Knowing When To Surrender

The tree that I mentioned last week which was so concerning me – is gone. The arborist found root rot and no sap running through it. The property has a natural slope away from the barn which helps to keep the dogs drier in the winter, but it flows to the garden when we get big rains. With our clay soil, the water collects and stands in low spots – sometimes for a week at a time.

The center of the garden lawn is the worst – where the large Mulberry was. It was apparently, finally, too much.

To do rescue, you have to believe in miracles. And they do happen. But you also have to be able to recognize when to surrender. Sometimes, it is the kindest choice. The tree was not going to get better. Saying farewell to it now was for the best; another transformation will occur where it once stood.

Little Leroy’s human called it quits after just five days.

A purchased puppy – his human thought he was getting a Golden Retriever. The tell-tale double dew claw and spotted tummy and nose clearly indicate a Great Pyrenees mix.

The man said that Leroy was a little terror, costing him a week of sleep because he peed and poo’d everywhere. He must have had him loose overnight in the house, because this puppy sleeps almost through the night in a crate by the bed and lets out a tiny whimper indicating when it’s time to go potty. During the day and early evening, he plays hard with the big dogs;

in between – he naps – allowing plenty of time to get things done.

A simple joy to have around. But this man was not destined for puppy-fatherhood. Thankfully, he recognized it early on and asked us to find little Leroy a better home. Mission accomplished.

Emma was not so lucky.

At three and a half, she was largely left in the backyard. When she was inside, she was crated with little or no interaction with the family. She arrived with no vet records, no leash skills, and no training. Both Emma and her people would have been better off to recognize that things were not going to get better and to have surrendered her sooner. Emma’s most impressionable years were not well spent. It’s up to us, now, to ensure her transformation to a happier life – which we will gladly do.

The arborist recommended a Tupelo tree for the spot where the Mulberry was. It can withstand the water in winter and drought in summer. It will grow large and shady – and be stunning in fall. It was hard to give up on such an established member of the garden – but life would not have gotten better for our stately Mulberry. Sometimes, you just need to know when to surrender.

Thank you, big Mulberry…for the joy and shade you brought us as long as you could.

Launching Pad

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

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

The roses are in first bloom,

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

and the garden is exploding with purple,





and white.

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

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

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



and Norman this weekend.

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

We also said goodbye to our dear Old Bud.

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

“Dogs leave paw prints on your hearts.”

Second Chances: Look Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goldie went home first.

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

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

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

and the newest addition: Murphy.

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

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

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

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

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

Follow Up Friday: Tag – Now Max

I did not recognize him – this gorgeous hunk of dog. But he seemed to know me. And then – the head tilt.

The telltale sign of a once ruptured ear membrane – and those eyes. It was Tag. Now Max. One of the Korea dogs that came to us two years ago in March.

Rescued from a dog meat market by the Humane Society International, and brought to us with three others by the San Francisco SPCA. While most of the dogs that had been rescued were rehabilitated and adopted, these four were shut down and terrified – refusing to leave the safety of their SPCA kennels for over a month. I wrote about them here.

Tag was the worst of them. Suffering from the ear injury, and hugging the ground for dear life.

We gave them a small, dedicated team to work with them. Gently coaxing them onto the first grass they had ever known and hand washing the caked on filth from their bodies.

It took weeks of work to help them find their courage and come out of their shells a little. We had begun the job. Their adopting families would complete it with kindness, patience and love.

I was not alone in not recognizing Max immediately – so changed is he. But he certainly remembered these two.

Lori and Tatia were part of his team in those first days with us – delivering reassurance and care.

Max is a changed dog in many wonderful ways – and in others, he is still Tag.

Shy at first approach. And those eyes…what horrors have they seen?

But now, they quickly shift from timidity to joy. And the shyness melts to bliss.

Max needs people now. He has found his way home.

The Charmed Life of a Garden Cat Named Frida

The north wind that blew in mid-month stayed. Spring is nothing if predictably unpredictable. We went from t-shirts to down jackets and mittens within 24 hours. While the overnight thermometer dropped below freezing for a week, it stayed close enough – thankfully – to have little impact on our opening blueberry and apple blossoms. And now, there is much-needed rain on the horizon. But today, we all soaked up the warm spring sun.

A butterfly (Mourning Cloak?) warming its wings on the stone path and accommodating bunny –

big dogs walking (not available – just visiting)…

Golden dogs lounging (spoken for!)…

And going-home dogs (hurrah for Clooney, Chubbs, and Bear!).

And this?

Not a dog! This is the illusive and rarely seen Frida – the garden cat. I spied her in the field next door alternately basking in the sun, hiding in the mustard weed, and stalking her prey.

We have a few cats at Homeward Bound. Most have to earn their keep as mousers or – like Tory – as our loyal cat-tester. (No cats are harmed in the testing of our dogs.)

But Frida lives a charmed life. After being spayed and vaccinated, she was returned to the garden where she reigns. For the longest time, we only saw fleeting glimpses of her or heard her scurry under the garden shed.

Lately, she has become bolder. Rob and I leave her food and clean water. She has a tiny cat house with a comfy bed in the shed and an igloo outside if she prefers to crouch and watch the world go by. She is a great hunter – which is why I gave up feeding the birds. And she clearly does not want for calories. Recently, she let me get within a few feet of her.

And today, she most definitely saw me stalking her with my camera and decided to pose.

In late afternoon, you might glimpse her circling the garden waiting for all of us to leave. I can just imagine her joy in solitude with only lizards, birds, and tiny mouse meals to contemplate.

Get cozy tonight, Frida girl. The rain will come. But the warm sunshine is sure to follow.

A Change In The Wind

“In the spring I have counted one hundred and thirty-six different kinds of weather inside of four and twenty hours.” ~ Mark Twain

Friday, I played hooky for a few hours and snuck out to the garden. Within minutes, I was peeling off layers like an onion and thinking it was time to move the winter clothes into storage. A week of mid-70’s in early February gets me dreaming about planting spring annuals, but I have wised up a bit through the years.

The city gardens – tucked in and protected from the elements creating their own micro-climate – scream “spring!”

But the Homeward Bound Memorial Garden knows otherwise. A few brave bulbs, the rosemary, and the Ceanothus have appeared,

but the rest of the garden felt a change was in the wind – literally.

It blew in from the north on Saturday – 25 mph of cold in our faces and dropping our reality down a more seasonable twenty degrees. I know. Quit whining. You’re California-spoiled.

Truth be told, none of us are quite ready for spring yet. Spring means summer – and those 100+ degree days will be here soon enough.

So stay tucked under the covers little bulbs, and don’t quite unwrap yet tiny buds –

We’ll take a few more weeks of sweatshirts and Golden blankets.

And some rain would be lovely, too.

“The course of the seasons is a piece of clock-work, with a cuckoo to call when it is springtime.” ~ Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

Puppy Love On Loan

Sometimes the universe has a twisted sense of timing. We received a request for urgent help a couple of weeks ago. While a Golden lover was picking up her new puppy half the country away, she got word that her senior heart dog, Sully, was failing – and fast. She rushed home with the still unnamed puppy in tow to receive the prognosis we all dread: she had some time – but little of it. And while her boy could go home for hospice care, an eight-week-old bundle of puppy energy was not exactly what the doctor ordered.

At a time that is supposed to be filled with new puppy joy, there was only overwhelming sadness, chaos, and guilt. Puppies that have recently left their litter need reassurance, time, and patience. But her heart and focus were understandably with Sully, ensuring his comfort and trying to make the most of the time they had left together. Emotionally and physically exhausted, she knew that the best thing for all would be to find a short-term foster for the puppy. My fellow Homeward Bound volunteer connected us, and two hours later, the little fuzz ball was home with my Yogi and Jackson.

I had been warned that she was a bit “vocal” (read “screamer”) when left alone. I guessed that a large part of that was leaving the litter. My boys were just what she needed to make a successful transition – the role that her big brother Sully was planned to fill for her.

Yogi, as usual, was her instant playmate – while Jackson adopted his more aloof stance.

She dished out her tiny terror in unrelenting waves on Yogi,

but she looked up to Jackson. When it came time to snuggle, it was Jackson she sought out. With a mixture of disgust and resignation, he reluctantly surrendered to her charm.

Mom stayed in constant touch, and along the way little girl acquired a name: Shaye.

Rather than test her night-time vocal cords, we set up a crate in the bedroom – a fostering first for our temporary puppy residents. The bedroom is usually reserved for Yogi and Jackson as their safe and quiet zone. But I value my sleep, so the boys were sacrificed. As long as Shaye could see them both nearby, she went right in, settled – and slept through the night. What kind of puppy is this?

We quickly saw what a special girl she was – and despite our best intentions – she crawled right into our hearts.

In so many ways, she reminded me and my husband of our sweet Bella as a pup. A total joy spreader. Maybe the universe knew that her new mom would be in extra need of that.

Mom got the time she needed to say ‘goodbye’ to Sully – and we got an extra special dose of puppy love.
This parting was just a little harder than the others. Come and visit anytime, sweet Shaye.

Return to the Garden

“Where will you begin?” she asked.
“At the beginning, I guess.”

This sign was posted over our shed door. The weeds are indeed laughing. Two hours after the last puppy of Irish’s litter was adopted, in rolled the van with six more! I can’t show them to you due to a promise we made to the kind human who brought them to us. She saw that they were in need and intervened. We won’t give her up as she may yet return with more.

Needless to say, my hoped for return to the garden was again delayed. And the weeds took full advantage. The blueberries were overrun, the paths were overtaken, crabgrass invaded, and the garden shed disappeared in a mass of cobwebs.

Maria refused to weed the herb garden bed; she said that it was all to be gone or she was washing her hands of it. I couldn’t bear to see it all dug up and sitting empty; we have months to go before the winter. So it has been reclaimed as a community bed. Let the whining begin.

As the last litter numbers dwindled over the course of a week, I was able to spend a little more time in the garden. Bit by bit, it is getting there. And with our last two little fluff balls now safely home, the garden is mine ours. And the weeds? Well who is laughing now?!

The Dahlias are beautiful.

The blueberries are once again peacefully co-existing with the California poppies and smothered in the pine needles they love.

The grapes are still producing…in September!

And as our rivers are still full from our long wet winter, I am watering, watering, watering to bring the garden back to life.

Now that the weather is beginning to cool, the gardeners, too, are making their return. Maria is planning her October display, Dee cleared out the daylilies,

Rob rebuilt the leaf mulch container for fall,

and Ina cleaned the garden shed!

Puppies are a joy – and they need what they need when they need it. Many of their new families stay in touch and I delight in seeing the pictures of them growing as fast as the weeds in the garden. (This is Mocha with his new big brother.)

I am so proud of them. I miss them a tiny bit. Still, I am happy to be back in the garden.

Puppy Reunion

Who says that we don’t get paid at an all-volunteer rescue? Remember my subjects from Puppy Truths?

Cici was adopted right away,

but you might recall that two of them, Timmy and Wyatt, came home with us for a bit last winter when we thought the rains and flooding would never quit.

My Yogi was happy to keep the little monsters company.

It’s still unclear who the bigger puppy was!

Recently, all three returned to Homeward Bound for a reunion.

It’s one of the bonuses for our unpaid work: welcoming back our charges to see what kind of canine citizens they have become.

And look how they have grown!

At almost 10 months now, they are still full of spit and vinegar…

still adorable…

and when you yell “Puppy, puppy, puppy!” they still come running!

Cici is Angel now, and Wyatt is Elvis (it suits him!). But Timmy is still Timmy – through and through.

They were surrendered to us because each had low-level heart murmurs – small enough not to change their quality of life or longevity – but just enough that three lucky families got to call them their own.

Lucky people.
Lucky puppies.
Lucky me for the chance to spend time with them.

“You make a living by what you get, but you make a life by what you give.” ~ Author Unknown

Forever One: The Giants Litter


“Like branches on a tree we grow in different directions yet our roots remain as one. Each of our lives will always be a special part of the other.” ― Anonymous

Last year at this time I was one of the “puppy mamas” to a litter of 12 adorable Golden puppies that came to our rescue with their mom, Molly, and Dad, Harley.

They were only three weeks old when they arrived; I wrote about it here.

We named them the Giants litter – for the favorite baseball team of their transport angel – and, as it turns out, prophetically about their gigantic size!

I watched them make their first exit from the whelping box, cleaned their poopy messes, taught them to play in the kiddie pool,

and joined my fellow volunteers in helping them on the right path through those critical socialization weeks.

And then, you have to say ‘goodbye’ – and they scatter like the wind.

A couple of them return regularly for “school” (if you ask me, it’s more for play). And many stay connected with their own Facebook group.

They had a small get-together at about five months which I was lucky to capture.

But last weekend, a full-blown party was planned to celebrate their one-year birthdays!

Molly and Harley put in special appearances with six of their pups. Molly…


And pups.

Not bad considering three of the pups went back to our partner in the rescue, Forever Friends Golden Retriever Rescue in Ventura.

There were hugs,

a little too familiar greetings,

and the usual shenanigans between siblings.

Some things never change!

They have different names now – so keeping track of them is very much a game of “who’s on first.” But when I yelled, “Puppy, puppy, puppy!” something kicked in and they all came running.

They have their mom and dad’s height, curls, and wonderful dispositions. They all got along beautifully. A testament to the benefits of proper socialization through early puppyhood – and the patience and skill of their adopting families.

I am hoping that they can stay connected. The bond between them is something special.

Until we meet again, my puppy friends! May each year be better than the last.