Seasons Pass

Fall blew in on a mighty, cold, north wind.

It toppled our beloved Willow tree, but left a trail of purple blooming asters in its wake.

Just a couple weeks ago, we were still brushing the century mark. Now it is sweater weather.

The two-day wind storm stoked anxieties about more wildfires. We were thankfully spared here.

I want to hide in the garden away from the news and the sense of dread I feel about the election ahead and the wildfire of hate that is sweeping across our land.

History tells me that we too often repeat errors from the past…

and…that seasons pass.

You should never wish away time, but I can only hope that this one is on its way out.

Seventy Eight Days

The world feels small. Not so much to the tiny creatures that inhabit it;

they are oblivious to our reality.

It is hard enough for them to live in the reality we have created for them – like the unprecedented heat wave that grips the west right now.

But for humans; our world has diminished. As the pandemic expanded, we all became more isolated. Our view narrowed, our differences widened, and our resilience has been tested.

Some of us are resigned to the times. Others resist, setting us back further.

Once, there was a time when adversity would bind us; we would weather storms together. Or am I misremembering? It seems so long ago.

“We’re all islands shouting lies to each other across seas of misunderstanding.”
~ Rudyard Kipling, The Light That Failed

When it comes to the pandemic, there is nothing for me to do but buckle down, ride it out, and make the best of a terrible situation.

On other fronts, it is time to go to battle and stand up for the things I hold dear.

There is a second storm brewing. One for truth and justice and humanity…a fight for the soul of our nation.

78 days. Less actually – to ensure that our voices are heard and counted.

It is an eternity, and a blink of the eye. And finally, an opportunity to come together and set something right.

“We don’t heal in isolation, but in community.”
― S. Kelley Harrell, Gift of the Dreamtime

Life Lives in the Gray

I have not written lately; I have not been able to find my words. I simultaneously feel like I have an obligation – and no right at all – to speak. I feel ignorant and naïve about the depth of the pain that has swirled around me. And I feel lost; I barely recognize my world anymore.

The endless drone of falsehood and hate; the path designed to wear us down.

Each day obliterating another norm of decency and democracy. How did we come to the point of such divisiveness? Or was it always there and I just did not see?

Life lives in the gray; I heard that phrase today.

The black and white heart is a dangerous thing. Forcing sides into unyielding chambers will always fail to reveal understanding and truth. The rigidity in our thinking is frightening; the encouragement to embrace this path, alarming. We cease listening, we stop learning, empathy is forgotten, and we arrive at a place where we are seemingly incapable of resolving our differences. If you are right, then I must be wrong.

I thought, naively so, that we were grounded in a belief system that honored truth, dignity, and fairness. That has been upended. For too many, it never existed. We have moved beyond the ideal of a melting pot to a boiling simmer.

This moment is full of danger and fear, but also a chance for change…if we can only listen. I hope it is not fleeting.

“That peoples can no longer carry on authentic dialogue with one another is not only the most acute symptom of the pathology of our time, it is also that which most urgently makes a demand of us.” ~ Martin Buber (1878—1965)

Perspective

A carrier pigeon arrived in the garden in late February. It spent the better part of the day just watching. It was not carrying a written message on its banded leg, but perhaps it foretold what was about to unfold.

The ducks and geese mock us now. Public use areas have been closed due to COVID during the remainder of hunting season. The birds have found plenty of places to feast and fly – unmolested. We envy their togetherness.

The rescue is very quiet.

We have limited our on-site volunteers to two per shift. It ensures that there are teams available to feed, clean, exercise and care for the dogs while protecting ourselves and each other.

I have found a quiet corner in the garden away from working team members to keep the weeds from overrunning the place.

And to get out where it is safe. I usually crave my solitude in the garden.

Strange that I should miss the commotion.

The little boy I wrote about last week – Orbit – has gone to foster.

Remington, too.

They can finish healing there while reducing our volunteers’ chores. Our fosters have stepped up in a big way for which we are grateful.

Solitude is hard for some. If we can find a silver lining in this disaster, it is the forced time to stop our hectic lives long enough to appreciate each other, goodness, and the things that should unite not divide.

“It is only when we silent the blaring sounds of our daily existence that we can finally hear the whispers of truth that life reveals to us, as it stands knocking on the doorsteps of our hearts.” ~K.T. Jong

A friend posted to social media. She was feeling frustrated and penned up. To busy herself, she cleaned her bookshelf where she found a copy of The Diary of Anne Frank. Perspective.

Let the Strong Survive?

Yes. I heard him correctly. A cavalier statement until your child, spouse, or parent fall ill. And yourself? Will you promise not to reach out for help if you need it yourself? Is your attitude limited to the current situation – or does it carry over to cancer, heart disease, childbirth, and more? I am concerned for a world where this kind of thought takes hold.

These are times that test our humanity. And I am grateful to be surrounded by people who regard the aged, sick, and vulnerable with concern and compassion – for humans and animals alike. Without them, there would be no Remington.

A giant of a Golden boy who had been hit by a car. His fractured leg was minor compared to the enormous loss of skin and threat of infection.

His was a case no other rescue would or could take on. But Remington was welcomed by us where his enormously expensive twice-daily, wound-honey bandage changes saved his leg and his life.

At the three-month marker, he is halfway through his healing process –

and finally approved for walks and off-leash time in the yard.

His gratitude and capacity for love are as great as his size. A world without Remington would have been a loss for all.

There would be no Kobe. A big, goofy, Labrador Retriever with a mast cell tumor on his foot.

Hospice would have been one route, but because the metastasizing cancer was still limited to his leg, we opted for amputation to give Kobe a chance at a long, happy life.

His new family cannot imagine life without him.

There would be no Orbit.

This boy came to us recently with a broken jaw. Shelters are overrun now under even more pressure from this damned virus. They do not have the resources to house, much less treat, dogs like Orbit. He stood no chance there. Thankfully, he came to us and underwent surgery to repair his jaw. It will take eight weeks of special care to make him whole again, but the affection he displays is worth every bit of effort. Some waiting family will be grateful that he was saved.

And we would not have known and loved Violet.

Violet lived with us in sanctuary for over a year at the request of her human who could no longer care for himself or her. At the age of 13, with countless maladies, should he have left her behind to fend for herself or dumped her at a shelter to die alone? She – and he – found peace in our care. And when the time came to say ‘goodbye’ – we were by her side. A promise kept.

A garden ruled by your philosophy would be overrun by strong-arm weeds. Gardens thrive through nurturing and care of the hardy and the delicate.

You’re strong. Great. Save yourself. By opening your heart, reaching out, and showing compassion for others because without our humanity – we are nothing.

Noelle: Our Christmas Joy

A Good Samaritan saw her stray and shivering in the rain and mud. She was frightened, emaciated, and would not come. Animal control was called. A catch pole was used; something that can be terrifying to dogs but life-saving when there is no other option.

She was covered in mats and filth, and it was obvious that she had recently had puppies. There was no sign of them. It’s unclear if she was turned out after weaning them, or had simply wandered off. She is a Great Pyrenees mix. Working Pyrenees tend to be treated like livestock: valued for their natural instincts as protectors of their land or flock, but not valued like family. No one came looking for her.

In the shelter, she would not have stood a chance. Our area coordinator scooped her up and she was transported to Homeward Bound. It seems like every year around the holidays, we are gifted with a very special dog in need. Noelle was our Christmas blessing.

Her large mats were removed. She was bathed. She was seen by our vet. And then she received a professional shave to give her the fresh start she needed and deserved.

We expected that she would be with us for a little while. While her demeanor is affectionate, sweet, and surprisingly trusting given what she has endured, we know that it can be difficult to see through a rail-thin body and shaved coat to the dog within.

We were wrong.

Brad grew up with Homeward Bound through his mother’s work with us. He has a huge heart for dogs in need. He and his wife, Karissa, recently lost their Golden girl. They had been coming to meet dogs but had not yet made a heart-connection. They knew it would be clear when the right match came along. And it was.

They fell head-over-heals in love. She needed them. And they needed her. The first thing they told her: “Someone didn’t love you enough.” That is solved. Noelle is home, and now, she is our shared Christmas joy.

Dogs like Noelle find hope for second chances and forever homes through Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue & Sanctuary. If you can help, please make a gift in honor or in memory of your special someone on our virtual Giving Tree. Your donation supports hundreds of dogs like Noelle on their journeys to safety and home each year. Either way, visit the tree and scroll down to read the heartfelt messages – delivered in the true spirit of the season.

Wishing you safety, health, happiness, and forever homes. Love, Ogee.

Rocket Scientist

As I turned the corner at the rescue into the front parking lot, I came upon an elderly man looking a bit lost. It was well before adoption hours. He looked frail and sad. I asked if I could help. He said he had just let his dog go. It turns out that he had lost her a week earlier; he had just returned from picking up her ashes.

She was 11-year-old Emily, a beautiful Golden Retriever. He had her from a pup. He noticed that she was not wanting to get up one morning; she turned down her favorite treat. He rushed her to the local vet; they told him to rush her to the specialist. The specialist said that Emily might be taken immediately to U.C. Davis in hopes of finding a canine heart surgeon there, but that the operation would be hard on a senior girl—and the odds not good. Her heart was enlarged; she was bleeding internally; fluid was pooling around her heart as quickly as they could drain it. It was a painful but clear decision – perhaps influenced by the man’s own battle. With cancer. A fight he believed he was losing. They let Emily go peacefully. Her ashes were in a beautiful, inscribed wooden box in his truck. Her paw print immortalized with it.

He wasn’t looking to adopt. He thought his own time on this earth was short. He was just in pain and wanting some Golden love. Someone sent him to a shelter, but he found that overwhelming and heartbreaking. A friend told him about Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue & Sanctuary.

“I’m here as a total stranger, just hoping to be able to pet a few dogs and share a moment with them,” he said.

We don’t typically allow the public to interact with the dogs unless they have gone through our foster or adoption vetting process. But everyone understood his need; we have all been there. You feel them, still, in your heart but the absence of their physical presence is difficult to bear.

We allowed him to sit and love on some sweet Goldens – no one too rambunctious. One beautiful girl sensed his need and buried her head in his lap; that was enough to send the tears gushing. He shared photos and stories and asked about the dogs: how they come to be with us, how we find them homes, how anyone could ever give up their beloved companion.

I gave him a tour and told him our story – about our founders, their inspiration, their vision, and how it had come to life through the dedication of hundreds of volunteers. As we walked, I shared the stories of the dogs we passed; we watched the youngsters in training class; we greeted the seniors at the fence.

He told me about a dream he had. His legs were strong and whole again. She was by his side. They walked familiar trails. Coming to a gate that looked like Heaven, they asked for entry. He was told he could pass through, but not Emily. They turned away and walked on, realizing they were in the wrong place. They came to another gate. This time they were both welcomed. Inside were trees, rivers, fields, and blue sky. They knew where they were…together…at last. And then he woke up and saw his frail, ravaged body – and his heart sank.

Maybe Emily went ahead because she knew it would be too hard for him to leave her behind.

He cried. We hugged. He said he would like to help. He made an incredibly generous donation in Emily’s memory which is reflected on our virtual Giving Tree.

As he was departing, he asked me if I had ever met a rocket scientist. I thought it was a setup. But he said, “Well, now you have.” He had helped to design the heat shield for the space shuttle. When Congress failed to fund the development of an emergency vehicle to return our astronauts from a planned space station, he was part of a group that went to Russia to negotiate the use of their Soyuz vehicle in exchange for shared ownership of what became the International Space Station. I looked him up. It’s true.

Bonds created through the love of dogs. You never know who you will meet. Maybe even a rocket scientist with a broken, golden heart.

Justice for Justice

She spent her life in an outdoor yard. So terrified of indoor enclosures was she that she broke through a window to avoid being confined.

Emaciated. Sick. She had to fight to protect what little food scraps she was given. A Great Pyrenees mix weighing in at only 58 pounds.

Her mouth partly paralyzed; who knows how many litters of puppies she had produced and what damage that had inflicted.

Used up, she was dumped. Two others were “coincidentally” found not far away; we suspect they were her offspring. Younger, they were spared from years of similar harsh treatment. The shelter staff named her Justice.

While the instinct was to surround her with love, she first had to be quarantined to ensure the safety of others. And then, the work of restoring her sense of self, safety, and trust would begin. Inside, was a surprisingly resilient and social girl.

That human beings can treat helpless animals with such callous disregard is a reminder of our capacity for evil.

That human beings can dedicate their lives and hearts to helping those abused and neglected find a path to a new and better life is a reminder of our potential for good.

We have seen both in the ways that humans treat each other these past weeks.

Justice would be to steal the freedom and dignity of her abusers as they stole hers. That is unlikely to happen. But renewal is found with the family who took her home today. With a huge yard where she can make herself at home, walks in the woods, and time at a family cabin and beach – Justice will be eased into the life of a loved family dog.

Today, the world was made right for Justice.

With Gratitude

“For each new morning with its light,

For rest and shelter of the night,

For health and food,

for love and friends,

For everything Thy goodness sends.

For flowers that bloom about our feet;

For tender grass, so fresh, so sweet;

For song of bird,

and hum of bee;

For all things fair we hear or see,

Father in heaven, we thank Thee!” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

I share this poem each Thanksgiving, as a reminder of all that we have to be grateful for. This year, with so much loss and tragedy, my heart swells with reminders of the goodness that shines through. I thank each of your for traveling with me on this journey-and for the friendships I have made along the way. Happy Thanksgiving to all.

When Bad Things Happen

California is on fire…again. Each occurrence seems to set a new record for destruction and loss of life. The entire town of Paradise is gone and with it, 23 lives and countless animals, domestic and wild.

The thick smoke has drifted and settled in our valley turning the landscape an eerie orange –

blocking out the sun and delivering an early cold that caused a premature freezing of tender fall blooms.

It is tempting to complain about the suffocating air – until you remember that the smoke carries with it the lives, memories, and homes of others.

How do you reconcile the weight of tragedy against our day-to-day lives? When the world seems so full of hate and hurt? When the homeless still sleep in our streets? When our very planet is under assault? Or an entire town is reduced to ash?

And yet – dogs still need to get out to run,

play,

learn

and be comforted.

The garden still needs tending and planting if we are to celebrate spring.

I left my smoke-filled home this morning and arrived at the rescue which was miraculously nearly clear – blue sky rising above a layer of smoke.

As the flowers of late fall replace fallen dahlias,


and new pups take the place of those adopted,



I am reminded of life’s cycles and the beauty –

and hope –

that still surround.

When you cannot stop horrors from happening, find a way to help. Provide a roof to someone who lost theirs. Foster an animal to bring peace of mind to humans as they struggle to cope. Send money or donate items.
In times of bad, demonstrate good.

Here is a list of ways you can help in Northern California, provided by the Camp Fire’s local paper.

Choose Your Garden

You can create whatever man-made environment you want – just as you can build false societies.

But these artificial landscapes require strict restraints, constant oversight, and continuous, often heavy-handed, feeding to maintain control. Without it, they eventually return to their natural state – often in bullying or survival-of-the-fittest ways.

Natural gardens spring from what was always intended to be there.

True to their nature, they find paths of peaceful coexistence and mutual cooperation.


And they thrive.

Their success supports future generations of flora as well as fauna – the critters that depend on their good stewardship for food and shelter.



The natural garden is built on true foundations of sun, water, and earth.

A healthy society is built on foundations of mutual respect, tolerance and peaceful coexistence.
The choice is ours.
What kind of garden do you want to live in?

Vote.

Tend the Garden

Charlie came to us from the streets of China at age one. Just a puppy, really. He was adopted and returned months later for being an overly exuberant adolescent. With time and training, he would have grown into a well-behaved and loved family member instead of finding himself homeless again. (He is homeless no more.)

A garden that is not tended can easily fall back into disrepair.
All hard work and effort will be lost – swallowed up in nature’s challenge: survival of the fittest.

You have to cherish and care for the things you love.
You have to protect the things you value.
Not just dogs and gardens – but ideals and principles.

Dogs don’t raise themselves. They learn boundaries and how to live well with humans from us.

Gardens don’t tend themselves. Without attention, they return to their wild and lawless ways.

And our democratic values, freedoms and national treasures don’t defend themselves – they depend upon our vigilance to ensure their survival.

Apathy and inaction are the enemy. I don’t care which side of the aisle you are on – there are certain ideals and norms that must bind us if we are to succeed in this great experiment. And even as I write this, I wonder if it is still possible.

I attended the memorial service of my neighbor recently – the human father of a special dog named Rush. You may remember his story.

As I listened to the tales recounted, I learned that this man I knew only as a good neighbor was a fifth generation Californian, a former cowboy, a Horatio Alger story, a community pillar, and to my surprise – a staunch conservative. We would have had real differences of opinion in our politics – had we ever discussed them. But we did not. The things that united us were greater than those divides: concern for family and community, a belief that people should look out for each other, and – of course – our love of dogs. Common values. Common decency. Common bonds.

I know that our country has been tested over time. We have made many mistakes and suffered dark times. But we have endured and, hopefully, learned from our failings. From this, I find strength. I also know that this endurance did not come from standing on the sidelines, but from standing up for the things we revere: truth, decency, civility, and compromise.

A good man passed yesterday. A leader named McCain. Someone I frequently disagreed with, but someone who embodied our values and stood up for them. In fact, I found myself writing to thank him on numerous occasions when he dared to stand for those ideals.

The enemy is not without; it is within.
“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

Tend the garden.

Teach and love the dog.

Guard the principles we share.