Living and Learning Through Play

“At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope it can be done, then they see it can be done–then it is done, and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago.” ~ Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

Last weekend, we brought in a team to teach us – or rather, reteach us – that a strange new thing really could be done.

Years ago, play groups for the dogs were a somewhat regular occurrence. When the trainer who ran them moved out of the area, we lost the confidence to continue them.

We became more cautious and adopted an approach that kept the dogs safe – but mostly at a distance from each other, with a few exceptions.

Recently, a few volunteers re-started the play effort with a small group of dogs. Seeing the difference it made, they wanted to expand it to all of the dogs in our program. The skeptics were many. The thought of putting 8-10 dogs whose backgrounds are unknown into a play group can be understandably disquieting.

So the team sought expert help – and for two days last week, we humans were the ones that went to school. Bringing in the nationally recognized “Dogs Playing for Life” group, we learned how to categorize and match play styles and safely introduce dogs into play groups.

As we watched dogs that we thought could not get along with other dogs play together, we learned not to judge a dog by its cover – or by the reactions we see on leash and in kennel.

As we watched volunteer after volunteer step up to try on the role of play group leader, we surprised even ourselves with our ability to be in control of a group of dogs.

Following a consistent set of roles and guidelines, we worked well to get out each and every dog – not once, but twice in a day for play sessions that left them (and us) exhausted! But in the best way possible.

We learned that Duchess is a great go-along, get-along dog;

that our little Ariel can put much bigger, more obnoxious dogs in their place; that Mason can actually be the life of the party without a tennis ball; and that Molly – paired with the right dogs – can truly enjoy the company of canine friends.

Brand new arrival Dustin went from being uncatchable in the morning, to walking on leash to his play date in the afternoon; he was so anxious to get there.

Riley survived an entire day of play without having to rely on a toy companion. And Copper, who had been a protective screamer at other dogs turned into a wallflower when actually placed with those dogs.

We gained confidence in differentiating between a dog “discussion” and a potential problem, and when and how to intervene with low, calm tones, body language, appropriate tools, and tactics when trouble does arise. (All this snarling and gnashing of teeth was in good play as you can see from the photo progression.)

And we learned that play is for serious learning: our learning about the dogs – and for the dogs to communicate lessons to each other what we humans just can’t quite seem to relay.

“Dogs Playing for Life” is a nonprofit founded by professional trainer Aimee Sadler. The program has been introduced in more than 175 shelters and rescues here and abroad. We were # 176. The lessons we learned will enhance the dogs’ lives, help us to understand them better opening up their adoption options, and enrich our own lives as well.

Leaving us to ask…’Why didn’t we do this centuries ago?’ 🙂

When All Is New Again

“April hath put a spirit of youth in everything.” ~William Shakespeare

The garden in April is both young and old. New friends appear…

Old friends are reborn.

The season was never over. It was just waiting for us to find it again.

From cold ground covered in earth and leaves, springs forth our long-lost friends looking new and refreshed; ready to write another season –

another chapter in our garden’s journey.

“Age is opportunity no less,
Than youth itself, though in another dress.” ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Gracie is finding a second chapter, too. At 10, she was found stray and sent to a local shelter. Her owner was contacted, but never bothered to reclaim her – as if this beautiful life was done.

Not done – just waiting to be found again by a lucky someone who will recognize that under this sugar face is a young and loving heart.

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” – Seneca

Gracie’s new beginning starts now – in April – when all is new again.

Chief’s Gratitude

We have been blessed and blessed and blessed.

And if April showers bring May flowers…we are in for quite a show.

Our five years of drought are officially over – and with the weekly rains, our gardening has been largely on hold;

called on account of cold, soggy ground.

Quick to forget, people naturally stopped counting our blessings and started whining, prompting one of my favorite nurseries to send out an email: “Don’t be a grumpy gardener!”

To complain about a planting delay after so long without water is to be ungrateful. The sunflowers will keep, or they’ll be started anew.

“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” ~ Epictetus

To complain about anything when I look at this face seems doubly silly and small.

We call him Chief, but he wasn’t always called that. He was probably called some pretty awful names – none of them repeatable here and best forgotten, anyway.

His journey to Homeward Bound was unexpected. Chief’s “people” took him for a drive out to the fields nearby, opened the door, and shoved him out. Then they closed the car door and sped away. Chief chased after them futilely – afraid of being left alone. A kind lady saw what happened and alerted the authorities. They suggested calling us as well as we were right down the road. It took three days for them and our president, Jody, to coax/trick Chief out of the field. Once gotten, she gladly welcomed him – saving him from the pound despite his obvious lack of Golden pedigree.

He was terrified and – naturally – untrusting. For a good period, Jody was the only one he would go out with. He sought refuge in his kennel and by her side. But gradually, he became curious about the kind people around him, and – bit by bit – started to let some of them into his heart.

Chief takes things slowly because he doesn’t want to be hurt – or left – again. But just wait until you get to know him! He really is just a puppy at heart.

And most of all, this half Great Dane, half Lab is resilient and full of gratitude and love that wants to be given in return for the smallest kindness.

“Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul.” ~ Henry Ward Beecher

Gratitude is not relative, and it is not soon forgotten. It lives in the heart and is always available. If Chief can move forward from his past and wait patiently for his future, we can wait for the rain to pass.

With grateful hearts and hopes for sunnier days – for our little sunflowers – and for Chief.

Rescue is Only The Start

When we set out to save this Memorial Garden from returning to the earth, we had no idea where the journey would lead.

It was a mission of rescue, re-creation, and re-envisioning.

Today – it is this.

But a garden is a living, breathing thing.

It changes over time; plants grow and morph; and once-happy companions need to find new homes. Like our Dahlias – recently relocated –

because their once-full-sun setting…

has been cloaked in shade.

Or this graceful rose, wild and tangled in its old spot…

now supported and delighted in its new home.

Rescue is only the beginning for our dogs, as well.
The work only starts with pulling a dog from a shelter, taking in a stray, or assuming responsibility for a surrender.
Some of our dogs come to us already blooming; they just need to be replanted (Seru!).

Others require training and TLC to bring out their best selves (Jackson!).

While we work through that process, transformations take place. They grow, become more confident, and come into their own (Chief!)

Sadly, sometimes, these are the dogs that wait. For all of their readiness, people have a hard time letting go of the dog’s past and embracing its future (Nico…adopted today…we told you it would happen, boy!).

When a plant outgrows its space, it sends gentle signals at first.

Eventually, it will struggle – deprived of the very things that made it grow so strong and well.

I hope these special pups will not lose hope or faith as they wait for that special someone who recognizes that all they need is a new start and new place to call ‘home’ (we’re working on it, Riley!).

Our work for this garden is a gift.

So too is our volunteers’ work to grow the potential of these pups into the great dogs they can and have become (Nick and Nora!).

Rescue is only the start.
‘Home’ is the ending.