A Memorial Garden to help honor and rescue Golden Retrievers.
I am a nascent gardener, rescuer, and photographer, chronicling the journey of the dogs at Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue and Sanctuary near Sacramento, CA - and the Memorial Garden we have devoted to them.
Fall just seems to have melted into winter. A month ago, the garden was in stunning bloom.
Now only a few cold hardy, fog-loving plants have found their bloom – refusing to surrender.
Maria’s garden art signals winter is upon us.
Soon, all will be quiet and grey – but spring bulbs are just a couple of months away. You can’t beat gardening in Northern California. Please pray for rain – it looks to be a long, brown summer.
Someone else bloomed today. Ahsoka was our latest foster. Someone thought they had purchased another of those pint-sized “English Cream” designer Golden Retrievers. After a few weeks of puppyhood, they surrendered with two comments:
“It’s harder than having a newborn baby.” And…”She’s growing REALLY fast.”
One: yes puppies are harder than newborn babies. Both wake in the night, but one will potty on the floor instead of diapers. And one is mobile with razor sharp puppy teeth. It will be a long time before the other is ready for its reign of terror.
As for growing REALLY fast…that might have something to do with the fact that she is mixed with Great Pyrenees! She’s a stunning beauty who will quickly grow to 70+ pounds!
She was much better off with us than in the crate they kept her in day and night. She came to stay for a couple of weeks and had her first taste of freedom. She and our Skye instantly bonded and he helped her with big dog socialization. They are BFFs.
But its best for puppies to learn from other puppies where the lessons are gentler. So newly adopted Ahsoka – now Lucy – attended her first day of puppy school today.
Shy in new situations, she hung with humans and sought out teacher for reassurance at first.
But good friends are hard to resist.
She quickly got the hang of it and was soon joined in all the fun.
It’s rare that we get to see our foster puppies grow up – but Ahsoka/Lucy was adopted by a fellow volunteer, so we – and Skye – will enjoy seeing her blossom and come into her own.
Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.” ~ Robert Louis Stevenson
It has been a year since you left us. Your presence is felt as strongly today as it was then. Only now we can speak of you with a smile instead of tears.
Recently, friends and volunteers gathered to dedicate the chapel you coveted – built by your siblings – housing the ashes of dogs returned to Homeward Bound. Among them, Chelsea’s ashes – the Golden girl that inspired your vision for this very special place on earth.
We learned that you wanted the chapel placed by the pond you enjoyed in solitude as the sun set and you closed out your days of toil – physical and emotional. Your spirit is strong there. You would be so pleased with the result.
One of our guests lamented so many new faces, feeling out of place. Another noted that as a good thing. I agree. It means that we are strong and welcoming a new generation of people devoted to your vision of rescue, rehabilitation, home, and sanctuary. But we need old friends as well as new to provide perspective and context. The blood, sweat and tears that went into making this vision a reality should always be shared and remembered lest it be taken for granted.
One guest walked the property remembering the bare ground of 20 years past – recounting your vision: “Here we will house the dogs, here, a vet clinic; here, a swimming pool for rehabilitation; here, a pond; here, grassy yards to run and play; here, a place to gather and train; here, a place for puppies to grow strong; here – a memorial garden.” They strained to see it and remembered playing along – pretending to believe. And yet – here it is. All of it.
Time does not stand still, and neither have we. The dogs require it. It has not been easy, but you took care to plant good seeds. They have grown strong and taken root. Things are different. But you would be proud. We persevered. The dream lives on.
“The sap of another generation fingering through a broken tree to push fresh branches towards a further light, a different identity.” ~John Montague
The call said she was a breeder-surrendered puppy with ectopic ureters. I knew what that meant: she leaked pee.
In the past, she was the kind of puppy that Jody would take up to her house – shielding us from possible heartache if the outlook looked uncertain or grim. But Jody is gone, and an eight-week-old pee girl needs to have her bottom kept clean and dry to stave off infection. I knew that. “Where else is she going to go?” I knew the answer. She had to come home with us.
We have fostered a lot of puppies. She was too small for her age. At eight weeks, she should have been pushing 15 pounds; she weighed in at only 11. She had a bacterial and yeast infection already.
I had a dream that first night. I dreamt that she died.
I reached out and touched the hand of time and knew it was not my friend. We waited for the ultrasound appointment but knew that surgery would be at least 4-5 months away – if the condition was repairable. If it wasn’t? I didn’t want to think that far ahead.
I cleared out the living room and dining room so she would be on washable stone floors. Every supply came out – and more. Mops, buckets, washable pee pads, towels, plastic covered beds, sheets, and gates everywhere. I set my office inside and left one covered couch so I could be close by. It was a small world for her, but a happy one. She ruled her domain, and the big dogs allowed it.
She earned many nicknames: Little Miss Puddles, Miss Pee-a-lot, Tinkle Bell, the Terror of Tinkle Town, and more.
She got her bum washed and dried at last four times a day. At night, we put a diaper on her for an hour – careful not to anger the infection we had beat back – and let her run through the rest of the house. She thought that was a magical time.
Our yard has an open pool, so we set up two enclosures for her in the shade. The big dogs joined her. She loved them.
As often as possible, I took her with me to play in the puppy yard at Homeward Bound. She made friends there.
Finally, ultrasound day arrived. We had been so anxiously awaiting it. The news was devastating and unexpected. Yes – she had an ectopic ureter. But she had only one partially functioning kidney and it was dying.
We had to make a quick decision. It was easy. We brought her home to love her. The weeks we thought we would have turned into only a couple of days – and then a rapid night of decline.
The next morning, we set her free.
Someone said she was just not meant to be – a puppy born with so many obstacles. I knew what they meant, but they were wrong. She was meant to be ours for four short weeks of laughter, joy, and tender puppy kisses. Mabel was meant to be loved.
She left an indelible mark on our chewed baseboards, window sills, table legs – and our broken hearts.
We recently took in two little ones…surrendered shortly after they were purchased (for a pretty penny, I might add), because their people decided they either weren’t dog people, or that a puppy was too much work. One approached us about surrender; we were so grateful that they wanted the best for their little boy. The other was talked out of selling the puppy on Craigslist. Thankfully, they agreed.
In both cases, we were just happy to be able to get them to families who understood the commitment that comes with adoption – or purchase – of a dog of any age.
We have an extensive application process and contract, but it got me to wondering what the dogs would put in a canine contract for people if the tables were turned. It might go something like this:
You realize that I am not a shiny penny or an impulsive decision. You have thought through the choice to add someone to your family, and the time and expense that goes with it.
You promise not to treat me like that fancy bike you got that sits in the garage. I am not a toy to be played with for two weeks and forgotten.
You know that neither one of us is perfect. We all come with some baggage. I will try to leave mine behind if you will do the same and we can make a fresh start together.
I promise to be patient with you when you leave things out that could get me in trouble, and you promise to be patient with me when I chew them up. We will both agree that it is better and safer not to do either.
You know that training is a lifelong commitment – and that it is not just for me. You are half the equation. If you do your part, I will do mine.
If you have little humans, you will remember to watch out for them AND for me and you will help to raise us together with respect and kindness.
You realize that I am not a cat. No offense. But I am not happy living a solitary life. I need human contact and friends to be a well-rounded canine.
If you got me as a puppy or youngster, you recognize that I WILL grow up. And you will promise to still love me when I am old and grey or, heaven forbid, sick, injured or disabled – and need you most.
You commit that if – for any reason – you can no longer keep me, that you will not dump me at a shelter, turn me out, or sell me to the highest bidder. You will take as much care in finding me a good, safe and loving home or reputable rescue as I take in being your loyal, trusting companion.
If you agree to the above, by all means…please bring me home. I would like to be yours. All others need not apply. Thank you.
“The earth has its music for those who will listen.” ~ Reginald Holmes, The Magic of Sound.
You would be forgiven for not seeing them right away…so small among the tall summer flowers.
The mean Grackles left as quickly as they appeared…their little fledglings grown. Good riddance! And in their wake, the hummers are back.
Just in time to drink up the best of what the garden has to offer.
It seems that the staples of Penstemon and Salvia are nothing compared to the feast of Agastache and Bee Balm perfectly situated under a favorite tree for cover and rest between acrobats and nectar sips.
Winter became spring and spring became summer since I last wrote. I don’t know where the time has gone.
Leaving my freelance work for something more secure seemed like a wise course during the pandemic – but it turns out to be a decision I regret and am trying to rectify.
I have lost not only my flexibility, but my personal time for the things I love. If the last year and a half has taught us anything, it is that life is too short to not find time for the things we love.
Since I last wrote…
Skye King has been through two successful surgeries to correct his severe hip dysplasia. After five months of fostering, we made him an official member of the family. It took 40+ fosters, but we are finally “foster failures.”
Skye’s proven skills at puppy fostering helped to seal the deal. For the past two months, he has helped us rehab little Aiden who was found by the side of the road with a broken leg at barely four months of age.
Aiden found his forever home yesterday. He was a very hard one to part with. Our home is quiet once again but not for long, I suspect.
Jody’s garden has been completely rehabilitated as well. The raised beds were cleared and planted – now overflowing with fresh vegetables. The weeds were tamed and the orchard has flourished and produced. The fruits are still small but show promise for future years.
The Memorial Garden has bloomed continuously with the change of seasons. First bloom was spectacular…
followed by vibrant summer colors, apricots, overloaded apple trees, and grapes.
Some very annoying Grackles have taken up residence.
I used to admire them for their beautiful iridescent feathers – but no more. They are aggressive bullies and have chased away all the sparrows, robins and hummingbirds to guard their multiple nests. I’ll have to figure out a way to roll out the “unwelcome” mat!
Our new “normal” is dry, hot, and filled with the threat of wildfire. We had our first scare earlier in the month with a grass fire marching right up to our gates.
It is mid-June and we are just shy of our 200th dog of the year. The wave we anticipated has arrived and we are inundated in post-pandemic one-year-olds without training or socialization and seniors in need of medical attention. As people go back to work and the adventures they have missed, it seems that the companions who saw them through are now a burden. We are tracking at a +30% increase for the year.
Maize, meanwhile, was our 10,000th dog. An adorable impulse purchase by a senior couple who had forgotten what it takes to raise a puppy right.
10,000 rescued dogs. A promise made; a promise kept. Jody is smiling from on high.
Mama always said you cannot pair orange and pink. She was wrong.
The apricot and pink tulips in the Memorial Garden are a stunning combination.
The birds know…
spring has arrived. Our rose arbor is beautifully rebuilt, and the fruit trees are beginning to blossom.
What I wish Mama had told me was that the alpacas and goats – sent to new homes this winter after Jody’s passing – were the safety plan for the hibernating tortoises.
These beautiful, fifty-year-old creatures had been in Jody’s care for the past several years. When she could not care for them last summer, I looked after them with near daily runs of fresh fruit, greens, corn, and dunks in their pond.
One of their favorites: rose petals. There were four bushes in their enclosure – one for each tortoise. And I made sure that the petals were on weekend breakfast meals.
When they came to wake the tortoises and move them to a new home, they found them dead. I won’t go into it; the tale is too sad. Suffice to say that the hooves of the alpacas and goats protected against marauders. It was a heartbreaking discovery.
This weekend, I moved their roses to the Memorial Garden. I brought with them the four pieces of tortoise art including one heavy stone statue that had long ago lost its head. It was presumed lost but when I picked up the tortoise planter I found it had been stuffed deep inside there long ago. A little gorilla glue should take care of that. If only there were a fix for the dearly departed.
They will be remembered here.
On a happier note: an update on Jody’s garden. A team did come together and in two weeks, amazing progress has been made. The weeds have been beaten back, the raised beds cleared, and the orchard restored. With the jungle cleared, I was able to trace the irrigation system and reset the timers. There is more to do, but we are on the way.
It will be up to the team to determine what to plant: a vegetable gardener – I am not. We will look to donate the surplus to a local food pantry. A small offering of goodwill to the community that has been so supportive of us.
We’ll need that continued support as we are presently swimming in dogs! The expected impact from the pandemic has arrived and their faces are not just Golden, but red, white, brown, black and spotted. Hopefully, we will not see a return to the last recession years when we were taking in 800 dogs a year. But our welcome mat is out and we have LOTS of waiting families.
Gardeners don’t fear critters, bugs, disease, or even frosts. The one thing a gardener truly fears is the fate of our gardens after we are gone.
The act of clearing, planning, planting, and nurturing a garden is belief in tomorrow – a love letter to the future. A gardener lives in anticipation of the season ahead and what surprises will spring forward. When you dig and turn that first shovel of dirt, a pact is made – between earth and gardener: I will tame and care for you and, in return, you will care for all who visit here.
Over a decade ago, our rescue’s founder, Jody, put a stake in overgrown ground and declared it a garden. The Homeward Bound Memorial Garden rose from waist-high weeds and thistles and clay to a place of peace and beauty over the next decade. But Jody rarely found time to tend to it. It was too much in view of dogs, volunteers and adopters – making it too easy for her to be interrupted and called away.
Several years ago, in a back corner of the property, Jody and her sister started clearing another piece of overgrown land. They created an oasis of raised beds, an orchard of fruit trees, a she-shed, and even a fire pit. Hidden from view, we all knew that this was Jody’s place of quiet, solitude and restoration. She monitored for emergencies, but rarely answered other calls when working there. Unexpectedly, it served another purpose: it strengthened our team and made us more self-reliant and resilient. It was to be her retirement project.
When she became ill last August, the garden was abandoned. Fruits and vegetables rotted on the vine and ground.
Winds sent beloved pieces of found art sailing. The weeds began a march to reclaim their territory.
It would have broken her heart to see what has become of her labor of love.
I asked permission of her husband to begin the work of rescue before the earth swallowed it back up.
This is a job much bigger than one person. But one can start. I cleared my way through the first stretch of jungle this weekend, digging out thistles, uprooting Johnson grass, freeing trellises and tomato cages from their tangles, and uncovering hidden treasures.
It reminded me of the first months in the Memorial Garden. It reminded me of her.
I will look to build a small team dedicated to its upkeep. In its ample space, we could feed an army of community hungry.
In its restoration, we can send our own love letter.
I am so sorry for your cold and snow. Not to rub it in, but I spent the weekend cutting back and clearing out for spring. The danger of frost is now past and the buds on the roses and trees and emerging Daffodils and Tulips signal that a new season is not far away.
The process revealed a plethora of ladybugs –
and blasted Bermuda grass run amuck.
First a final freeze, and then a huge wind blew through last week.
We lost several trees and it picked up our beautiful arbor and tossed it as if it was made of sticks.
It was the very first thing in the garden – long before there was a garden. As if Jody wanted to plant a stake in the overgrown ground and claim it. Built strong and steady by one of “Da Guys” on our facility crew – it sailed but did not break. The legs have been removed and it will be rebuilt, finding its rightful spot soon along our memorial brick-lined path.
The lower trunks of the plum tree that has been threatening failure for the past five years found the ground. Our garden friend, Joey, gave it a professional haircut and hopefully a couple more years of life.
Our baby German Shepherd puppies and their mama, Annie, have found a generous and willing foster to see them through their upraising.
The woman’s dog passed a couple of months ago and she found her home too quiet and empty. There’s nothing like a litter of puppies to fix that! Annie will be so much happier there – and my focus will shift, as planned, to Skye’s first surgery next Wednesday.
It hurts my heart to think of months of rehab for this boy who is so full of life. But it will ensure that he has a long, active and pain-free life. I will keep the end goal in mind and hope he forgives me.
It occurred to me that in my hard-to-write 2020 year, that I had not documented two of our fosters here. The list was not nearly as long as 2019, but lest they be forgotten…
Rubble was named for the place he was found – in a pile of rubble, stray at only 3-4 months of age. This adorable boy with the crooked ears needed a better start to life, so he came home to stay with us for a bit.
I met with his potential adopters when he was ready. It was a meeting unlike any other. They had recently lost their beloved companion. Usually, people instantly swoon and fall in love with puppies but they seemed reserved. I worried that they were not connecting. When they asked if they could go home and think about it, I thought: well, you already know the answer. They left and Rubble and I started packing up to return home. The phone rang. It was the couple. They were on their way back. I was skeptical until I learned the reason for their hesitation: the man thought that maybe he was being disloyal to their departed dog. The woman told him: this is exactly what he would want and what we need to fill the holes in their hearts. And so Rubble became Rebel. He visits our classes weekly and recently graduated to the big dog school! He could not be more loved.
Louie was born blind in one eye. He was raised outside with two other dogs. He was very thin and clearly had to compete for food. When he lost the second eye to trauma – likely over a food discussion – he was suddenly blind. And apparently useless to his people. They left him in a shelter with a the gaping, untreated wound.
Our Doc removed both eyes for his long term health. When he was ready, he came home with us. We quickly saw the food guarding issue – but we also worked with a trainer to get it under control. Other than that, he was a complete love. He adapted very quickly to house living – navigating steps and obstacles with ease. This blind puppy just needed a little guiding.
His potential family was hand-picked. Regan is a young 10-year-old girl who has raised and donated her birthday money each of the last several years to the dogs. Last Christmas, when she came out to deliver her gift, she fell in love with a 12-year-old Golden with terminal cancer who had been abandoned at the vet. Regan convinced her family that Monk needed to be home with them. She lovingly cared for Monk through his last five and a half months of life.
This Christmas, Regan’s parents surprised her and her siblings by bringing Louie – now Murphy – home. It is clear from reports and photos that adopting a blind dog has been a truly rewarding experience for Regan and her family. Fostering one was for us, as well.
Two weeks ago, the asters and Mexican marigolds were still in bloom. Mother Nature can so easily lull Northern California gardeners into false hope of early spring. The narcissus have flowered, the tulips, hyacinths and iris are rapidly making their way. But grey skies and a cold north wind blew in today, with the promise of a hard freeze Monday night.
I was there early for puppy duty. German Shepherd, Annie and her newborns are just visiting. Found stray and very pregnant, she was sent to the shelter. Shelters don’t generally do newborn puppies. Our local GSD rescue pulled her, but reliant on fosters, they had never whelped puppies before. We offered to see her through the birth and their first few weeks before they move to their foster home. Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning, our volunteers sat vigil. She birthed six beautiful babies and took to mothering immediately.
Puppy duty at this young age is not hard. It is more about being available to mom for frequent feedings, some cleaning, potty trips and breaks – leaving plenty of time to prepare the garden for the cold ahead.
New shoots and tender perennials are now blanketed in straw.
The sparrows believe it is theirs to nest in.
We began our rescue year with the walking wounded. Broken and fractured pelvises, traumatic nerve damage, one fractured vertebrae; one fractured femur, and a torn ACL. Cars and dogs don’t mix.
My current foster could be counted among them – but his issues are hereditary not inflicted.
At just a few months of age, he was diagnosed with severe hip dysplasia. Skye traveled a very long way for our help. He has interest from lots of potential adopters who want to bring him home once fixed – but so far, no one who meets our criteria has stepped up to see him through two FHO surgeries and months of recovery.
So, Skye is hanging out with us. He will have his first surgery on February 10 and his days of torturing his big foster brother Yogi will be over. Despite the abuse, I know where I will find Yogi when we bring Skye home hurting and sad: sleeping right by his side.
Note to potential adopters: four months is a long time not to fall in love with a dog. We are not looking for dog number three – but just saying!
Bundle up your tender fruit trees and plants, my Northern California gardener friends. And to those of you back east – you can stop laughing at us. Revenge is ours. Just wait for February!
We all know the story. When you drove out to the property for the first time, you said: “I am home.” Driving out to the rescue today, I saw again why you loved this piece of open country so.
The landscape rose from the fog and frost-bitten ground. The flooded rice fields – glass-like and still – were filled with geese, ducks and coots. The sun broke through and cleared a path through the mist.
Had I known the day would begin so beautifully, I would have left earlier and pulled over for photos. But the dogs were anxiously waiting to begin their day with breakfast and play.
Every inch of this landscape reminds me of you. Sadness comes washing over me in waves.
Your yellow roses…fittingly…were among the last hanger-ons in the winter garden.
While waiting to hold a true, post-pandemic memorial, we placed a giant heart of your favorite yellow roses in the park and sent it heaven-bound before Thanksgiving. I have not been able to find the words to write about it – or anything else.
The alpacas have been sent away; your vegetable garden wastes; your beautiful boy passed from cancer; and your plaque was placed. The reality sinks in.
And yet, I hear your voice everywhere. In the garden; among the barking dogs; in the calls of birds overhead; and in the morning’s frosted silence. You are everywhere.
I can be relieved that you did not live to see what our world has come to. And still, I know, that in this darkness, you would have found the hope. If nowhere else, then in this little slice of country heaven. A place of hope and sanctuary to dogs.