Discipulus invitus

Ina is our resident master gardener which means she actually got schooled in the art of cultivation, while the rest of us either learned through experience – or we fake it.


She creates beautiful gardens, but always refers to a plant by its latin or botanical name. I have no idea what she is saying.

Centaurea cineraria


I think she believes that if she repeats the name often enough, I will eventually catch on.

Physostegia virginiana


I just nod. Politely.

Asclepias tuberose


I have discovered that I am much more inspired to learn the latin names of dogs than flowers. Don’t ask me why. For example:

Lipidus smoochus


Minus dontouchus


Toobigus forlapus


Feelgoodus dontstopus


See what I mean? Much more memorable.

Meus happius


Sunshine, Freedom, and a Little Flower

A perfect long weekend starts early with the afternoon off and a sneak trip to the garden.

The Hummingbird Garden with Veronica, Coreopsis and Asiatic Lily in bloom….


The Cottage Garden, freshly tamed. Ina has been here!


The Butterfly Garden, filling in at a rapid rate. I saw a Monarch today, but it got away!



The Dahlias, making their way skyward…


Maria’s Garden, a jumble of color awaiting the Sunflowers arrival…


Darn bunnies burrowing beneath the blueberries…


And visitors. A lizard with a keen sense of irony…


And Pelican Bay. Taking up residence in the flooded rice fields.


“Just living is not enough… one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.”
~ Hans Christian Anderson

(I’ll be back tomorrow.) 🙂

Rainier: The Update

Everyone needs a guardian angel. The first Homeward Bound volunteer that set eyes on Rainier was his.


Alex, a long time volunteer, transported Rainier from the shelter to us. His story inspired so many of you – thanks in large part to the team at Freshly Pressed who spread his tale far and wide, and all of you who so kindly reblogged the story, shining a light on The True Meaning of Rescue.

Rainier saw the vet; his lumps and bumps are thankfully not threatening; he has some chronic conditions to treat; and his age is determined at 12-plus. But the most important person he saw that very first day was Alex – a member of our Golden Taxi transport team. These angels travel up and down the state to provide a second chance to lost, abandoned and displaced dogs in need of healing and a home. For Alex, it was love at first sight. And this weekend, when I walked into the office, I found this joyous note on the board:


Rainier scaled his mountain and found his forever home. He found it the minute he set eyes on Alex and she on him. It just took the rest of us a couple of weeks to catch up.

As a permanent foster, all of Rainier’s medical expenses will be paid by Homeward Bound. Alex provides the love – of that we have no doubt. Happy life, Rainier. We could not have written a better ending to your story.


Guests of the garden

We have a lake view! The rice fields that surround Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue have been flooded with water surrounding our eight acres of rescue paradise.


With the arrival of the water we have new visitors to the garden – most welcome. The birds were everywhere this weekend,


squabbling over territory and even feeding on our bees.


This particular creature is less welcome.


I’m pretty sure he is a water snake. I’m very sure he needs to return there post-haste!

With our heavy clay soil, I suspect the flooded fields around us help the plants by keeping the roots moist and cool. What a display!


This time last year, we were still planting. Sometimes I look in astonishment at what we have created.


Of course, we had our four-legged visitors as well. Tyson is a bounce-back; returned because his family’s circumstances changed and he was unhappily spending too much time alone. We need to find him a family that can give him the time and attention he needs.


Janie is recovering from cancer treatment. She’s doing great now, and while Judy enjoys having her as her “office dog”, it is time for her to find a family of her own as well.


These adorable pups returned for their vet check and last round of shots. They are from the litter we showed up in March – one of our First Signs of Spring. They are growing up so fast!


Our dog walkers and other volunteers pitched in to continue the foxtail eradication project. As if their other contributions are not enough, they have arrived early and stayed late the past few weekends working double time to get the weeding done. The yards and trails have never looked better – and ensure that the pups have a safe place to play and train.


But my crowning weekend achievement is this:


A spotless garden shed. And a word of warning to my fellow gardeners…it had better stay that way!!
Happy week, all! See you in the garden.

When less is more

You can do more damage to a plant by overfeeding than underfeeding. Like kids with candy, plants will scarf up all the food they can find – especially nitrogen and phosphorus. Over-application of plant foods – organic or not – can be deadly.


Leaves turn a very dark green at first, then light green fading to yellow. The leaves struggle to keep their shape, and the stems lose their ability to bend and bounce back. Over production of flowers is followed by low or no production.


As it is for plants, so it is for dogs (and people by the way). Too much weight puts stress on virtually all of a dog’s organs, joints, bones and ligaments. Overweight dogs are at risk of diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and respiratory distress. People confuse treats with love and can quite literally “love” their dogs to death.


Duke just arrived at a whopping 150 lbs; way too much weight for his frame to support. He has to be moved on a stretcher to reduce stress on his joints.


Samson and McKinley are in a little better shape, but both have a lot of work ahead. Reducing food intake is an obvious first step. Pumpkin, which is loaded with fiber, can be added to meals. Calories are burned through walks and play, ensuring our pups do not overdo. It is very important to start slowly and gradually increase time and distance to avoid over-exertion or injury.


One of the most beneficial exercises is swimming as buoyancy takes pressure off the joints. Thankfully, a generous supporter gifted Homeward Bound with a pool specially designed for the dogs and their volunteer people. Swimming helps burn calories and strengthens joints and muscles.


And, of course, there is nothing better than a nice cool splash on a hot summer day – even for reluctant first timers! Click here for a short video of McKinley being introduced to the water for the first time.


As we all know, it is a lot harder to undo excess than to maintain a healthy balance in the first place. So do your dog and yourself a favor – show your affection with play and exercise instead of excess treats. You’ll love each other a lot longer that way!

Vignettes from the Garden: May 2013


“Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning, and under every deep a lower deep opens.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson


“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” ~ Anatole France



When fellow gardener Maria is not showing off her magnificent sunflowers in the Memorial Garden, you will find her at home tending to her beautiful bonsai.

Bonsai 1 BW

Bonsai is the art of shaping a plant to find the miniaturized tree within. Bonsai is a long-term commitment; a labor of love to create and care for. As a living thing, they are never truly “finished” – their true shape takes form and is reinforced over time.

All around us at Homeward Bound, our trainers and volunteers are working to shape the behavior of the dogs to speed their turn for successful adoption. The behavior of a dog reactive to other dogs requires special attention. When dogs growl at other dogs it is often labeled as “aggression.” But behavior that looks like aggression can actually be fear-based and should be treated as such. While a reactive dog can react aggressively, this typically occurs in a situation where he feels that there is no escape. The key is to replace fear with focus.

For most of the hundreds of dogs we help each year at Homeward Bound, their needs are obvious: medical care, leash training, basic commands, some socialization. But reactive dogs require much more.

There is no cure for reactivity, per se, but a dog can gradually be desensitized to the stimuli by using a series of techniques and games to lessen the reaction. Equally important is helping their handlers to understand what triggers the behavior and train them to manage situations when they occur.


Homeward Bound’s Golden Rule Training includes special classes and training for reactive dogs – including dogs that are reactive to other dogs. Class takes place in groups; this tells our trainers a lot about how reactive the dogs are. It also helps to desensitize the dogs so they gradually become more comfortable around other dogs. The aim is not to get them to like other dogs; simply to help react less in those situations.


A “clicker” or vocalization (“Yes!”) is associated with something positive – usually a treat. When the dog begins to demonstrate the behavior sought, the trainer clicks or praises immediately and treats. Sometimes the process has to be broken down into the tiniest advances; even a slight movement in the right direction is cause for celebration. Then the reward is withheld until the dog more closely approximates the desired behavior. This is called “shaping” – a learning theory concept. Timing is critical when rewarding the dog for his or her behavior.


There are games that help as well: “Watch Me” teaches the dog to focus on the trainer. A treat is held at at eye level with a “Watch Me” command. Once the dog makes the connection and looks on command, the frequency of the treat reinforcement is reduced. Intermittent reinforcement is key to maintaining the behavior you want.


“Look at That” is just what it sounds like. The dog is encouraged to look at another dog and then rewarded when they look back at the trainer. Shifting the dog’s focus from other dogs to the trainer is critical.


As the class progresses and it is safe to do so, the proximity to other dogs is reduced further. Dogs are walked in a circle outside or inside the group. If either dog reacts, they are refocused and rewarded immediately. As with overcoming any fear, whatever frightens the dog is introduced from a distance which very gradually closes. Most importantly, the experience should be fun and bonding – not stressful.

As with Maria’s bonsai – all of this effort takes time and patience. When we are successful, it helps the dog to live a more calm and confident life, and clears the way for a dog with special emotional needs to find the perfect home.

Of course, we recommend that you seek professional training support if you have a dog that is reactive. The rewards are worth the effort. One of our trainers put together this fun video that demonstrates the amazing progress two of our reactive dogs made through consistent training.

The true meaning of rescue

When a dog arrives at Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue, they are welcomed quietly and typically allowed to run or roam in one of the large yards to de-stress and acclimate to their new environment. Over the next couple of days, they spend some time with us for evaluation, are checked by the vet, and have their pictures taken when they are relaxed and feeling more comfortable with their new routine.

This pup’s welcome was a little different with urgent issues to address.


Rose was rescued from a shelter. Had she not been released to us, her fate was pretty clear. She would not sit or lie down through the transport. When she arrived at the adoption center and sanctuary, she could barely walk, perhaps indicating some type of neurological disorder? Most obviously, she was covered in a thick layer of mats from head to tail.


She arrived very late in the day as our volunteers are usually departing. They took one look at her and stayed. Using sheep shearing tools at first, they set to work carefully removing the mats that were tugging painfully at her skin.


Giant ear mats were removed and treatments were administered to her ear canals, immediately flooding back out because the buildup of wax and dirt was so thick.


She stood or sat patiently, as a small army of hands and clippers gently tackled her coat of dreadlocks, and soothing voices reassured her that she was safe now.


Clippers replaced the shearing tools and uncovered stickers, thorns, foxtails and welts all over her body. With five inches or more of mats removed from her underbelly, something else was revealed. Rose was inappropriately named. There were boy parts under there! Rose was quickly renamed, Rainier. After about an hour of this, it was time to give our newly discovered boy a much-needed rest. He was tucked in for the night and reassured that from here; things would only get better.

The next day brought a fresh bath to clean his skin and sores, and a second round of shearing.


Walking gingerly and slowly like a very old dog, Jody brought Rainier to the garden where we set up some shade and went about clipping what remained of his fur.


The trickiest part of the operation was addressing his paws. The fur had to be removed from top to bottom, with each area between the toes closely inspected. They were filled with foxtails. I have always found it surprising that a woman involved in rescue has long fingernails; now I understand why. Jody deftly pulled out more than 50 foxtails from between those toes – imagine the pain poor Rainier had endured.

This dog demonstrated the patience of a saint while Judy and Jody worked on him for well over an hour. With a slight breeze blowing across his freed skin and soothing voices talking quietly to him, he fell asleep in their hands.


Three clipper battery changes later, it was time to get up.


What arose from that slumber was a changed dog. With amazement, he took his first, pain-free steps – and then he was off!


I know you’ll forgive the blurred photos. I was not prepared at all for this rush of exuberance, and had not adjusted shutter speeds – which was clearly in order!

A lot can change in the life of a dog in a single day. A ‘she’ becomes a ‘he’; lameness is discarded with a pile of fur and thorns,


and an “old dog” unable to sit or lay down without pain is transformed into a running, prancing, tail-wagging prince of a boy.


This is only the beginning of Rainier’s story. He’ll see the vet to deal with his uncovered lumps and bumps and assess his overall state of being. But we have made a promise to him that the best is yet to be, and from this point on, he will always be loved. That is a promise we can keep.

There are dogs that pass quickly through Homeward Bound. They come to us in good shape because someone’s life circumstance changed and soon find a new forever home. It is our honor and privilege to help them all. But dogs like Rainier make unforgettable impressions on us. They are the verb ‘rescue’ – not the noun. Without Homeward Bound, Rainier would have passed on as Rose, forgotten and in pain. Because we are here, Rainier’s best days are ahead.

A lot can change in a single day for the life of a dog. Just look at this quick clip here. Welcome to your new life, Rainier.

Of thorns

“Life is thickly sown with thorns, and I know no other remedy that to pass quickly through them. The longer we dwell on our misfortunes, the greater is their power to harm us.” ~ Voltaire

We passed through more than a few thorns this weekend – literally and figuratively – beginning with the dreaded foxtails!


Foxtails are nasty pointed grass clusters that lodge themselves into pets’ eyes, ears, noses, toes and fur, among other places. In long-haired dogs (we have more than a few of these!) foxtails can be hidden by fur between the toes or on the body and, if left unattended, can poke the dog’s skin and eventually cause a large abscess requiring surgical removal.


Foxtails are barbed in such a way that they can only move in a “forward” direction. Since a dog’s body is incapable of degrading or decomposing them, they can wreck havoc. They grow in abundance in California – and on an eight acre dog sanctuary located in the country, you can imagine the threat. So this weekend we called on our dog walkers and gardeners for a “weed-a-thon” rising early to tackle the trails, benches, and other areas well traveled by the dogs. It’s not exactly my favorite kind of gardening…but it must be done.


Candy was kept company by her beautiful Shane;


and if the company of dogs is not incentive enough, donuts always do the trick!


Sundays, Kathryn holds Reactive Dog Training Class. This class is for dogs that don’t play nicely with others; some of them are our rescues, others are from community members seeking help.


A dog can’t be forced to like other dogs. But you can help them cope with their fears or anxiety by teaching them alternate behaviors. Our trainers have had amazing success with turning these thorny issues into good canine behaviors. I’ll share more on an upcoming post.


This poor pup was literally covered in thorns.


We are just beginning to write his story of true rescue; it deserves a post all its own. I will bring it to you soon. In between all, we managed to get a little gardening in!


After a week of unseasonably hot temperatures, the weather has cooled, and the garden is breathing a sigh of relief.


It weathered the heat well, and brings forth new treasures each week like this Jerusalem Sage…




Maria’s first sunflowers…


and of course, Roses – thorns and all.


With the promise of two stories to come, have a great week and I’ll hope to see you back here soon!