Where Else Would She Go?

The call said she was a breeder-surrendered puppy with ectopic ureters. I knew what that meant: she leaked pee.

In the past, she was the kind of puppy that Jody would take up to her house – shielding us from possible heartache if the outlook looked uncertain or grim. But Jody is gone, and an eight-week-old pee girl needs to have her bottom kept clean and dry to stave off infection. I knew that. “Where else is she going to go?” I knew the answer. She had to come home with us.

We have fostered a lot of puppies. She was too small for her age. At eight weeks, she should have been pushing 15 pounds; she weighed in at only 11. She had a bacterial and yeast infection already.

I had a dream that first night. I dreamt that she died.

I reached out and touched the hand of time and knew it was not my friend. We waited for the ultrasound appointment but knew that surgery would be at least 4-5 months away – if the condition was repairable. If it wasn’t? I didn’t want to think that far ahead.

I cleared out the living room and dining room so she would be on washable stone floors. Every supply came out – and more. Mops, buckets, washable pee pads, towels, plastic covered beds, sheets, and gates everywhere. I set my office inside and left one covered couch so I could be close by. It was a small world for her, but a happy one. She ruled her domain, and the big dogs allowed it.

She earned many nicknames: Little Miss Puddles, Miss Pee-a-lot, Tinkle Bell, the Terror of Tinkle Town, and more.

She got her bum washed and dried at last four times a day. At night, we put a diaper on her for an hour – careful not to anger the infection we had beat back – and let her run through the rest of the house. She thought that was a magical time.

Our yard has an open pool, so we set up two enclosures for her in the shade. The big dogs joined her. She loved them.

As often as possible, I took her with me to play in the puppy yard at Homeward Bound. She made friends there.

Finally, ultrasound day arrived. We had been so anxiously awaiting it. The news was devastating and unexpected. Yes – she had an ectopic ureter. But she had only one partially functioning kidney and it was dying.

We had to make a quick decision. It was easy. We brought her home to love her. The weeks we thought we would have turned into only a couple of days – and then a rapid night of decline.

The next morning, we set her free.

Someone said she was just not meant to be – a puppy born with so many obstacles. I knew what they meant, but they were wrong. She was meant to be ours for four short weeks of laughter, joy, and tender puppy kisses. Mabel was meant to be loved.

She left an indelible mark on our chewed baseboards, window sills, table legs – and our broken hearts.

Fly free sweet girl. Fly free.

If the Tables Were Turned

We recently took in two little ones…surrendered shortly after they were purchased (for a pretty penny, I might add), because their people decided they either weren’t dog people, or that a puppy was too much work. One approached us about surrender; we were so grateful that they wanted the best for their little boy. The other was talked out of selling the puppy on Craigslist. Thankfully, they agreed.

In both cases, we were just happy to be able to get them to families who understood the commitment that comes with adoption – or purchase – of a dog of any age.

We have an extensive application process and contract, but it got me to wondering what the dogs would put in a canine contract for people if the tables were turned. It might go something like this:

You realize that I am not a shiny penny or an impulsive decision. You have thought through the choice to add someone to your family, and the time and expense that goes with it.

You promise not to treat me like that fancy bike you got that sits in the garage. I am not a toy to be played with for two weeks and forgotten.

You know that neither one of us is perfect. We all come with some baggage. I will try to leave mine behind if you will do the same and we can make a fresh start together.

I promise to be patient with you when you leave things out that could get me in trouble, and you promise to be patient with me when I chew them up. We will both agree that it is better and safer not to do either.

You know that training is a lifelong commitment – and that it is not just for me. You are half the equation. If you do your part, I will do mine.

If you have little humans, you will remember to watch out for them AND for me and you will help to raise us together with respect and kindness.

You realize that I am not a cat. No offense. But I am not happy living a solitary life. I need human contact and friends to be a well-rounded canine.

If you got me as a puppy or youngster, you recognize that I WILL grow up. And you will promise to still love me when I am old and grey or, heaven forbid, sick, injured or disabled – and need you most.

You commit that if – for any reason – you can no longer keep me, that you will not dump me at a shelter, turn me out, or sell me to the highest bidder. You will take as much care in finding me a good, safe and loving home or reputable rescue as I take in being your loyal, trusting companion.

If you agree to the above, by all means…please bring me home. I would like to be yours. All others need not apply. Thank you.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The Power of Love

At ten years of age, Napoleon was surrendered to a shelter with inoperable masses and a limited life expectancy. After months of doting on him at the rescue, he went home as a permanent foster with Elaine and Justin in October 2018 expecting that his was truly hospice care.

Elaine and Justin are no ordinary humans. For years, they have been showing up every Saturday morning to feed, clean and care for the dogs. They showered Napoleon with the same devotion. Before he went home with them, they would bring him to the garden or a yard after their exhausting work and spend quiet time with him. After he became a part of their family, they brought him with them on Saturday mornings – hovering, waiting, staying close by them in the kitchen and laundry as they came in and out of the kennel.

“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. “Pooh!” he whispered. “Yes, Piglet?” “Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. “I just wanted to be sure of you.” ~ A.A. Milne

Napoleon went on to live another two years with Elaine and Justin – probably the best, most spoiled years of his life. The power of love.

Fly free sweet boy. Wait for them at the bridge.

Spring Will Come: Red-y or Not

I am trying desperately to keep up with the advancing spring…in January! Crocuses, hyacinth, narcissus…even ceanothus and mid-season tulips are pressing up.

We only had two days of mild frost this “winter.” The roses were still blooming when we did our annual pruning.

There is no stopping the youthful march of spring now – either in the garden or in the dogs’ Senior Yard.

Affectionately referred to as Sugar Shack Acres, this is where dogs that are unable or unlikely to be adopted due to their extreme special needs live in their own little house and large shaded yard, surrounded by love. Since 2012, Red has reigned over this sanctuary section of our rescue.

At the age of seven, Red and his cohort of feral friends roaming a property in Oregon were rounded up by cowboys, put in a barn, and adopted out to an unprepared public. Turning a feral dog into a family dog is not for the faint of heart – especially a dog that has lived wild for seven years. Accounts are that most of the dogs found their way back to the wild. The woman who adopted Red quickly understood what she had gotten herself into and surrendered him to us where he would be safe.

It took a long time for Red to feel comfortable. There is still a part of him that is very much wild. If given the opportunity, he would still run. But now – at the age of 15 – he has found peace and contentment (and cookies!) in the company of like-minded dogs.

Like winter, they had settled into a gentle quiet. And then…

Over the past month, a series of boisterous youngsters sprang up like spring bulbs to disturb his tranquility. First, Brie – a one-year-old girl with an old lady problem (ectopic ureter).

Then, Laila – a ten-month-old hydrocephalus (water on the brain) girl. She is blind – but that doesn’t slow her down one bit.

And now CoCo – full of spunk and play, hanging out while she waits for her forever family to take her home.

They have recharged the visiting Ladybug….

and then exhausted her.

While Red and his fellow seniors, Violet,

Miller,

and Tana must be wondering…who let the pups in!

It’s inevitable Red;

spring will come whether you are ready or not – so embrace it and enjoy!

The One That Got Away

On Christmas Day, I returned to the garden.

It has been about a month since I have spent any real time there except to rake and do light cleanup.

That’s what happens when foster puppies come to call.

Little Daisy—now Gabby—was with us for a month. Arriving at only seven weeks, she had already been passed around and surrendered for the birth defect on her eye.

At 11 weeks, she was healthy and fat and strong enough for her surgery.

Her eye was removed as the hairy tissue had grown to cover nearly 90 percent of her cornea and was extending to her lower lid. She sees better now without the constant obstacle blocking her view. She recovered quickly and was home in time for Christmas—her new mama’s bundle of joy (and potty-obstinance!).

Happy life, little girl.

In Northern California, we don’t put the garden to bed for the winter as much as we tidy up.

There is still color and foliage to admire –

but work to be done.

When the blossoms fall, the bees finally retreat enough to find the source of the pesky Bermuda grass. The damp ground Is much more gracious about giving up the fugitives it harbors – abolishing all excuses. As the leaves shed, the structure of the garden comes into view. It’s time to start editing select trees and shrubs being careful to leave basal foliage growth protected against expected frost.

Time is measured by the passing seasons –

and the growth of foster pups.

Lily was one of this year’s foster puppies. One that I never wrote about. Not because she was not memorable – but because she was too much so.

People ask how my husband and I can foster puppies and never want to keep them. We had never been tempted. We see ourselves as a part of their journey. Their parting is bitter sweet but we are excited for their new families. Our house is full of doggie love and we know that keeping one might prevent us from helping more.

But Lily was different.

At eight weeks of age, she was found “stray” in a parking lot with a broken leg and taken to an area shelter. Thankfully, she came to us quickly in time to do surgery and save her leg. The photo I took upon her arrival is heartbreaking.

She recovered at our president’s home until she reached a point where she needed regular swim therapy to help rebuild the atrophied muscle around her still growing bones.

So she came home with us where we could swim her in our pool multiple times throughout the day.

We fell in love immediately.

She gained strength quickly. Too quickly. Before we knew it, she had been promised.

She is the one that got away.

Lily has an incredible mom and dad, and to be honest, a life more full of adventures than we could have provided. She could not be more loved and doted on. That is what we want for all of our foster babes.

Still, I keep her photo on my desktop. And when she came to visit this weekend, I was filled with joy and tears.

She is where she is supposed to be. And so am I. In the garden awaiting the next foster arrival.

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.