of those who accepts the call to serve, protect, lead, or provide for others.

Many think first of our military and first responders, which is good. They are protectors and they provide service and sacrifice. We should also think of leaders in families, communities, and places of work and worship.

For the veteran or civilian who has chosen alcohol or narcotics or anger to cope with PTSD, moral injury, or other pain, the inner “Sheep Dog” can come out and develop to take care of self better to boost capacity to care for others. The enemy of our loved ones is not always a predator or terrorist–sometimes the “Goliath” we need to “Master” is within our choices.

Part of our purpose on this planet is to Plan and Lead in Life as our best-selves. 

Life Leaders is hosting a public service seminar in the Birmingham Area to help us know better when and how to be a Sheep Dog, led by Col. Stretch Dunn (USA Ret), co-author of Professionalism Under Stress: Lessons for Professionalism, Stress, and Gunfighting in Military and Civilian Life (Dunn & Dyson).

Life Leaders hosts monthly events focused on Planning for the 7 Areas of Life, Best-Self Leadership, Patriotism in Action, and Freedom to Flourish. And, we provide educational and community development program and project leadership. To receive an invitation or information:

Best-Self Strategy

Parents, teachers, mentors–this can be a resource for your influence on students/loved ones
Consider these two sets of best practices for your best-self strategy, which summarizes how you do your best and can be used to coach others who ask about how to do their best
(“Mom/Dad/Teacher, you keep telling me to do my best; how do I do that?”).
Hint: there is more to a good answer than “work hard with a positive attitude.”
Dr. Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
(taught at the Life Leaders seminar, from the book of that name)
  1. Be proactive.
  2. Begin with the end in mind.
  3. First things first.
  4. Think win-win.
  5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
  6. Synergize.
  7. Sharpen the saw.
Dr. Dyson’s 7 Best Practices to Plan and Lead your Life
(developed beginning 1987 and a model for Life Leaders)
  1. Lead your Life.
  2. Plan for Life.
  3. Have an Impact.
  4. Balance your Life.
  5. Live Your Priorities.
  6. Assess and Adjust.
  7. Renew and improve.
Dyson Life Leadership Model 1987 Gold
For more info or action
  • attend Life Leaders public seminar Thursday, February 4, near Birmingham (if you cannot attend, you can receive handouts, slides, and a coaching call–
  • sponsor events for those you serve (training, coaching, program dev)
  • sponsor programs for students-teachers-parents planning for school and life
  • sponsor classroom resources on why students are “Free to Flourish”
  • sponsor seminars and coaching for people Mastering Goliaths, making comebacks, earning empowerment, sustaining better beyond homelessness, recovering from war or other stresses, others motivated to be and do their best
  • invite Dr. Dyson or another speaker to present at your civic club or city hall
  • download or donate for books and workbooks at the web site

This photo is of Dr. Covey teaching in Birmingham at a Life Leaders event in 1993:

Covey1993BSC.jpgDr. Stephen Covey (1932-2012), author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, lectured at the National Leadership Seminar presented by Life Leaders hosted at Birmingham-Southern College in January 1993. Dr. Neal R. Berte hosted. Dr. David Dyson moderated and opened the seminar. Dr. Covey taught on the “Seven Habits” in the morning session and “Principle-Centered Leadership” in the afternoon. Sponsors of 35-70+ tickets each were BellSouth, Protective Life, Alabama Power Company,  Southern Company Services, and Parisian. The College sponsored facilities, parking, and personnel. Life Leaders Institute and Life Leaders Association (then called the Personal Leadership Association) organized the event to advance personal leadership in Alabama and America.


Empowerment Week in Birmingham: Earn Empowerment

It’s Empowerment Week in Birmingham, a leading city for advancing freedoms associated with Veterans Day and Human Rights (Freedom of Liberty and Rights). Other cities also support the concept of “empowerment.” Life Leaders has been teaching and helping people earn empowerment since 1992.

Life Leaders hosted the “Earning Empowerment” Seminar September 10 and provided a workbook, with this message included:

Dyson Empowerment Model Gold

Freedom to Flourish

Others provided your Freedom of Liberty.
Others provided your Freedom of Rights.
Now, you have Freedom to Flourish.

Will you plan to earn empowerment to flourish at your callings?

From the Declaration of Independence to D-Day and since,
patriots at war and at home have served, fought if necessary, and sacrificed for
Freedom of Liberty and of Human Rights
at home and around the world.

Many have marched for war, peace, and rights.
You have more freedom.

What will you do to honor sacrifices of those before you and opportunities in front of you?

The more you internalize how and why to earn empowerment
the more you will seek to prepare and to serve in addition to receive.

You are the one who must choose if you want to honor the sacrifices that provided your freedoms and if you want to prepare for opportunities to earn empowerment.

Most people say they “know” that plans with goals help us do our best. Yet, only an estimated 2-5% of people have written a plan for life of the length of a high school paper. [Most schools do not yet include this best practice, though we seek to help them.]

If you pause for a moment to consider the WWII veteran who faced machine guns on “D Day” to provide freedom of liberty and human rights, are you willing to state you are not willing to assess your attitude and ability needed to earn more empowerment and outline a plan to develop self and your ability to serve?

Earning empowerment is part preparation for trust to get opportunities from a leader or society and part honoring others who elevated us above focusing on survival and safety.

You can learn how, plan for, and take action to earn empowerment.
You will earn more self-respect that you are living closer to your best-self.
Society will more likely reward you with trust and opportunity
because you developed your attitude and ability to serve in anticipation of the call.

This workbook is for those who choose to act or at least to learn more of what it takes to earn empowerment as a true professional.

Source: Earning & Delegating Empowerment Workbook, Dr. David Dyson, Life Leaders Institute. Life Leaders provides seminars most months to help people PLAN and LEAD in LIFE, plus programs of public service.

Cecil, the Lion: will you hear my cry for the animals?




An American lured a lion in Africa away from safety in a sanctuary, injured, later killed, and beheaded him for a trophy and entertainment. The public outrage has been swift and massive, though it could fade—again.

Now what?

  1. Do we want “slow, painful death” to be an option for hunted animals?
  2. Do we want it to be legal to kill animals for human entertainment?
  3. Do we want change now or just complain about unethical hunting until “next time”?

After international attention on an American killing and beheading a popular lion in Africa for a trophy, a former hunter discusses a few soul searching solutions for humans that could prevent this from happening more, including to animals in the United States.

By Dr. David Dyson

Do we want it to be legal to Kill Animals for Human Entertainment?

I am an ex-hunter of animals who did not sleep well after reading the story of an American who killed a lion for pleasure using methods that caused the lion to suffer 40 hours.

Summary Story

The lion was lured away from protected sanctuary in Hwange National Park in Africa onto private land using an animal carcass as potential food, shot with bow and arrow, suffered with bleeding and pain for 40 hours, then killed by the hunter with a rifle, and beheaded as a trophy.

Bad news for the hunter though good news for this issue is that the lion was known to the public and had been given a name, “Cecil.” Brent Stapelkamp, lion researcher and part of a team that tracked and studied Cecil for nine years, alerted authorities that something might be wrong after Cecil’s GPS collar stopped sending a signal.

If the lion had not been known, the public may not have heard much of this killing. Will Cecil’s death cause change in ethics, practices, and, if necessary, laws?

Public Outcry

JimmyKimmelSpeaksOfCecil Death

A news feed stated American comedian Jimmy Kimmel turned serious and emotional asking on his show, “Why would someone do this?”  Many want to know, What makes a man trick an animal in to thinking he will get food to leave protected sanctuary to injure it with an arrow, leave “the scene of the crime,” then return, “finish the kill,” and pose for a photo?

Kimmel’s appeal to donate to Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research prompted 2,600 people to give $155,000 (as of July 29).

Why Would Someone Want to Do This?

The answer seems to include “entertainment” and “to get a trophy.” I can think of several additional reasons, and I can imagine Dr. Phil having more.

Some researchers believe part of this desire to kill is left over human drive from our distant ancestors who “killed off” near cousin Neanderthal Man to eliminate a potential threat. Derek Beres, in “Our Evolving Ethics on Animals” adds,

“Our ancestors also started killing for sheer pleasure. When the hunt was no longer necessary,

we still hunted. The quest for protein became a quest for trophies.”

The need for killing wild animals for food has been essentially over for decades, except for conservation efforts. The need to kill with bows and arrows has been essentially gone for over a century. Since the invention of the rifle, the need to “ambush” an animal is essentially gone unless a “hunter” is seeking convenience and reducing time and energy required for tracking.

Yet, a small percentage of people keep killing for trophies, using weapons less humane than a rifle, and use bait and ambush for convenience.

Sorry, I was a Hunter, too

I read lots of books, especially in the sixth grade, about pioneers and Indians who shot deer with bows and arrows, then tracked them to bring home the meat to the cabin or teepee. I became a passionate hunter for a few years when a teenager, influenced, I think, by reading those books and hearing men talk of their hunting adventures.  Walking in the woods, learning to shoot my gun, bringing home meat to cook and stories to tell had appeal—until I matured to think objectively.

On that last day of hunting (freshman year of college), I remember seeing a squirrel high in a tree, instinctively getting my shotgun, and killing it. For the first time, I felt bad instead of good. I finally started understanding what I had been doing. I did not need the food, the squirrel was not hurting me, and like me, I expect, just wanted a good life, and probably had family.

That day, I felt ashamed for killing animals. I was hunting for sport—before understanding what really was happening. It was legal as well as accepted behavior, but not ethical.

That day, I remembered previously killing squirrels, birds, and a rabbit. For what? The reasons seemed weak, with better options for sport and fun at hand. I decided, I could spend more time doing better things. I stopped hunting for sport that day.

It was painful the day I realized I was hunting for the wrong reasons. If someone you know is hunting for fun, I hope they will think deeper about why and what the animal endures for human entertainment. Chances are good, your friend can find a sport or adventure that is enjoyable as well as ethical.

Humans Can Change Beliefs and Habits

Humans who have been killing for trophies and pleasure have the opportunity now to answer for themselves “why” they have and “what” they need from it. Most can find a better way. Most activities like this started because someone invited them or they saw someone doing it and wanted to try. For every emotion such as the “thrill of the chase” and others cited, alternatives exist that create similar feelings that can be done ethically—without upsetting millions of people.

I understand this requires change, and many people would rather keep things the same. Some would rather spend more energy defending their habits than necessary to create better ones. Yet, if an addict who chose narcotics can find strength to get healthy or a man can dig deep to develop new levels of character and habit to restore a marriage, then a hunter can change how he or she fulfills whatever is gained from causing animals to suffer 40 hours for trophies, as did Cecil.

The biggest challenge may come for those in the business of selling trips and opportunities for trophies and adventures. Many people instinctively “fight” to protect the way they earn their living, even if not justified. Those strong enough to admit they should find a better way to make a living or spend their free time can not only help society but also leave a legacy of character for family members to show them an example of doing “the harder right.”

Hunters are Needed Sometimes

In this discussion of bringing our ethics and laws to a higher level, we should remember that hunters are sometimes needed. Conservation practices sometimes call for hunting animals that are diseased to protect the herd. Skilled hunters can work with conservation officers to do the work humanely. Sometimes, bow hunting may be needed in areas close to residential and recreation areas because bullets pose a risk.

So, there is opportunity for skilled hunters to use their honed talents though the focus is on serving animals and humans instead of seeking ego-driven trophies at the expense of others. Perhaps more will get the thrill of the hunt to find a trophy for a photo (if you can get close enough for a great shot, you can show that to your buddies) and use hunting skill in service to conservation of the animals and the habitat.

One of the reasons “trophy hunting” hurts nature is that those animals most often killed are the best of the genetic pool. The strongest get killed while the sick remain to weaken the species. When the strongest get killed, those they protect, including their offspring, are at greater risk.

Cecil’s Call for Change

Many people believe killing the lion for a trophy using unethical practices is a crime against international laws or at least against human ethics. If not, this is an opportunity to examine our beliefs and laws on accepted human behavior and animal rights, then make better decisions.

Do we want “slow painful death” of animals an accepted option for entertainment for humans?

Of the many reasons this story is painful, one is that Cecil was the lion suffered unnecessarily. Reports I have read range from he was injured by bow and arrow as much as 40 hours before shot with a bullet. Another said the team shot the lion and left for the night to return the next day to kill him with a rifle.

I am impressed with the skill of archers though believe hunting with bows should be granted to those at the “mastery level” hunting in cooperation with conservationists who need bow hunting. I know of beginners with no experience and little target practice invited by older hunters to go bow hunting. Even adults sometimes don’t stop and think of the likely scenario that there is little chance of hitting the animal in a “kill zone” for a merciful death, especially by a beginner. When the arrow hits the deer or other animal, pain and suffering likely follows.

It’s common, especially for bow hunters, to have to track a wounded animal to “finish the kill.” But, what if a hunter does not track the animal for hours? What if his day or weekend time for hunting is over and he chooses “schedule” over the animal? What if he is one of those people who believe, “it’s just an animal,” and goes home. What if the hunter respects animals at least a little and tries to put the animal “out of his misery” though loses the trail of blood so the animal is left injured and bleeds to death slowly? And, what if the deer, for example, escapes and survives with an arrow stuck in him for the rest of his shortened life?

I marvel at the skill of archers hitting targets though hope Cecil’s death will encourage more bow hunters to consider if their skills should be used on live creatures. Some surely will choose to hone their skills hitting targets without blood or families. For those marksmen, respect for their integrity and ability to change will be impressive.

If change comes soon, laws will not be needed. If not, society will have to pay more taxes for legislation and enforcement or experience more drained emotion and time over future stories of killing animals.

If we do not set standards to protect animal rights, are we not, in effect, saying a human has the right to injure or kill an animal for entertainment?

The experts who work in natural habitats know the issues and some are objective enough to make these ideas better and actionable. My insights are offered to provoke thought and encourage people to fulfill their goals for adventure, skill development, and entertainment in ways that add value and do no harm.

Enlightenment or Enforcement

Many people would prefer to have fewer rules and regulations in the form of laws, except when something like “Cecil the Lion’s murder” happens, then millions say, “Somebody ought to do something!” If we want higher-level behavior we should start with education of the people—teaching the vision and motivation—that should increase probability of people doing the right things more often. For those who do not honor the education, enforcement becomes required.

Sometimes, society has members who choose to be “bad apples” by ignoring principles because they feel entitled to do what they want at the expense of others. When we look closer, some of these people are well intentioned though chose unfortunate paths to fulfill needs.

Some use their talents to “push narcotics” instead of sell valuable services. Some started getting money needed by taking it instead of working for it. Some “fell in with the wrong crowd” and pursued drugs. Yet, people can learn, change, and choose options good from them and society.

This issue is about animal rights, though I believe it is also about human rights because people want to trust that their valued creatures—and treasures—will not get ambushed for fun.


Apparently, millions of people want laws to protect animals from Cecil’s fate.  I recommend we decide:

  • Killing for trophies to display the heads of majestic animals is neither noble nor legal.
  • Killing for entertainment is not ethical or legal.
  • Killing to pose with your conquered beast to show off to buddies and waitresses (as Cecil’s killer reportedly did) is not “cool” in our society.

Hunters could help society if they:

  • Developed and used their skills in approved conservation efforts, such as killing diseased animals (take a photo of the trophy and use your skills to improve health of the herd).
  • Develop skills before they hunt and use merciful weapons and methods.

I hope the ethical hunters and conservation officers will use the parts of this list that work and improve with additions to establish better ethics and, if needed, laws.

History suggests Laws may be needed until Good Behavior Follows

As has been the case in the past, when some choose to violate the values of the Constitution or the laws set to guide human behavior, leaders have to educate on the vision and set parameters for ethics. Through leaders we elect or by our own votes, we can guide good behavior and punish bad behavior. This requires spending more time documenting common sense and more money hiring people to enforce societal standards with those who ignore education of our values. In history, tough changes often have required enforcement of laws until society learned and embraced the laws as well as the values behind them.

In this case, we seem to have two views—those who want to keep their individual rights to kill as their sport versus those who want to protect animals except in approved circumstances. Society is “filing a law suit” against the trophy hunters so they will stop and pay damages.

Sometimes we have to not only educate but also give more motivation to those who do not honor society’s values. And, we may need laws with punishments for the relative few who violate animal and human rights to motivate them to do the right things faster.

Dog Fighting Connection

We got forced to pass laws so humans would not sponsor dog fighting. People confine dogs that could be family pets, teach them fear and force them to fight, then sell tickets to people who watch dogs “fight for their lives.” The Animal Legal Defense Fund defines, “animal fighting as a contest in which people urge two or more animals to fight for the purpose of human entertainment.”

Society has had to hire more law enforcement officers and start more nonprofit organizations to help watch for violators and “care for the wounded.” Entertainment of some people proves expensive for society, including higher taxes and emotions that distract us from productivity toward good ends.

Some dog fighting “fans” call this “family fun.” Whether intentionally harming or not, these people chose to earn money hurting others so society has to pay more in time and taxes to get them to stop.

We hope all people will soon adopt a vision for ethical treatment of animals so our officers of the peace can serve in other ways. Our animal service organizations and volunteers have enough challenge finding good homes for millions of healthy animals so they don’t get euthanized. Rescuers are challenged further when they have to care for and try to place dogs with injuries. Also, dogs trained to kill are often harder to place and socialize.

Human Rights Connection

Just 50+ years ago, with many good people being fair and respectful, some did bad things to other humans because it was “legal.” The quest for “human rights” was developing too slowly so leaders focused on “civil rights” and enforcing The Constitution. To support this movement, the U.S. passed the Civil Rights Act. Legal rights were pursued because societal values were not yet strong enough to foster human rights.

Planning the mission and vision is the first step. Then comes education. If people choose to be unethical, legal parameters become needed to enforce the vision and education. The cost of making and enforcing laws adds burden for society. Yet, the few force us to enforce common decency until society learns and can trust itself. Eventually, decency can prevail.

The Story is Bigger than the Lion

Cecil the Lion suffered and died, in part, because animals need more rights until society becomes more humane instinctively. If you care about that lion and the principle behind why the hunter could kill and behead it, the story is bigger than that dentist. It’s about animal rights, human values, and what our society says is legal—and more importantly, ethical.

It’s also about capacity for personal transformation to examine learned habits, even family traditions, and realize there often are better ways available to us. What many are enraged about in Africa could create positive change in exotic places and in our home states, if we admit what happened, accept the consequences, and commit to action more humane for animals and less expensive for society.

People who are causing the “enraging” could improve this situation with self-reflection and decision to do things differently for the greater good. In research for this article my “jaw dropped” when reading an article about “Christian Hunting.” My first thought: Come on men, it’s great to bond with sons and nephews and teach them how to be men, but surely we can find better ways than chasing and killing beasts to develop our callings, gifts, and talents.

Society can Increase Trust and Decrease Costs

What happened to Cecil the Lion in Africa happens to animals in the USA annually. Some hunters use food to entice the animals to them. Some using bows and arrows hit the animal only to cause injury and cannot find the prey—losing the trophy and leaving the animal to suffer.  I respectfully believe, most of these hunters are good people, though sometimes engaging in activities that merit deeper consideration and choosing better ways for recreation. If we take away the quest for killing, we have lots of options for exercise and recreation in nature.

Animal rights of a society reflect the core of human rights. People tend to treat others as they do animals. When a person honors human and animal rights, whether legal or not, you likely have met a trustworthy person. If people kill animals for entertainment because they claim it is legal, they are more likely to “find a legal loophole” and “ambush” you, calling it “nothing personal…just business…it’s legal.”

As long as we have Americans killing lions in Africa and novice hunters injuring animals in the U.S., we may need the Animal Rights Act of 2015. Yet, this is more than animal rights.

The majority of humans love animals in their families or at least like them from afar. Humans want the right to believe animals will be treated well. We want to know those in the food chain are harvested humanely. We want the right to enjoy animals and not see or not hear of a “trophy hunter” with a bow ambushing a tagged animal with a GPS collar.

Surely, the rights of this individual to hunt and kill with his weapon of choice should pale before the rights of many in cases like this. This is not a case of one man’s rights and one animal’s loss. The individual caused—and is continuing to cause—harm for others.

The dentist-hunter-trophy collector did more than kill Cecil the Lion. Cecil’s cubs are at greater risk of getting killed by other lions seeking to take over Cecil’s pride. Animals, too, sometimes kill their competition. The team that dedicated part of their lives to study Cecil nine years is calling out with their own personal pain. The parents and children who watched and photographed the lions and other animals in the sanctuary are mourning.

In short, this hunter made a lot of children cry. How is that not a violation of human rights? Should a hunter who does not know the lion have more rights than hundreds or thousands of people who “know” and care about the animal? Granted, he spent $50,000 for his entertainment—yet, two continents are spending what may be millions in the aftermath.

Call for Action

Killing for trophies and entertainment is up for consideration by society in the USA and internationally. I hope noble men and women who happen to be hunters and guides will choose better ways on their own to fulfill needs for income and fun. To guide our future, I also hope our society votes for higher level animal and human rights that allow us to trust and care for each other better. We need to “get this one done” and focus more of our challenged energies and resources to create improved health and happiness of our citizens and protect our nation from terrorists. I hope you consider my recommendations and share your ideas for solutions with lawmakers and other leaders so we can make better decisions and behave better together.


Dr. David Dyson is caregiver for a dozen adopted and rescued animals. Professionally, he is author of Patriotism In Action and Professionalism Under Stress (with Col. Stretch Dunn, USA Ret). David serves as Founder and Director of Life Leaders America (a nonprofit organization presenting public seminars on best-self leadership, plus supporting education and public service). One of the initiatives is Life Leaders Ranch, which aspires to expand education and service primarily with horses for children, veterans making comebacks, and others who can flourish better from personal and interpersonal development connecting with animals. If interested, or


National Geographic and others found through Google Search for “Cecil the Lion Photos.”

Independence Day and the Founding Fathers

Col. Dunn presented at Life Leaders last evening about the importance of freedom of religion and more related to Independence Day and our founding fathers who sought to create a country free of religious persecution that existed in Europe. People had been killed for believing differently. The founding fathers shared a belief in God and respect for human rights.

Birmingham has stood for Freedom of Liberty and Freedom of Rights, and most in the USA share those values. We have Freedom to Flourish at our callings in large part due to veterans and human rights leaders.

Will we honor that leadership and sacrifice?
Will we teach the meaning of Veterans Day, Human Rights, and character traits in schools?
Will we live it in our plans and actions?

Will we help students write plans for school and life to enrich their sense of purpose?

How will you celebrate Independence Day?
What rituals make the holiday meaningful for you?

Do you want more independence in life?
What would it take?
Will you take 1% of your time this week to start or improve a plan for the life you are called to lead?

Life Leaders stands for Best-Self Leadership, Plan for School and Life, and Freedom to Flourish…. We seek to Earn Empowerment and help others.

If you do, you are invited to join us as a subscriber, participant, or sponsor.

May you PLAN and LEAD in LIFE.


5000 Miles to Bring My Horse to Sweet Home Alabama

What calling do you feel led to do?

Sometimes, we need to “go for it” with “callings” when “feeling” and “thinking” makes us cautious.

This article also is about doing something more meaningful than logical–traveling across the USA and back 5,000 miles to bring home a horse.

Star and David 2007 11 close up

<= Star of the Bar in the Inland Northwest on a memorable ride. This is one of my favorite photos of her–she showed again she is an athlete and servant.

For two years I lived in Washington State during which I was “adopted” by three horses.  Star of the Bar, American Patriot (Anakus Flynn), and Indian Legend were my herd. Each came from different starts and had their own stories.

A new purpose

Two years later while preparing to return home to Alabama, a family requested Star to fill a need for their family, especially two young girls. The mother of the girls, ages eight and ten, had died.

Loving grandparents Hap and Dewey wanted another horse so they and their granddaughters could enjoy horsemanship together. Their son, a police officer, had long shifts at work, so the girls would spend lots of days with their grandparents.

Star was called to a purpose: to help these girls have more positive purpose as they healed from the loss of their mother and grew into young ladies.

It was hard to leave Star behind in Washington because I am not a horse trader; I intend to love ’em for life. When I heard their story, I agreed to meet the family, questioning if it was more important for Star to be with their family than to be one of three horses for me, even though I had privately hoped to share her with someone special.

When the grandparents and girls came to meet Star, she became extra gentle as if she knew she should protect them. They arrived early as I was about to put a bridle and saddle on Star so in the moment I trusted her and mounted without a saddle so we could greet the girls at the gate. Thinking to myself, “this could be either beautiful or ugly,” Star carried me safely across the corral to the smiles of the girls and the misty eyes of their grandparents. We all sensed Star would be safe with the girls. I finally started to feel I should let her go. When I delivered Star to their farm, they promised to call me if anything changed.

Promise kept

They kept their promise. Five years later, Hap called. She told me, Dewey (granddad) had contracted Parkinson’s Disease. Star was loved though the extra horse without purpose could become more burden than blessing.

Calling over Convenience

They could have found Star a place to go in Washington much faster than waiting for me to make the trip. Yet, they cared so much about Star they worried about where she might end up because some horses, even good ones, get sold for slaughter across the border.

In 2015, after six years apart, Star came home to be with her herd. The 5,000 miles of travel to prepare, get there, and return home was one of the most inspiring and hardest experiences I remember. It was worth it.

What tough choice should you make that could enrich life for you and/or others?

The process of deciding if to invest weeks of time and thousands of dollars preparing and 10 days traveling cross-country to get a horse forced me to face my callings and values—especially when horses can be adopted in my zip code. This experience deepened my beliefs about when we sometimes need to “go for it” in life even if options may not seem “logical.” Lots of people advised, “just get a horse here” or “let them find her a home.”

People who understand the meaning of “animal family” may be the only only ones who see the logic of acting on emotion to “do the harder right” when a loved animal is at stake. After going for  Star became a “resolution,” she helped me learn we can do most things needed if we internalize commitment and use inspiration to help us gain “freedom” from doubts through planning, massive action, and persistence.

Late fall and winter can bring treacherous driving conditions, especially for a truck pulling a horse on a trailer through the mountain gaps of Washington and Idaho. Hap and Dewey patiently offered to keep feeding Star through the winter. They gave me time and encouragement to decide how I could travel cross-country to get her after April 15, which included getting ahead with work and arranging care for horses, donkeys, and cats staying at home. As time approached for me to leave, a person near them offered to purchase Star before I could get there, yet they kept their word to me.

People tend to treat others like they treat animals. If you find people who honor animals beyond what is legal, you typically found caring people you can trust.

Hap and Dewey reminded me of why I have come to believe people who treat animals well usually are trustworthy to treat people well, even when it’s “legal” to do otherwise. Doing “the harder right” (a term used shared by Colonel Dunn as used at West Point) comes to mind to support keeping promises after it becomes easier or more profitable to do wrong.

Mid-April seemed like a safe time to travel avoiding snow. Yet, when I arrived in Cheyenne, Wyoming April 17, I found most roads closed and 10 inches of snow expected over night. For this Southerner, I had not even thought to plan for snow in latter April.

My recently rescued dog, Cowgirl, and I followed routes recommended by Google Maps and MapQuest from Alabama through Tennessee, then northwest through Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho to Washington. On the way back, we drove slower, averaging only 45 miles per hour, to keep Star safe in case of trailer tire blow out or other problems.

Reunion after Six Years

161Star remembered me when we reunited in Northern Washington, offering a special moment after a long journey to get there. She walked past me and turned around to look again as if she was thinking, “I know you.” She came to me.

Arriving on Saturday, we had one day to help Star get comfortable with the trailer and start the process of weaning to leave her place of comfort. Some people just force horses to load with ropes and whips though with a little planning and patience, loading and traveling can be a long-term training opportunity that builds trust instead of a dramatic experience to overcome later.

Upon arrival, we backed the trailer into the round pen, opened the doors, and put Star’s feed in there. She had a chance to decide on her own to get on the trailer to eat and then get back off, learning she did not need to be afraid. She had not been on a trailer in six years.

The next day, we did more trust building training and started practicing her following my lead plus loading on and off multiple times. Star put up quite a fuss at first about getting on the trailer though after she did a few times and settled in, she acted calm.

Even so, I admit, my prayer life got an enriched workout on this trip. On the first hour of her on the trailer, I drove 30 miles an hour in case she decided to kick out the back gate on the old trailer. I tried to be a good cowboy “whispering” and serenading her with “Amazing Grace” and song verses I made up about her. It likely was more stress relieving for me than for her! To understand the feelings, consider your fatigue after napping in the back seat of a truck for five nights with your dog while “making time” to get there.

To help Star like the trailer (and want to stay there when driving), Star got lots of extra “TLC” with hay, water, and hand-picked grass at highway rest areas each hour. It took longer to get home stopping so often, though she was reasonably rested and happy when we arrived instead of stressed and possibly sick after the longest trip of her life.

Our return route was more rural and added South Dakota, Iowa, Kansas, and Arkansas. We learned more of “horse hotels” as well as community parks and fairgrounds with corrals (in several towns, we found rodeo arenas next to soccer fields). We got to spend one night at the 7th Ranch (next to “Custer’s Last Stand of the 7th Cavalry” battlefield). Horses are herd animals and if left alone have been known to jump fences looking for company at great risk to their safety.  Cowgirl and I camped out most nights in the truck within arenas with Star, and she stayed reasonably calm.


Indian Legend (Paint, center) was only one year old when he last saw Star (Quarter Horse). Then, she was his adopted mare after his birth mare was taken from him. Even though he is now the largest horse of the three, he immediately went to her and began following her around. If neighboring horses get close to her at the fence, he steps in to protect her—as does American Patriot (aka Anakus Flynn, Morgan Horse). Kyle Crider took photographs to help capture the reunion of Star with Patriot and Indy in Alabama. After six years, they lnew each other. My human family members came to the reunion.

Most horses deserve to be honored though this one certainly does. She is family. The term “animal family” is true. She has done most everything asked of her, including changing homes and families, to serve a purpose. I knew those little girls and their family needed Star, though part of me felt regret for leaving her behind. I am grateful to Hap and Dewey for keeping their word and giving me a chance to bring her home. Star staying made it easier for two horses to travel cross country and get set up—now the time is right for her to return as queen of the herd.

Was it worth the time, money, and energy to travel 5,000 miles to get Star? Yes, I feel blessed and peaceful with the decision and effort.

Was it worth redefining balance? To make the trip work and keep promises, I decided to work on projects early morning before travel and at night after travel and chores (thanks to mobile Internet, I worked on meetings, responded to requests, and more from my mobile office, my truck.

Was it worth giving up comforts for a while? Absolutely.  Most people could reduce time for TV and increase time for relationships and reading with valuable results.

Now, Star’s purpose is with her herd, Life Leaders, and others she can serve and add joy. Part of my calling is taking care of her, the herd, and other animals. If we earn their trust, horses are a great source of joy as well as fitness and sport. Riding is a bonus—daily interactions, walks, runs, and play are well worth it. Like people, animals are happier if they have purpose. Adopt one or more if you can.

Sometimes, we need to “go for it” with our “callings” and “feelings” and make our “thinking” become “logical.” I returned mentally tougher and inspired to make the decision good through greater inspiration, productivity, and service.

Personal considerations: The first full day of travel was my birthday—turning “62” and not taking a vacation in years, I thought of getting Star as a birthday gift to self—to go for it and not “play it safe” in older years. Other April birthday remembrances that encouraged me to “go for it” were Pa, my grandfather, who died before his 70th birthday. Co-founder of Life Leaders Johnny Johnson died at 55 years old.  Bucket list goals can inspire. The first full day of returning home was Star’s birthday, April 20.

About the Author

Dr. David Dyson is founder and director of Life Leaders Institute (aka Life Leaders America), a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization based in Central Alabama. Life Leaders helps students, professionals, and teams develop plans for school and life, learn best-self leadership, and do public service projects to advance communities and citizens as they exercise their freedoms to pursue callings. He is a part-time “weekend warrior” caring for animals–mainly horses and donkeys, dogs and cats–and farming fruits and vegetables.

To see more photos from Star’s journey home: Life Leaders Institute Farm and Ranch page.

You are invited to learn more of Life Leaders Ranch or support care for a growing number of animals needing homes of care, safety, and purpose or help us serve patriotic events with horses.

7 Areas to Plan, Assess, Reward Professionally

7 Areas to Plan, Assess, Reward Professionally

What gets rewarded proves more likely to get repeated.  What we put on our scopes as targets has a better chance of getting aimed at and hit. Improving the design of what we plan, assess, and reward improves results seeking to inspire and guide good people to do the right things automatically.  I summarize into seven areas what is important for organizations and professionals to Plan, Assess, and Reward (PAR).

Short-term thinkers only focus on three of the areas—calling them something like “sales, service, and revenue.” Advanced thinkers also focus on the “Big 3 Results” because without money there may not be a mission. However, they also focus on higher-level areas that develop capacity in themselves, others, and the organization instead of just working for “cash.” In the end, those who focus on “cash and capacity” have the best chance of success and growth.

We should invest in meaningful missions, visions for success, and key performance indicators in our professional plans, performance assessments, and training aimed at goals and rewards. These tools help motivate us to align and focus on priorities.

——-The Big 3 Results——-

  1. Opportunity—whether called business development, marketing, sales, resource development, advancement, enrollment management, membership recruitment, or any other name, organizations for-profit and not, public and private, all must be invited or given permission to provide services, products, or other forms of value.
  2. Service—often called client service or product delivery, the core of this area is keeping promises that earned the opportunity. We should add quality and positive experience.
  3. Rewards—many people and organizations focus on financial return, which almost always is necessary because without money, there may be no mission. We also should consider desired rewards for security and success, job satisfaction and fulfillment, plus career and financial opportunity because these affect motivation and retention of good people—as well as help us focus on priority goals.

­­——-The Big 4 Strategies——-

  1. Professional Development—develop plans to provide programs and services as well as to learn, assess, and improve. Align your plan with team members and the organization.
  2. People Development—attract talent who match your values and needs; train and coach to help them succeed at desired results and to develop capacities, individually and in teams.
  3. Organizational Development—plan and problem-solve around mission, vision, and goals, including opportunities and challenges. Develop best practices, key processes, tools and training; improve systems for hiring, assessing, rewarding; design structures for fulfillment, communications and career development.
  4. Societal Development—learn and serve through professional association and community involvement—membership, service, leadership—give back, build relationships, and develop strengths synergistically connected to your mission in communities where you work.

Put these areas in your plan even if your organization does not. Eventually, they may include the specifics or at least the spirit of these areas, especially if they see you improve your plan, performance, and people development.


Motivated professionals wanting to write professional plans can attend Life Leaders at Lunch, join Life Leaders Association, or enroll for coaching. Foundations and corporate sponsors support programs and courses. David speaks for college and corporate lectures and advises leaders on implementation of plans and best practices.

Life’s Most Important Questions

Daily and in moments of choice, seek answers for these two questions:

  • God, what would you have me do?
  • Now, what would my best-self do?

If you write your callings and choices in your plan for life, and review them daily, you will find yourself benefiting from better decisions, inspiration, and focus.

Plan to Stretch Your Mind

Man’s mind, stretched to a new idea, never goes back to its original dimension.” –Oliver Wendell Holmes

When we push ourselves to expand beyond routine, we expand our capacities. Significant events, experiences, education can change us–over time, so can seemingly small improvements in attitude, fitness, and use of time.

You likely know people who went on a mission trip and came back changed–at least with a different view of themselves, often with changed priorities. Veterans and civilians alike who experience trauma and/or injury can grow from it and become stronger than before.

We can plan to (intentionally) expand our minds, bodies, and spirits, for example:

  • Outlining a plan for life and investing a few minutes daily to review and improve usually adds inspiration and focus that leads to better action.
  • People who follow through on goals to improve or achieve often prove something to themselves (earning a college degree, running a race, or just sticking to a resolution…) and expand courage for the next challenge.
  • Spending time with or reading books about people of courage and example (people who have done what you want to do) can inspire thinking to form healthier beliefs and habits.
  • Reviewing how we spend our time invested in what we say are priorities almost always inspires improvement, especially when we set appointments with ourselves and others to help us live our priorities.

When something happens to us, our responses can change how we think and behave–for the worse or for the better. We can lead our lives better if we have a positive planned response for how we will react to ambushes, challenges, and disappointments, as well as daily opportunities for joy. We also can intentionally stretch ourselves through plans and actions that lead to better mental, physical, and spiritual fitness. -David

Part of the mission for Life Leaders is to help people PLAN and LEAD in LIFE to flourish at our callings and choices. /