Launching Pad

My author friend met through this blog, Stanley Horowitz, has just completed his new book. Titled “Can You Read the Tea Leaves of Autumn: The Poetic Wisdom of the Four Seasons,” he shared a copy with me. I’m not sure of his plans for it, but I hope he finds a way to publish it. The book is a continuation of the theme established in his now famous quote with his keen and poetic observations of each month of the year. The final chapter is “The Poetic Wisdom of a Good Life,” written by a man who says he has been blessed with good friends – life’s perfect gift.

I turned instantly to April, and found this: “April is the launching pad of gardens.” And now the garden has brought those words to life.

The roses are in first bloom,

the trees (save one which is worrying me greatly) are in full leaf,

and the garden is exploding with purple,





and white.

Through the winter and early spring when people are kind enough to compliment the garden, I say “just wait.” Well the wait is over and it simply takes my breath away.

Now “just wait” until these little sticks on their own launching pad turn into summer Dahlias!

We launched a few more pups into new chapters as well, saying “happy life” to Gridley,



and Norman this weekend.

Rusty went to a family that has been adopting from us since 2000, and Norman to a wonderful gentleman who posts a “happy life” comment on every going home photo we put up on Facebook. He was looking forward to his own photo when the time was right – and he hoped that he could help one of the dogs who came to us from China. He got his wish on both fronts today. Knowing the conditions from which those dogs are rescued, he is looking forward to giving Norman the life he deserves (in other words, he will be spoiled rotten!).

We also said goodbye to our dear Old Bud.

Found by a good Samaritan on New Year’s Eve, he went unclaimed – but a number of people noted that he had been seen wandering around for some time. He was microchipped, but the phone was disconnected and the people no longer there. He was at least 12, maybe older. A matted mess who could barely walk when found. His kind person took him to the groomer and to the vet. He had an irregular heartbeat, cataracts, and weakness in his back legs. And while his body would not do as he commanded, be thought he was large and in charge and had something to say to every dog at the fence! His “only dog” attitude is why he stayed with us instead of being scooped up by one of our volunteers or fosters: everyone has dogs – an occupational hazard. But he was cared for and spoiled during the time we were able to share with him. Safe journey, sweet boy. We’ll see you at the bridge…and play nicely up there please!! You were loved.

“Dogs leave paw prints on your hearts.”

Breaking Through Barriers

Grace and I have something in common. It’s called barrier frustration. My nemesis is the pushy tall Asters that have encroached upon their gentle neighbors. The thinning is endless.

Grace’s issue is the barrier that keeps her from meeting other dogs on her terms. Whether it is a kennel door, fence, or sometimes, the leash – the reaction is the same.

I know a little about this from my flying boy, Yogi.

The first time I took him for a walk around the neighborhood I realized I had myself a project dog. Every time we passed another dog on leash, Yogi literally launched himself – like a helicopter – straight up in the air until he was at eye level with me growling and snarling like a rabid animal. It took a few walks for me to see that his tail wagged and back end wiggled just before this reaction took place. What he wanted was to meet the dog – but he was completely lacking in proper dog social skills.

Dogs have a meeting ritual which was completely lost on Yogi when leashes were involved. The reaction he got from his excited stare sent him into a tailspin and earned me more than a few startled looks. If a dog is punished for this behavior, or not taught an appropriate alternative response, its reaction to another dog may change from excitement to frustration to fear and aggression.

Yogi and I worked for many months on “watch me” – earning a treat each time he focused on me instead of a passing dog. It requires that the handler be watchful themselves, combing the landscape for potential trouble. Once he had that down, the command became “look, dog…watch me.” Now, the minute Yogi sees another dog, he looks at me in anxious anticipation of his treat which he only earns after the other dog has passed without incident and he has assumed a watchful sit. He has been introduced to all the friendly neighbor dogs and has welcomed foster dogs (young and old) into the house. Part of this is training; part of it is growing up. He has rounded the corner to age three. But all of what I initially saw was about him telling me “don’t hold me back.”

Grace was found in Folsom State Park. No collar or microchip. No one claimed her.

The person who found her had her for nearly a week and was able to share that she was good in the house, good with kids, but horrible on leash when she met another dog. Her reaction was the same in the kennel, or in adjacent yards with a fence between. And it got her into trouble. But she had strong advocates who recognized that the trouble was not intentional and thankfully, it was not grave; a human had simply gotten in the way.

For the safety of all, she was assigned a special team with advanced handling skills and the physical strength to guide her.

She was gradually and carefully introduced to other dogs in play group – a barrier-free setting. Like Yogi when he first came to us – she is young: only one year old. And her social skills, like his, need work. Her play style is what we call rough and ready (or rough and tumble!). She is definitely too much for some dogs, but with the right dog match – she is a fun and exuberant playmate.

Roo is one of her very favorite friends. You might remember Roo from this post. Talk about two dogs transformed.

With all of her improvement, this week is about a “get Grace home” effort: creating a special video, updating her photo on the website – and most importantly – helping to change her internal “rep” demonstrating the progress she has made.

As for the encroaching Asters: they get no such break. They are simply out of here!
Think good thoughts for our Gracie girl, please. It’s her time.

Second Chances: Look Back

Working on a special project, I have been looking back at some old photos (if you can call them that) dating back to when I first began volunteering at the rescue. They are pretty bad. I can’t believe I had the audacity to post them. Just goes to show: I’m still capable of growth and learning at my advanced age!

Two volunteers, Chris and Steve, make repeated appearances as they were fixtures at the rescue at the time.

I have always had rescue dogs – but Chris and Steve had a whole different breed of rescue dog: some of the hardest, most unpredictable, and potentially dangerous cases if not handled correctly. The kind of dogs that don’t usually get second chances.

I saw Chris and Steve’s talents with Shelby. I wrote about her here (please excuse the horrible photos). Chris, in particular, spent years earning her trust including something as basic as the ability to touch her paw. Eventually, Shelby was able to go home with them, but hemangiosarcoma stole her just one month later.

They turned their grief and talents toward two dogs in particular: Goldie and Sammie.

Goldie was a bounce-back dog. Adopted and returned, she was described by some (including me) as bi-polar. She would seem fine one minute, until something set her off. She was wary with strangers, had a strong sense of “this is mine,” and was reactive around other dogs.

Sammie was a beauty – but there was something not quite right. She too had a quick on/off switch that went from play to battle in an instant. Like Goldie, she was reactive – but more obviously so – to the point of spinning herself into exhaustion in the kennel.

Only certain people who had earned their trust were allowed to take them out. I was ended up coming to an understanding with Sammie, but Goldie never trusted me – so I kept my distance.

Neither dog was adoptable. The only way they were going home was with a volunteer who understood them, and had the training to keep themselves, the dogs, and others safe. Chris and Steve had an average-size home that was already filled to capacity with rescue dogs. Kennels are not good places for reactive dogs and, as time wore on, I admit to wondering if it would have been kinder to let them go. If we had play groups back then, we might have seen a different side of them. But Chris and Steve had a plan. Unfortunately, it involved leaving the rescue. Fortunately for Goldie and Sammie, it involved moving to Colorado where a much larger home and plenty of outdoor space could be purchased for a fraction of California prices.

Goldie went home first.

And then Steve came back for Sammie. They were simply not leaving without her.

It has taken years for the “Golden Misfits” to find some sense of peace and enjoyment with each other. (Photos courtesy of Golden Misfits)

The significant issues of Goldie and Sammie are balanced by helper dogs, Missy and Tigger (now departed),

and the newest addition: Murphy.

Pork Chop adopted himself to the family shortly after they arrived,

and the ancient but adorable Jessie stayed long enough to thoroughly enjoy the snow.

It seems like each – with the exception of young Murphy – has had a brush with death and a miraculous recovery. It’s a testament to two people who just don’t give up.

Which is why I find myself, once again, nursing this sad, little orange tree back to health!

It was planted in Shelby’s honor years ago. It succumbed to frost in the first winter; came home with me for a year to be resuscitated; was coddled with a special cover in winter #2 to no avail; was reborn again; was replanted in another, more protected area; and was set back again in a late February surprise frost! I swear it has barely grown in all these years. We have lots of apple, pear, and almond trees – but citrus trees are not found in the rescue’s open country for good reason. Still, I am determined that it will live and someday thrive. A tribute to two people who taught me a lot about patience and second chances – and their love for a very special dog.

The Real Things Remain

I had a blog post all written for tonight. I deleted it. I was going to tell you about the rains that created lakes in the spring garden,

and then I woke to today’s headlines. And I wondered, what is the point of this silly blog in a world gone mad? Lately, the magnitude of our capacity as humans to do harm to one another seems boundless. And overwhelming.

I know that bad things happen daily to good people, animals, and to nature. Still, I try to find the light amid the darkness. I just wasn’t seeing it this morning.

I went to rescue very early because I have the privilege of helping to look after this beautiful girl.

It gives me plenty of quiet time to work in the garden as well.

I planted and weeded and listened to birds singing and dogs barking delighted to be outside and playing in mud puddles.

I marveled at the blossoming Lilac tree Ina rescued from near death…

and I remembered how blessed we are to live in this world that we too often devalue and debase.

I thought about how privileged we are to live in this imperfect country with all its potential for grace.

I remembered that I believe in rescued souls, and second chances, and the miracle of forgiveness and moving forward.

And when I held these tiny ones….

I remembered that is our obligation to appreciate our blessings, to share them with others, to keep trying to find the light – and to work hard at leaving the world a better place.

This blog won’t change the world. It won’t prevent bad things from happening. But it is my weekly reminder to find light in darkness…

That good things still happen…

And that there is still beauty in the world.

“Life may take everything out of my days, but the real things remain. You may destroy my castles, but I have the timbers to build ten thousand more.” ~ Muriel Strode A Soul’s Faring, 1921