Our vision for Homer J's Senior Dog Sanctuary extends far beyond promoting senior dog adoption. Not only will we provide sanctuary to our furry four-legged companions, but we want to create a safe space for adolescents in the foster care system to heal their emotional wounds and build a strong foundation to ensure their healthy transition to independent living and adulthood.
As part of this initiative, we will provide the kids in our program with opportunities to develop job skills and a personal ethic that will steer them towards lifestyles which support sustainability. With plans for a facility large enough to support both residents and staff, it seems logical for us to use this space and our collective energy to grow as much food as we can. We want to do more than just grow food as a means of personal sustenance, but also to take this food to market where we can share with our neighbors both nutritious food and our vision to ensure everyone's basic needs are met regardless of age, breed, or circumstance.
Knowing that this was a big part of our vision and that I have no large scale farm experience, I knew I had to find a way to learn as much as I could about organic farming. The organic farming industry is unique in that it provides ample opportunity for aspiring farmers to learn from seasoned growers by way of internships. Some of you may be familiar with World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (wwoof.net) and National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (attra.ncat.org), websites that seek to connect established farms with those interested in internship opportunities where they can receive hands on experience with all aspects of the farming business. While WOOF charges prospective applicants a $40 per year membership fee, ATTRA offers free service for interns to search for opportunists that meet their needs and interests.
I found Terrapin farms, a 7 acre organic farm, located in beautiful Whitefish, MT on ATTRA and contacted the owner Judy by e-mail to express my interested in spending the month of June on the farm. Judy accepts interns from March through November and requires a minimum of a one-month stay. Besides learning the ins and outs of farming, from field to table, Judy provides her interns with comfortable accommodations and three, all organic meals per day; for interns who are working more than one month, there is even an opportunity to earn a stipend. Once Judy heard about my desire to incorporate farming with the Senior Dog Sanctuary she was as excited to have me as I was to be there.
Judy has been growing organic food in the challenging climate of northwest Montana since long before the organic food movement began gaining momentum. With more than 25 years experience, she is a walking encyclopedia of information. Her farm produces hundreds of varieties of vegetables such as leafy greens, peppers, egg plants, tomatoes, edible flowers, and so much more. She has extensive information about all of the plants, each is like old old friend she is re-united with every spring. The 7 acre farm includes a large green house, three hoop houses, a high tunnel and row after row of raised beds for planting. The produce is for sale to both local restaurants and the community at large at two weekly farmers markets.
A Day on the Farm
Monday through Friday, work begins promptly at 8am. Our first task was to fulfill the wholesale orders that would be going out to local restaurants later that afternoon. Judy would meet us in the field and give us the list of items needed for that day and the poundage required. We would either work in teams of two, or head out alone with our trusty scissors (or a big knife depending on the produce in question) and two buckets (one for sitting and one for collecting the produce). Some types of produce are more fun to harvest than others. While I will avoid the painful details of which was the toughest, I will say that harvesting the amazing strawberries was my favorite task, and I will bet you can guess why. Even with 3-5 people harvesting, it would take us most of the morning to fulfill the wholesale orders, including weighing the produce and preparing the orders for delivery.
Once the orders for the day were filled, it was on to my favorite part of every work day...lunch. Cooking responsibilities were rotated among the interns, but we always sat together for the shared meal in the afternoon. The meals consisted of vegetable stir fry, rice, potatoes, homemade bread (from the Bread Master) eggs, tofu, and the ultimate addition to any vegetarian meal, Bragg's Liquid Amino Acids. As a part-time vegetarian before I left for the farm, I was worried that the vegetarian diet would not meet my energy needs for long days of manual labor, but this was far from the case. The meals were plentiful and delicious. There was never a day where I walked away from the table hungry.
After lunch (usually 30-40 minutes) we would return to the field for our afternoon duties. While I was there, planting, watering, and delivering the day's harvest were the main tasks. I was surprised by the overall lack of mechanization on the farm. Aside from using a tractor to shape the beds (interested interns are given the chance to drive the tractor) and a fleet of trucks older than I am that we used to take the plants and produce to market, most of the work was done by hand or trowel. We would plant long rows of peppers, tomatoes, egg plants, edible & non-edible flowers and so much more. During these mild Montana afternoons, us interns would sit across the row from one another, chatting about our past lives, and our hopes for the future as we dug our hands in the dirt and transplanted vegetables from the plastic trays used in the green house, into the ground. These were some of my favorite times.
Although the schedule said the day ended at 6:30, I found this was rarely the case. Farming is not conducive to fixed start and end times. When the witching hour came, we would find ourselves with a half planted row, or needing to rotate sprinklers, or some other task that begged to be finished. No matter how long we worked the field (rarely did we stay past 8) Judy would always be the last one out. I was amazed by the vitality and energy of this woman. She out worked me time and time again and clearly demonstrated what it takes to manage an operation like this. It was hard to call it a day when someone old enough (no offense Judy) to be my grandmother was still out there working.
Some of you may be wondering, "Where was Rufus during all of this?" Well, in true senior dog fashion, Rufus mostly napped during these long days. The real question is not what was Rufus doing, but where was he doing it? His early morning naps would usually take place in the bedroom of the bunk house, where I slept, on the bed, with the electric blanket on low to keep him warm. By mid-morning, when the temperature had warmed to a pleasant degree, Rufus would venture from the bunk house and rotate his sleeping spot from sun to shade and back again, in the tree lined area where we washed and weighed the produce. He was equally loved and appreciated by all, and even managed (or I should say was given the privilege based on seniority) of being the big dog on the farm. Although three times the size of Rufus, Noche, Judy's four-legged companion, allowed him to be the boss.
With the work day done, we would all head for the showers and the front porch of the bunk house. Most of us hippy types, worked barefoot in the fields, and sat in the dirt any chance we got. Needless to say at the end of the day we were covered in dirt, but not to worry, it was organic dirt. Despite the long hours, even getting off as late as 8pm meant we still had three hours of daylight left. During these long days of summer, on the western edge of the Mountain Time Zone, the first stars were not seen until well after 11pm. If we had the energy, this left us plenty of time to recreate and enjoy our downtime. Some of our favorite activities were going for a swim at nearby Boot Jack Lake, or heading into downtown Whitefish (the culture and peoples of Whitefish, MT deserve their own blog) for a beer and some ping pong at the Great Northern Bar and Grill. About the Great Northern I will say this, I have never seen a moon so beautiful as the one the shines it's light on the Great Northern, and the color of her hair could only be described as electric green.
Although the work days were long, and the work itself was never done, Judy always made sure that her interns got pleasure of two days off per week. In this part of Montana (or any part of Montana for that matter) that means endless opportunities for outdoor recreation. We camped, kayaked, backpacked, and day-hiked, in an environment of untouched natural beauty rarely seen in our modern world. Glacier National Park was a short forty minute drive to the north and we were surrounded by national forest, mountain lakes, and endless hiking trails. There were two lakes within 15 minutes, and Judy would allow us to take her kayaks and canoes out for a day on the water. Even Rufus got to enjoy some time on the open waters (see picture below). It is hard to describe the natural beauty, and the feeling of being surrounded by mountain peaks and trees, with scarcely another human in sight.
Despite spending only four weeks on the farm, I learned much more than I had anticipated. For example, shortly after returning to my home base of Reno, I went to a BBQ at a friends house, where there is a large and diverse garden. As he gave me a tour of the garden I realized how many of the plants I was able to identify by their leaves and I was even able to differentiate varieties of squash and egg plant by their fruits; even I was surprised at how this knowledge had become rooted in my mind. I credit this quick learning curve to Judy and her passion for farming and her desire to provide her interns with an unparalleled hands-on-leaning opportunity.
More than just learning about the different plants and their preferences of water, sun, and soil, Judy taught me exactly what it takes to be an organic farmer. Judy is an organic farmer because she has a passion for the land and a love of organic food. Buried just bellow the surface, disguised as lessons on how to manage a farm, Judy is sharing lessons about how to live a life one can be proud of, and the dedication and hard work that it takes to take your dreams, root them deep within the earth, and watch them grow into the fruit of your daily life. For her it is more than a job, or a way to survive, it is her life's work. I could not have asked for a better mentor.
I am also blessed to have spent the month with three of the most amazing people I will ever meet. Grant the Bread Master, Katerina Holy-K, and Sam J Day, and I went from strangers to lifelong friends in just four short weeks. I do not waste time asking why the universe chose to bring us together in this beautiful place, all under the tutelage of one of the most amazing woman I will ever meet, but I do like to wonder when I will get to see them again. Suffice it to say that when I do start Homer J's Senior Dog Farm, these will be the first people I call and ask to join us.
So what about Homer J's farming operation, you ask? One thing I learned at Terrapin is that it takes a lot of energy to grow that amount of varieties Judy has at Terrapin (the diversity is one of the reasons interning there is so valuable). When we start growing as more than a means of organizational sustenance, I have concluded it would be best to just grow one thing and grow it well. While at Terrapin I learned that peppers love hot soil. So much in fact, that we covered the beds that peppers were planted in with a plastic sheet called IRT which raised the bed temperature by a couple degrees. Here in western Nevada, where the average temperature is at least a few degrees warmer, I am certain we could grow some of the best tasting peppers around. So be on the look out at a farmer's market near you in the coming years for Homer J's Senior Dog Pepper booth. You will recognize us because our booth will be staffed by energetic foster kids and there will be a couple old dogs rotating their napping position from sun to shade and back again.
For more information about Terrapin Farms and Internship opportunties, contact Judy Owsowitz at Terrapin@AboutMontana.net
When we interviewed Cesar about Daddy's senior years, his deep emotional bond with this 14 year-old Pit Bull was apparent. He shared thoughts on Daddy's current physical health, Junior's impact on his mental health, details on his very special way to roll in the grass, and how he himself copes with Daddy's aging.
Daddy is having more and more senior moments. He sometimes has trouble getting up, has to take bathroom breaks a little more often, and doesn't take the cold as well as he used to. He can't hear well, which is something that's been happening for a while. His sight is going. He has to open his eyes extremely wide. They almost look like a cats'!
But his appetite is great, and his nose is still fantastic. When we go for a walk, he spends more time than ever sniffing the ground. It used to be: smell flower, pee on it; smell flower, pee on it. Now he can spend 5 minutes taking in the scent of a single flower.
We still take him along on the pack walks, but where he used to be two or three feet behind me - because Daddy has always been medium level energy - now he is twenty feet behind. After about thirty minutes, he's done, and someone takes him back to the car to rest, while the younger generation continues on a longer trek.
Daddy has been receiving a lot of help from acupuncture and homeopathic treatments for his stress. In my career now, I have to travel a lot. When I go away, he can become disoriented and sad, which makes him a little tense. I am really glad that Junior came into his life. It has been very helpful. He keeps Daddy alert and young. "Come on, correct me! Come on, tell me what not to do!"
After this interview today, we're going to give Daddy a shower and clean his teeth. Then we'll go to his favorite spot in the park. He loves to roll in the grass - a lot of dogs do - but he has a special way to do it. He finds the highest place, then rolls down backwards. Just slides all the way down. Then he goes right back to do it again and again and again. He didn't do it in the snow, but he loves to do it in the grass. And of course, he likes to do it after he takes a shower, which I understand, but at the same time, it's like, come on Daddy! I just gave you a bath!
After that, he knows I am going to give him a nice, juicy, meaty bone. He just knows. He goes to his place, like 'this is next.' He knows exactly what I am going to do. He just knows me.
Daddy has always been a sweetheart. Many senior dogs lash out when someone accidentally bumps into them in a way that hurts. But Daddy just doesn't have it in his bones to respond with a bite, which is very unusual.
Daddy has been my kids' grandpa. He helped me raise them. We don't share much about the whole passing away thing. Right now, we're doing some Dog Whisperer segments about letting go. It's hard to hear, because you have to come to reality. To see someone as amazing as Daddy grow old - it's painful just to think about it. But I don't want to share that around him, because he's going to think, 'What are you worried about? I'm not gone yet!' But as humans, we anticipate things, and we get emotional at the wrong time. Of course, dogs have emotions, but they don't get emotional prior to the occasion. So I won't do it in front of him.
Read more: http://www.cesarsway.com/dog-care/senior-dog/daddys-senior-moments#ixzz3YA2vNU1S
Signs and symptoms of joint discomfort in dogs As the Pack Leader you must know if your dog is uncomfortable because of joint issues. Typical signs include:
Does your pooch have joint problems? How have you been treating her?
From: Cesar's Way.com
There is an epidemic in this country that is not getting better. Shelter statistics are just estimates, but according to the Humane Society more than 6 million dogs and cats will enter shelters this year and half of them will not be leaving. While these numbers are a significant improvement from estimates 30 years ago, they are just estimates and we are still slaughtering these animals at a 50% rate.
Aren't we the richest country in the world? Certainly we can do better than that. As stated in Mattew 25:40, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ As animal-loving individuals in this society, we must take steps to demonstrate our reverence for all life in hopes of shifting the paradigm that keeps these shelter statistics high.
What is it about our society that keeps these shelters so full? America has become a "throw-away" society that values the new, flashy, and hip, over that which may be perceived as out-dated, out-of-touch, or old news. We also tend to have very compulsive tendencies when it comes to satisfying our consumerism. This compulsion often leads to purchases that are not well researched or well-thought out, and are made without consideration for long-term repercussions.
Long-story short, we want puppies and kittens. Do you know the busiest months for shelters in this country? February and March... because people have grown tired of and become frustrated with the animals that were given as gifts over the holiday season.
We value the difficult work undertaken at shelters across this country. We see it as a response to a problem, not a solution. These shelters are over-crowded, under-funded, and despite all the creativity and passion in the world, are not able to adopt these pets at a fast enough rate. What is required is a shift of paradigm that changes how people satisfy their need for animal companionship. At Homer J's Senior Dog Sanctuary, we want to promote the idea of Re-Purposing in hopes of shifting attitudes about shelter dogs and opening peoples hearts in minds to the value of all life.
Residents of the dementia care facility (DCF) are dealing with different levels of severity when it comes to their declining mental faculties. Some are quite sharp and very aware their surrounding; if you were to encounter them in any other setting, it may be difficult to tell something was wrong. Others are incapable of remembering details of a conversation that just occurred and the most severe struggle to communicate their needs.
Joe Football bridge the gap between these two types of residents. On the one hand he was able to communicate clearly, but on the other, Joe had no idea where he was, or for that matter, when he was. Although there was the unmistakable look of confusion in his eyes, he managed well and would in some moments appear jovial.
Although Joe was a regular in the halls around the Rec room, he did not come in so we never got a chance to converse. That all changed this past Super Bowl Sunday, when I decided to spend the first half of the big game hanging out with Rufus and his friends at the DCF. I walked into a room more crowded than usual with the game on the big screen. Most of the usual suspects were there, but I immediately noticed Joe was sitting in the room, eyes glued to the screen, reacting to the plays as they were unfolding. I set Rufus in the lap of one of his regulars and proceeded to the table where Joe set with another gentleman.
I introduced myself and asked Joe if he was enjoying the game. If gave an enthusiastic yes, never really turning his eyes from the screen. When I asked what team he was rooting for, he hesitated, and I saw that look of confusion that I see on the faces of many of the other residents whose condition is most severe. I realized at that point that although he was excited, and recognized that he was watching a football game, he had no idea who was playing. He finally answered that he did not have a team to root for, and that he was just hoping for an exciting game.
Although many of these residents short-term memory is non-existent, their past memories are still intact. As the game carried on, I asked Joe if he had a favorite football team. No longer did I see a look of confusion in his eyes, but rather one of recognition and a sly little smile crept across his face. "I am a Buckeye fan," Joe said, "the best team in the land." Well, it just so happens that I am a Buckeye too. I was born and raised in Cincinnati by parents who are OSU alumni; suffice it to say I came out of the womb bleeding Scarlet & Gray.
Joe and I spent the rest of the first half discussing our shared passion for the all things Ohio State. As the conversation progressed It became increasingly clear to me that Joe was not living in 2014. He talked about players and coaches from the 1940's & 1950's and did not recognize any of the big names I had grown up watching.
For Joe, it was sometime post World War II and he was still living in the small town in central Ohio where he grew up and raised a family. He talked about his job at the radio factory and going to the local high school football game on Friday night. This is a common phenomenon and I have learned from the DCF staff not to correct these fantasies.
From that day forward, I would walk out of the Rec room to say hi as Joe passed by doors on his stroll around the facility. As we shook each others hands, I could sense that he was struggling to remember how he knew this young guy who seemed to know him, but he could not place his finger on it. He would just say, "Hey there young fella," and I would say, "How about those Buckeyes?" Joe would always respond the same way, "They are the best team in the land."
I found out on my most recent visit that Joe had passed peacefully in his sleep earlier in the week. The passing of one of our regulars is always difficult, but there is a certain sense of relief that I experience when someone like Joe no longer has to deal with the day-to-day confusion and uncertainty. Besides, I know a Buckeye fan never dies, because we are from Ohio... O -- H
One of the primary tenants of the Sanctuary is the idea that senior dogs are not solely of the canine variety. For us, a senior dog is someone with significant life experiences and who possess a special kind of wisdom that can be used for the benefit of the community. No one embodies the spirit of this idea quite like Mr. G, a cheerful and smooth talking resident of the dementia care facility (DCF).
Mr. G is a former high school teacher and coach who loves to talk about his favorite students athletes and fond memories he has from his days working and living in Lake Tahoe. Settling in the Lake Tahoe area long before it became a popular destination and place to own a vacation home, Mr. G will tell you about buying land for less than $1,000 per acre and building a home with his own two hands where he lived with his wife and children.
After his wife passed, and his health began to decline, Mr. G was no longer able to live independently. Now-a-days, he seems to derive pleasure from two activities: jigsaw puzzles, and swooning all the single ladies who reside at DCF. Due to the longer life expectancy rates for women, the male to female ratio at these facilities is often slanted in favor of the fairer sex, and Mr. G has no problem filling the gap. He keeps all the ladies on the toes with some harmless flirting, dancing, and the occasional smack on the lips. And believe you me... the ladies love it!
As to whether or not things progress further than that behind closed doors, all I can say is while Mr. G maybe a big flirt, but he does not kiss and tell. However, a recent NY Time article on the issue stated that, "...retirement communities and assisted living facilities are becoming like college campuses. They cram a lot of similarly aged people together, and when they do, things naturally happen." Sex among the residents of these facilities is rampant and on the rise; I bet there is a Mr. G in every one of these places.
With medical advances improving vitality into old age, and pharmaceutical companies marketing ED pills on day time television, it is no wonder that the older generation is still getting their kicks. And to all the Mr. G's of the world, I would just like to say, "Keep up the good work you old dog!"
I picked Rufus up and she led us down a hallway lined with the small apartments where the residents slept and kept their personal belongings. I had not realize how many people lived there who I never saw in the Rec Room. As we approached the door, I began to get a little nervous. We were about to enter a very delicate situation and there would be many watchful eyes. I planned to give a quick greeting to the family and then place Rufus on the foot of the bed. I anticipated he would simply lay there, resting his head on the foot or leg of this very sick woman.
Walking into the room, the distress was palpable. There were two adult children and three adult grandchildren seated around the bed with red eyes, heads resting in their hands as they maintained their vigil. The AD introduced us and asked if it was ok for Rufus to sit on the bed with Ms. J. The family the was happy to have us and shared how much Ms. J loved her animals, especially dogs. I allowed Rufus to say hi to the family and then we turned our attention to Ms. J. She lay still, eyes open, struggling with every breath. I held Rufus in place she could see him and then placed him gently between her legs near the foot of the bed.
There was no perceptual response from Ms. J, but I sensed the family was happy to see her with something she loved throughout her life. Rufus, however, did not do as I had anticipated. He stood there, stiff legged, facing towards the head of the bed and then began to walk that direction. I was not sure what to do as he began to walk up her torso, but the family seemed unconcerned so I sat back, but was keeping a close eye on the situation. Rufus proceed up the stomach, until he was standing with his front paws on her chest. He paused there for just a second and then began to lean his head in until his nose was mere centimeters from Ms. J's lips.
I had never seen Rufus do this before. This was not the first time I had placed him into a bed with a patient, but the others were not on the verge of death like Ms. J. I looked for a signal from the family that they were concerned about her comfort, but I saw none; instead what I saw was a look of amazement. I too was taken back but the gentleness with which Rufus was moving and how closely he had placed his nose to her mouth. He stayed in this position for what seemed like minutes and I could see he was sniffing ever so delicately and looking up towards the eyes of this woman he had never met. I know it easy to erroneously personify the behavior of animals, but Rufus seemed to be demonstrating extraordinary levels of compassion and understanding for this dying woman.
When he finally began to ease his way back to the foot of the bed, I could feel a shift in the energy of the room. When he reached the foot of the bed and nestled himself into the crook of Ms. J's leg, I could not help but be overcome by emotions. I felt all the sadness appropriate to the situation, but also a sense of astonishment in what Rufus had done. I looked to the family and saw they were equally taken with what we had all just witnessed.
As Rufus relaxed, the family asked all sorts of questions about Rufus. I was able to share his story of survival and transformation and how we have been together for less than a year. That information only made the experience more unbelievable, and even brought a smile to their faces as they marveled at this little dog who just wondered into a dark moment in their lives. A few minutes passed had passed when Rufus stood, walked to the edge of the bed and signaled that he wanted to be picked up. I took that to mean it was time for us to go.
I grabbed Rufus, gave my condolences to the family, and they thanked us profusely for coming in. As I left the room I heard them commenting about how magical the experience was for them and I could not agree more. I knew senior shelter dogs would make great therapy animals, but my expectations were shattered by this experience. We may not know why Rufus did what he did, but I know the impact that it had on the family of Ms. J.
We might not save the world with our efforts, but we will make a difference wherever we go.
Rufus and I have been visiting the dementia care facility every week for the past 8 months. Most of our visits are routine, we see the same people and often have the same conversations. Our visit last week was anything but ordinary, and while Rufus brought a great deal of comfort to a family in need, the experience has left an indelible mark on me.
The visit began as usual with a quick greeting to the front desk staff and the administrators who have offices in the front lobby. After entering the secured door, we walked towards the recreation room where the residents gather during the day for activities, snacks, and socializing. It is evident from the smiles we get when we walk into the room that some of Rufus' biggest fans recognize us, and the staff has told us that even this small bit of recognition is a sign that we are having a significant impact on their emotional well being with out visits. I put Rufus in Ms. S's lap and did a little glad handing with Guy (the resident ladies man) and Joe who were working a puzzle nearby.
Rufus and I would normally spend our entire hour in this room. Rufus spends 10-15 minutes with any resident who wants some time and I try to chat up anyone who seems interested in talking. The Activities Director (AD), a robust polish women in her early 50's with a thick accent, is often in the room coordinating activities: singing, dancing, and doing everything she can to bring some joy into the building. I am always impressed with how much love and tenderness she shows to everyone in the room.
After Rufus and I had said hello to all the usual suspects and were getting ready to leave, the AD asked if she could speak to me in the hall for a moment. Once there, she told me there was a female resident, Ms. J who absolutely loved dogs, but was bed bound so Rufus had never met her. Sadly she was on her last few hours of life, unable to move or communicate, surrounded by a few family members waiting for the inevitable to arrive. She asks if I would be willing to take Rufus into her room for a short visit; that is an impossible request to deny.
To Be Continued....