Mama Always Said

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.

Gardens: Love Letters to the Future

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.

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!

Winter Skye

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!

A Place You Called Home

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.

A place you called home.

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.

To Dream A Garden

“I knew it would be bigger…but…”

We had an honored guest in the garden this weekend.

Laure is a master gardener and the original architect of the Homeward Bound Memorial Garden going back more than ten years.

Her design drawings are still housed in our shed, although the garden has morphed quite a bit over time.

The plan called for themed beds. Some, like the White Garden and Rose Garden bed are still as intended. We found that others like the Iris Bed were magnificent in spring but did not offer enough interest later in the season. Things got moved around, repeating patterns of color and shape throughout. It makes for a cohesive approach that moves in waves from one season to the next.

The original plan was much more tidy than the garden today. But crowded beds offer more cooling root protection in our hot summer (and fall!) months and help to keep the weeds at bay.

What Laure was marveling about most was the size of the trees. Back then, the garden was bathed in full, unrelenting sun all day long. Now, the trees have matured and we find we need to move plants into pockets of sunlight outside their shade.

She arrived just in time to see the asters in full fall bloom. And she marveled that a seed of an idea for what she called a “collar tree” became the metal weeping cherry tree whose branches are adorned with the tags of dogs who have come through our doors. To dream a garden and see how that it has flourished…

We learned the garden will be acquiring a new feature. A small chapel is planned as Jody wished to house the ashes of the Homeward Bound dogs who came to live with us in Sanctuary or who were helped to the bridge to end their suffering. Jody kept their ashes in her home all these years with dreams of a final resting place for them.

Life and family commitments pulled Laure away. But she laid the foundation of what this garden has become. We hope that she will return with the time is right. In the meantime, she has plans and plants to share that will assist our Monarch friends. A beautiful addition to our beautiful garden.

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.

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

The Gardener’s Shadow

We are sizzling this week. I have been giving the garden an extra evening drink when possible, and I am lucky to have a garden buddy to watch over things when I cannot be there.

Rob is our primary dog photographer at the rescue, the author of Rob & Dog, and a recognized dog whisperer.

He reintroduced me to photography years ago when I began working in the garden. I studied photography in art school but adopted the snobby bias of my painting professors that photography was somehow beneath the “fine arts.” Age begets wisdom. I have come to my senses.

Rob is a constant presence at the rescue working with the dogs, guiding some of our special needs pups, and always willing to watch over some of the special needs plants.

This week, he oversaw the newly (and too-lately) planted Agastache and Rudbeckia. I don’t typically plant in the heat, but the spring shipment was delayed in our crazy Coronavirus world. The starts are still alive and thriving despite the heat. I had no doubt.

He also shares in watching over the feral garden cat, Freida (Frieda, Frida…we never actually settled on the correct spelling of her name).

For years, we have put food and water out for her. We provide shelter from the heat, cold and rain in the shed and in her igloo close by. Over time, she has gradually let us come ever closer. These days, she will sit out openly and watch us from a few feet away and waits on the porch for her meals.

We have an unspoken competition: who will be the first to pet her?

I envy Rob’s talent with dogs, am thankful for introducing me to the lens again, and am grateful to have someone to watch over the garden and all its creatures when I cannot be there.

“The best fertilizer is the gardener’s shadow.” ~ Author Unknown

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!