Our Foster Friends

Before I disappeared for nearly a year, I wrote about our foster Ahsoka. The darling Golden Retriever/Great Pyrenees pup is now the giant Lucy who lives a spoiled and happy life with her mom, Susan. Lucy comes back to visit occasionally and has regular play dates with our foster puppies and their shared companion – Skye, our two-year-old boy.

Susan joined our puppy foster team last February by volunteering to foster an entire litter of German Shepherd puppies and their momma, Annie. She is an excellent puppy mama.

In my absence, I did not chronicle this year’s foster puppies. That weighs on me. I love remembering them here. So let’s catch up.

Roxy’s backyard breeder has decided to take advantage of our location. A posted sign offering Golden Retriever puppies has been permanently affixed near our rescue and he routinely sells puppies out of the back of his truck. The man that purchased her made an impulse buy and then surrendered her to us a couple of weeks later. It seems the family was not on board. His English was limited; all he wrote on the surrender contract was “I love her.” It was easy to understand why.

This incredibly gentle girl, now named Indy, found her home with a great family and four young children.

Hank was purchased from a backyard breeder and surrendered shortly after. This giant puppy, nicknamed Hank the Tank, was overwhelming the family cats and small dog with his puppy exuberance and strength.

He found the perfect home with an active couple living at the lake and in the snow. His giant head and drooping eyes have finally grown into his massive body but along with his rapid growth came a devastating diagnosis of cancer – rare at such a young age.

Thankfully, his devoted parents are seeing him through. After surgery and radiation, he is on the home stretch of chemo treatment with a positive prognosis. Paws crossed. He is in my prayers daily.

Mickey was found stray at three months of age traveling with an unrelated Golden. The shelter sent a photo and said he was a Doodle. Note to self: always ask for a photo to scale. Not that I regret the masquerade for one minute!

Affectionate and starved for people attention, this little Terrier mix was not our typical foster, but the golden heart of his traveling companion definitely wore off on him. He fit right in with our pack until he found his forever home with a mom who is always by his side.

Comet came to stay with us to recover from desperately needed FHO (femoral head ostectomy) surgery – something we had been through with our own boy, Skye.

He was in a very big hurry to run, jump and play but first he needed to rebuild muscle through swimming, gradual exercise, and, eventually, controlled play with our dogs. When he started doing zoomie circles in his pen at 5:30 in the morning, we knew he was ready for home.

He is living his best life with his new family at the lake where he puts all those swimming exercises to regular use.

“No one wants that puppy. Give me a hundred bucks and get her out of here.” Found sitting in a crate in her own filth at a puppy mill in the Midwest, Willow was five months old and not destined for good things. The Good Samaritan that found her drove her across the country to California. Willow was completely shut down – frozen at human touch. The woman, realizing she was in over her head, surrendered her to us.  I carried her off the transport, into my car, and into our home where she was greeted by our three Goldens. It was exactly what she needed. Within a couple of days, all that fear vanished.

We quickly learned why “no one wants that puppy.” Willow has epilepsy. A low dose of medication has kept the seizures at bay, and she found the perfect home with a woman whose own mother also had seizures. She could not be more loved.

Harley arrived with a heart condition: SAS (subvalvular aortic stenosis) with a serious grade. But you would never know it by the way he runs and plays.

Clinical studies show that the invasive surgery some recommend has no impact on a dog’s long-term outcome. Instead, he will be on a beta-blocker for life. How long will his life be? No one knows. Like those athletes you hear about, his heart may just stop someday. Or – like some dogs we have known – he could live to be 10 with good quality care. The most important thing is a life well-lived, full of fun, adventures, and love. We found that for him.        

Mini-Murphy was part of an “unplanned litter” between a Goldendoodle (Golden Retriever/Poodle) and Labradoodle (Labrador Retriever/Poodle). People…there is nothing “unplanned” about an unspayed female dog and an unneutered male dog living together. He was purchased by an older couple (the husband was 81) who quickly realized their decision to bring home a puppy had been directed by their hearts, not their heads. They stated that Murphy is a smart puppy with a good temperament…does normal puppy things…and is delightful and deserves a family that can physically interact with him…”he is the epitome of a joyful, bright, and totally loveable puppy.” They were right about that.

He lives with two active children so they can all get their zoomies out together.

Milo, my foster shadow, was purchased as a gift for a family with six children ages toddler to 16…and another on the way. Needless to say, he spent most of his time in a crate and went outside only on a leash. They knew he deserved better. Despite this less-than-ideal beginning, he proved to be a very well-adjusted puppy who loves dogs, cats, and humans of all ages.

A cuddler who followed me everywhere I went, Milo was especially hard to say goodbye to. He went home with a family and their dog whose hearts needed mending from the loss of another companion. “Now I have two shadows” his new mom wrote. He is where he belongs.

It is always hard to say goodbye to our foster pups – but rewarding to see the joy they bring to others.

So, with apologies to all my 2022 foster kids, we are now caught up.

Hope Where Flowers Bloom

A couple of weeks ago, I felt encouraged that the collective “we” had finally awoken from a bad dream. For a minute, I thought that common sense and decency had finally prevailed over lies driven by greed, power, and ego. I had hope…something that has been in short supply these past two years and has made it impossible for me to write. It was short-lived.

If the message that was clearly sent was to eschew extremes on either side in favor of compromise and reason, it has gone unheard. The usual suspects are up to their usual tactics while war and climate change rage – threatening to upend our very existence.

Our battles here have seemed too small in comparison. But to those that we can help, I was recently reminded – they are not small at all.

Not to Jelly Bean, whose life was saved by a compassionate animal control officer and was transformed in our care from forgotten and discarded to health and joy.

Not to Dexter, finally freed from life on a chain only to demonstrate the unconditional love and forgiveness of a golden heart.

And not to Willow, the “damaged dog” rescued as a seizure puppy from certain death in a puppy mill to fulfill the years-long search of her new human.

“Where flowers bloom, so does hope.” ~ Lady Bird Johnson

I will look for my hope among the stories of our charges and the flowers that bloom in our Memorial Garden dedicated to them. I will try to write again.

Catching Up

Dear Across the States Gardeners,

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.

And now…we are caught up!

The Garden Calls For You

I arrived early that Sunday morning. Learning of her fall, I went to check on her. As she was loaded to the ambulance, I told her it would be okay. I knew in my heart it wouldn’t be – but who am I to argue with the power of prayer?

We grieve the loss of our founder, leader, mentor, and friend. Her impact was immeasurable. The outpouring of love and sorrow at the news, indescribable.

I have found it difficult to find words all this wish-to-be-forgotten year, but the words I had to write on her behalf were the hardest.

Jody’s heart has always been full to the brim with joys and sorrows. It gave and gave for more than twenty years – until today – when it finally gave way.

It is with tremendous sadness that we share the passing of Jody Jones – our founder, leader, teacher, and most of all – our dear friend. Words are incredibly hard to find at this time. None seem sufficient for the impact that this tiny, determined woman had on so many. To live a life of meaning is what we all hope for. Jody lived that and more. She literally made a difference in the lives of thousands. She taught compassion, hope, acceptance, and forgiveness – and to always say “yes, we can.”

And with equal determination, we now say “yes, we can” continue her legacy as she would wish.

Homeward Bound has always been a work in progress. Dreams are like that. You pick up where you left off and you imagine something new. The job of those of us with years of tenure is now to walk in her shoes and inspire the next generation to carry forward the vision. They will make it their own. But at its heart there will always be a bright shining star leading us down the right path following one guiding principle: It’s All About the Dogs.

It was good that our beloved Red went ahead. That way, he could greet Jody at the bridge along with Chelsea, Lucky, and countless others. There is an incredibly special place in heaven for this amazing woman. Filled with birds chirping, endless sunrises, overflowing gardens, and dogs, dogs, dogs.

Godspeed and guide us. We’ll meet you there, dear friend.

For many years, I helped her form her communications. She said I expressed what she felt in ways she could not. It was a collaboration I treasured; seeing through her eyes and sharing what was in her heart. I will miss that – and so much more.

I am exhausted from a week of fielding reporter calls and answering hundreds of emails and posts while juggling work and family needs. When I finally had a moment to just “be” in my sadness, I returned to the neglected garden.

The creatures had been waiting on her return. I had to tell them she would not be back.

At least, not in the way we remember.

Early Sunday mornings were our time. She would come out with her coffee and just wander. We would listen to the chimes and agreed that this was our Sunday church service.

I hung another pair donated in her memory in her garden bed. They are smaller and lighter, and ring freely in the breeze reminding me and the creatures that she is still with us there.

The garden is where I will remember her most. In its own time, it will tell me what to plant or place in her honor.

It was designed at her request. A place of joy. Peace. And remembrance.

She left us years too soon. I know the timing was not her wish. And yet something inside her had been telling her to prepare us for this. In recent years, she tried to step back and let others lead. It was not her nature, though. When she felt it slipping away, she would grab it back. Saving lives was her passion; her reason for being.

Peace and joy be with you my friend.

We should all have such a lasting impact from our brief time on this earth.

Angel At The Bridge

There is a saying: “Wait for them at the bridge.”

It is usually refers to a dog waiting for its faithful human companion(s) at the Rainbow Bridge, where dogs go—just this side of heaven—to run free and play, restored, until they can cross the bridge together with their human again. In this case, it was reversed.

Cannela is the orphaned girl dog of an orphaned man.

Homeless, they lived under a bridge in Mexico – a home that offered some degree of shelter and access to water – but not much more. Whether the man met Cannela before or after Cannela met a car is unclear. The meeting was unfortunate and left Cannela with a broken back and leg.

The man was Cannela’s first guardian angel. He watched over the dog as her broken bones bonded together – not enough to recover the proper use of her hind legs, but enough that she could walk and run a little bit – and wiggle a lot with joy. A happier dog, you have never met.

Death stole the man from Cannela. The dog waited in vain at the bridge for the man’s return until a devastating fire stole the only home Cannela had known.

Somehow, she escaped to the streets. Rumor has it she was picked up and left at the dump. This, I cannot confirm. But the odds of her survival – much less happiness without her guardian angel – were not good.

Thankfully, a second angel stepped in. A rescuer who makes regular trips to the border to save dogs’ lives heard of Cannela’s plight and rushed to her aid. She brought Cannela to Homeward Bound. Thin, flea-covered, lethargic, worrisome. But just a few days of good food and care revealed her happy and adoring personality.

A thorough medical exam and x-rays revealed that nothing could be done about her fused bones. “Just love her,” Doc said. And this is when her third guardian angel stepped in.

Cannela was scooped up by one of our own.

As a permanent foster, all of Cannela’s medical needs will be met for life by Homeward Bound. All the love she needs will be supplied her new family.

Your first angel waits for you at the bridge, Cannela. You will see each other again someday. Just be prepared to share. You have many angels watching over you, now.

All good photos taken by Rob Kessel of Rob and Dog.

Update: Cannela begins swim therapy!

Look Up

My preference for a packed garden has led to some thuggery.

I spent the day cutting back prized but overgrown California fuschias, cerinthe major (honeywort), and even California poppies to allow the verbascum, sea holly, and blazing star see the light of day.

It’s a happy garden that grows so vigorously that it needs to be edited in May!

Sometimes, gardeners get tunnel vision; all we see are the weeds and work.
The same with rescue; the sad stories and hard days can overwhelm.

To be sure, the usual culprits are there in the garden: Bermuda grass and wild morning glory in particular.
But I say ‘look up.’

In rescue, you learn that you cannot dwell on the obstacles and setbacks. You have to look forward to the good that can be done. While our hearts still ache for the loss of our little Rose to Parvo, we have been celebrating the recovery of Lilac. She stayed with us for a bit to ensure that she would go home strong and healthy –

and so she could make up some lost socialization time during her period of isolation.

Post-darkness, she is a gift of sunlight and happiness.

Look up dear gardener – at the magnificent roses, the tall Verbena that towers, and the Daylilies in bloom.

Look up to the brilliant Yarrow, Matijila poppies, and Jupiter’s Beard.

Look forward to the Delta sunflowers, the Dahilias, Agastache, Penstemon, Bee Balm, Rudbeckia, Zinnias, and Salvias. They will be here before you know it.

The weeds, like troubles, will always be there. But it is the good and beauty that deserves our focus.

Happy life, sweet girl.

Among the Flowers

A virus lurked among the flowers.

Not of the pandemic kind. Or even the botanical kind. But of the completely preventable kind that ravages young puppies.

They arrived from a breeder that had been hospitalized. Seven puppies of selling age:
Heather, Iris, Lilac,

Pansy, Poppy, Tulip and Rose.

And two mama dogs. Clover and Dahlia.

Beautiful, fragile flowers. How fragile, we would quickly discover.

At four or five years of age (no one actually tracked her age), Dahlia’s body was wrecked beyond repair. What they noted as a possible thyroid issue was a bladder so enlarged it took up most of her abdominal cavity.

None of the puppies had received their first vaccinations. Unbeknown to us, they had already been exposed to the parvovirus. Within a few days, symptoms began to appear in one – and then another.

Quarantine procedures were initiated. The two were taken to the vet for intensive care. One battled and won. The littlest, dear Rose, was lost. The other five, thankfully, remained well.

It was a devastating time full of rage and grief for the destruction that did not need to be if people would only choose responsible breeders.

Cleared by the vet, Clover and five puppies have found their way home. One baby remains with us until she too receives the all-clear. But she is healthy and strong and is making her understandable displeasure with her isolation known.

In the midst of it, little Zoey arrived.

At 15 weeks, she was surrendered for being “viscous and aggressive.” We know it simply as puppy zoomies. Her first family was clearly inexperienced and unprepared. But we’re so grateful that they recognized they were not up to the task. It gave us the opportunity to get Zoey on the right path to a happy, well-adjusted life. Destruction avoided.

To keep her safe, she came to stay with us where she and our Yogi engaged in epic play. All this girl needed was someone who understands that bursts of puppy energy need to be channeled into positive play and that a tired, well-worn-out puppy is a good puppy.

Her new family with their huge yard, love of adventures, and their high-energy, Border Collie-mix boy, are a perfect fit.

Wins and losses. The work of rescue. We lean in, fortify each other, and put one foot in front of another doing all we can for those who cannot do for themselves.

And in the garden, we will plant special flowers in honor of Dahlia and little Rose so they will know that here, they were loved – and will always be remembered.

Just Set Him Loose

Just set him loose.

That’s what a local shelter told a woman who was trying to surrender a stray, six-month puppy after failing to find tags, a microchip, or its home after posting for over a week.

In the time of COVID-19, if a dog is dangerous, obviously sick, or injured, the shelter will accept – and euthanize it. If it is healthy and safe, and the person is unable to keep it, they (unbelievably) advise setting it loose. In this case, the woman already had well over the legal limit of dogs. A six-month-old, unneutered boy was one too many.

Thankfully, she could not bring herself to do this. Thankfully, we were there.

He arrived on Easter weekend. The team named him Jellybean. I have no doubt that he will be scooped up shortly after he is seen by our vet and neutered. He is absolutely adorable. Someone loved this dog once. Someone spent time housetraining him and teaching him to bring back, leave, and sit. But no one claimed him.

On their website, the shelter states that their mission is “to SAVE LIVES!” I guess the disclaimer should read “in good times.” These are the times that test our commitment and resolve. I hope they don’t ask me for a donation again.

He went from scared to joyful in the span of a half hour with the help of a kind volunteer.

Then, Jellybean and I spent most of the day in the garden.

He is an excellent helper. Attentive,

playful,

and content to be tethered close by as I work.

He does not like the kennel, and looked on as Ivan was adopted…with envy, I think.

Don’t worry little man. This will be you too…soon.

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.

In My Dream

In my dream, I hear the sounds of thunder. Growling, gnarling, teeth gnashing in a battle to ensure each has their own. Looting and hoarding. Sounds of terror and squeals of alarm. Intimidation and threats. Bodies slammed to the ground.

Awakened. The sounds continue; the smell is unbearable.
Is this our end?
No. It is puppies at play!

Ferocious cubs. Testing out their tiny voices and might on the early path to doghood.

Four Great Pyrenees puppies to be exact.

They invaded our home when their devoted mom had finally had enough of them. When she packed their bags, they were cute little fluff balls. Now they are growing like little monsters – consuming their enclosure – desperate to get out and play.

This is Adele’s litter.

Born in a field. Found by a good Samaritan. Frighteningly, taken to a shelter where the threats that lurk are as great as the elements and predators: diseases.

We whisked them away.

Jody, our leader, kept mama and her babies isolated and closely guarded for their first fragile weeks – protected against dogs and humans with their germy cargo. Life-saving protections.

They thrived.

They exceeded mom’s patience.

And they pushed the cuteness scale off the charts – along with their weights.

They are endlessly poopy, smelly, bundles of fur – so fat, they waddle and are easily tipped by the big dogs.

They are all being treated for icky poo…leaving a trail of sticky footprints wherever they wander…and a mountain of laundry.

Chaos reigns in our home.

My husband loves them dearly but has made clear: four puppies with liquid poo – too much for future reference! (As if!)

Soon, they will be well and ready to go home – and it will be quiet again.

For now, they are a welcome if exhausting diversion from the days’ news and a reminder of all that is still sweet, joyful, and filled with hilarity and tomorrow’s hopes.

And we could all use a little of that right now.

Getting Our Feet Under Us

Mother Nature has been taunting us. Sending daytime temps soaring, then blowing in a light freeze. To boot – a bone-dry, record-breaking February. Not a drop of rain.

As I undertake the annual editing of Asters, I’m glad that I moved summer-blooming perennials in the fall. Apparently, there is an old gardener saying that this helps them get their feet under them.

Someone else needed some help getting her feet under her. Her name is Babe. And she stole my heart.

Babe was destined for China’s dog meat market. Having been used to raise puppies for three years, she was loaded onto a truck with dozens of other dogs and shipped off. Brave activists literally stop these trucks on the highway in confrontations that can get ugly. While eating dogs is not illegal in China, the (barbaric) slaughter of animals without health certificates is. Still, officials look the other way and let these warriors of heart fight it out themselves. Thankfully, Babe’s rescuers were successful. She and many more were pulled from the truck and taken to a shelter where they were quarantined and tested, receiving required vaccinations and health certificates as they waited for a chance at a real life.

Dogs like Babe don’t get adopted in China. It is illegal to keep a dog her size in the city, and there is a bias against anything “used.”

She is a timid girl. Submissive and frightened in new environments. All of this was a lot for her. She arrived in early January with a group of dog and spent another two weeks in communal quarantine where I was one of her caregivers.

At the beginning, she had to be lifted out of her kennel to the yard. She is extremely thin, but her frame is large and heavy.

Over the course of the two weeks, she went from crawling and cowering to full-on play with the group.

When she left the safety of her quarantine for the kennels, it was a setback for her. So she was moved to the senior yard where she lived and thrived in the company of other dogs.

Babe reminds me of our Boris…another one from China.

We weren’t sure he would make it that first morning after his late night arrival. Finding the right home made all the difference. He came by for a photo shoot recently; the transformation is hard to believe.

This is what love will do.

Babe needed a home like Boris’. A loving, patient and quiet home – providing time and stability so she could get her feet under her and learn the ways of a loved family dog.

We found that for Babe recently. And the family says she is blossoming – just like Boris and the plants I moved last fall.

Shedding the Past

The garden was thick with fog this morning – too wet to do any real work in the ground. So I set about removing the last of the apples from our little orchard.

This used to be the work of a dog named Bones.

With lumps and bumps and infected ears that left him deaf, he was left tied to a tree and abandoned. When he was finally found, he was literally skin and bones. Rescued and made well again, he was a favorite of our volunteers.

Despite his poor treatment, he was full of trust and love for all people.

He visited the garden daily, but his favorite was fall when the apples were ripe. He would pick them off the tree as he passed –

a joy that continued long after he was adopted until he passed recently. His people wrote to share the news. “Every day, he had a short walk and enjoyed an apple. He had an apple the day he died. Bones loved everybody and everybody loved him. He brought so much joy to our lives, thank you for letting us adopt him. He will be missed every day, he made such an impact on our lives.”

Photo Courtesy: Rob Kessel

Now Frida, the garden cat, keeps watch over me and the apple trees.

Dogs have an amazing capacity to shed their past and move on. On Thanksgiving, I went to the garden and rescue planning to spend a few hours getting the tulip bulbs planted and doting on the seniors. I wanted to get a photo, as well, for the kennel card of the dog that arrived the previous night: Duke.

A pet can offer true benefits to a person living with dementia: companionship, reduced anxiety and agitation, an excuse to get exercise, and increased socialization among them. But when the person lives alone and can no longer cope, it’s important for others to step in. Duke came to us when his human dad could no longer cope. Sadly, it took a human emergency for someone to come to his aid.

This boy was literally covered in mats the size of small animals from his neck to his tail. The weight of them, and his curled toenails, made it nearly impossible for him to walk. His tail had disappeared in a long, flat, felted mess to the ground. The pain of these things tugging at him and bending under him must have been terrible. And the filth and stink: oh my.

Before he could be bathed, he had to be freed. With clippers in hand, we set about the task.

It can be risky to put a dog you don’t know through such an ordeal but Duke sat patiently as we uncovered the body beneath and clipped away the petrified nails. He didn’t show that he needed a pause so we kept going. Did we read something into his look? It seemed like he was grateful.

After the ordeal, we took him to a yard to relieve himself. The boy that could not walk suddenly ran and danced – with joy.

A bath removed years of dirt and smell and made him shine.

Amazingly, our vet found nothing that quality food, regular exercise, and good grooming wouldn’t cure. He will get lots of that now as he is in a loving home.

Duke has a new job now: bringing joy and laughter to a home that had been filled with sadness over the departure of too many beloved dogs.

This decline did not happen overnight – to the man or his dog. It is the toll of human aging that we see too often. Duke shed his past and has moved on. His Thanksgiving began when he took the first gleeful step toward a much happier future. Hopefully, his person has found his way forward too.

Needless to say, the tulips did not get planted that day.