More Travels With Liberty

outside the Gulfport rental 6-16

Arriving at our Gulfport rental

My pup, Liberty, and I recently enjoyed a few days in Gulfport (FL). Liberty is a good traveler – she likes to go in the car, no matter how short or long the trip, and usually adapts to a new place within 24 hours. In the two years since I adopted her she has been to Gulfport twice, Sarasota, Thomasville, GA, St. Simons Island, and VA – plus numerous day trips. This time she didn’t adapt as easily because there were a couple of sounds she didn’t like – nail guns and the sound of lumber being dropped at the house behind us, and the thump of the wall air conditioner as it ended a cycle. I had purchased a Thunder Shirt for her after a particularly severe thunder storm left her shaken but, had not used it yet. Fortunately, I remembered to pack it “just in case”. I used it two times during our vacation and was amazed (and happy) to see that it actually helped to calm her!

Tests that were conducted using the Thunder Shirt showed that it helped in 80% of cases so, it’s definitely worth a try if you have an anxious pup (they make them for kitties, too).

Thunder Shirt 6-18-16

Yikes. Did you hear that?

This was my sixth visit to Gulfport in the past 7 years. I took my Mom on the other five visits but I like to get away by myself once in a while and this is a place where I feel relaxed and comfortable and it’s only a little more than three hours away in case I needed to get back home quickly. I usually don’t stray far from town but if I want more activity, St. Petersburg is only a 10 minute drive, Tampa another 15. Gulfport is a small, quiet, dog-friendly, walkable town on the Boca Ciega Bay – I think it’s only about 4 square miles. It has an “Old Florida” vibe with most of the homes built between the 1920’s and 1960’s and many of the shady streets paved with red brick in the 1920’s. There is a small beach and park on the bay and the other main thoroughfare in town runs alongside it and offers a very pleasant walk. There is a broad main “commercial” street, shaded by huge old trees, where most of the shops and restaurants are located. Several of the restaurants have outdoor seating where your canine companion is welcome. Liberty is an old hand at going to outdoor restaurants so she sits or lays quietly near my chair – except when the server comes to the table, of course. She knows who has the food and gets very excited when she sees them coming! She knows she’ll get some special treats – small pieces of melon, or home fries or pizza crust – but she doesn’t beg or drool. She has better manners than some people I’ve eaten with!

Every morning we had breakfast at Stella’s – special to me because it shares a name with my dearly departed pup, who also went there many times with me.

Mangia Cafe Gulfport 6-15

Lunch at Mangia Gourmet

We had lunch at Mangia Gourmet and dinner at Siri’s and  Pia’s Trattoria – I guess we ate our way through Gulfport!

One day I took Liberty to Ft. DeSoto Park, which is on a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico. My main reason for going there was the off-leash dog beach but I also visited the old fort and took advantage of the walkway that was built along the top of it – spectacular views of Tampa Bay and the Gulf. Liberty had fun on the dog beach – it wasn’t crowded but she got a chance to meet several dogs and run in and out of the gentle waves of the Gulf. She isn’t a swimmer, in fact, prefers not to go in the water past her thighs, but she enjoys splashing about and she seemed to like the freedom of being off her leash. Thankfully, she stayed within 10′-20′ of me and came back every time I called her.After the beach I threw the ball for a while in the dog park and gave her a shower at the doggie cooling station – it was a very hot day! Kudos to Pinellas county – this is a beautiful, clean park! It’s more than 1,300 acres offers miles of people-only beaches, camping and picnic facilities, hiking trails, and kayak, canoe and bike rentals.

What a view! Ft. DeSoto State Park 6-15-16

Walkway on top of Ft. DeSoto – what a view!

As always, it was fun to have a change of scenery and routine but, good to get back to my comfy little home. Now I’m researching where I’ll take Mom for our November vacation!

In life, it’s not where you go – it’s who you travel with.


Ft. DeSoto dog beach 6-16

making a new friend at the dog beach

Ft. DeSoto dog beach 6-15-16

Feelin’ free!








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When dogs meet

img011Have you ever noticed when dogs meet they seem to know within a few seconds whether they like each other or not? When Liberty spots a dog, which is usually when it is about 1/4 mile away, she starts getting excited. As we get closer, she begins to pull on her leash and I have to rein her in until I can determine if the approaching dog is friendly and also if the owner wants our dogs to meet. Once that is established we each loosen up on the leashes and allow our dogs to meet. They sniff each others faces and butts. Sometimes that only takes a couple of seconds and sometimes several lingering re-sniffs are necessary in order to make a complete assessment. I have never seen Liberty growl at or act aggressively toward another dog but I have seen her do what I call the “sniff and dismiss” move – she’s just not interested. She’s ready to move on but, she’ll stand politely if I’m chatting with the owner. Strangely, the other dog usually has the same type of reaction to her. Most of the time the dogs seem to send a cue to each other and it’s either “Let’s play!” or “You’re not my type”.  If it’s “Let’s play!” the dogs, oblivious to everything except their own happiness, leap at and try to chase each other. They sometimes even roll around on the grass together. The owners laugh as leashes get tangled and wrapped around their legs. If this goes on long enough, the dogs will usually get tired and flop down near each other in the grass, tongues lolling with big “smiles” on their faces. If it’s “You’re not my type”, they look away, sniff the grass and wait politely to walk on.

My instincts when I meet a new person are certainly not as accurate and finely tuned as Liberty’s. I usually know pretty quickly if I like or don’t like them, but sometimes I’m wrong about how they feel about me. I really envy Liberty’s instincts – it would be so nice to meet someone and each of you are able to know within a few seconds if you want to get to know each other better or not. No, I don’t want to sniff anyone’s face or butt and I don’t want to roll around in the grass with them – at least not right away – but I would like to have some way to know the essence of another person. Maybe children have it because I can remember saying to someone, as a child, “Do you want to be my friend?” and others saying that to me. No filter, just following instinct. We adult humans have layers of social behaviors to deal with, in addition to our individual inhibitions. We’re concerned about making a good impression, we’re afraid of rejection or looking foolish. We’re afraid of getting hurt. I tend to be socially awkward and not interested in small talk, which is why I don’t usually enjoy parties and I’m always uncomfortable on a first date. I enjoy real conversations during which I can get to know someone at a deeper level but, relationships between humans usually develop at glacier speed – or so it seems to an impatient person like me. We’re afraid to be too honest or trust each other too soon and the complexities of human nature and the society in which we live have forced us to be that way. Still, isn’t it sweet when you get that rare feeling that you have met a person with whom you really connect – someone who just might become a friend – and it turns out your instincts were right?

I dreamed that I was walking with Liberty and she saw a dog she wanted to meet, who was walking with his owner. I don’t remember what the man looked like but I remember that his dog was a big, friendly yellow Lab/Golden Retriever mix. The two dogs touched noses and sniffed and it was obvious they liked each other. At the same time, I felt a very nice connection with the man. That was the whole dream – just a nice, warm feeling. Maybe Liberty’s instincts will lead me to the man of my dreams. Woof!

What a beautiful world it would be if people had hearts like dogs.  ~Anonymous


Stick with me ... you never know what might happen

Stick with me … you never know what might happen

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MY Therapy Dog

How are things on your end

Liberty encourages me to stay engaged!

It’s been two years since Liberty came to live with me and one of the things about her that won my heart when I first met her was her sweet, friendly personality. I have often wondered how anyone could have surrendered her to a shelter – especially one that only keeps animals for 30 days! – but, I’m glad they did because she has been a great joy and blessing in my life. Early on I realized she would be a great therapy dog because her affectionate nature is such a comfort to ME.

I used to take my sweet Stella to PAWS to Read at the library and to visit an adult day care center and Liberty and I volunteer with Haven Hospice and PAWS to Read but I recently followed up on something I’ve wanted to do for quite a while – I took Liberty for the test to be registered with Alliance of Therapy Dogs, Inc. She has been through three levels of AKC training classes but she is still excitable at times and pulls on her leash a bit too much so I wasn’t sure if she would do well on the test. The test was done in three parts – one “handling” test that was done in a large feed and tractor supply store and two “observation” tests in a nursing home. The store offered lots of noise and distractions but, despite that and the excitement of meeting two new dogs and lots of new people, she followed all her commands beautifully. Her previous experience visiting nursing homes and assisted living facilities helped her a lot with the observation tests but I think her sweet gentle way with the patients played a big part in passing those tests. I have worked to help her be a well-behaved dog but I can’t take any credit for her sweet nature. Now we’re all set for any volunteer opportunities that require registration with a therapy dog organization and we’re also covered by liability insurance. I’m hoping we’ll be able to do more work with children. Of course, Liberty couldn’t care less – it’s all just fun to her!

I often say that Liberty is MY therapy dog because she is such a wonderful companion and brings me so much happiness. Research shows that having a pet is good for your health – emotionally and physically – and I can testify to that. I know I would be very lonely without her. She makes me smile when I’m down and  I can actually feel my heart expand when we visit a facility and she greets everyone with licks and tail wags. It’s so nice to see someone’s face light up when they see her.

I take her with me almost everywhere I go, even on vacations – it’s good for her socialization and, honestly, I just love her company. Last weekend we went to see our Alliance of Therapy Dogs tester, Angela, present two of her American Staffordshire Terriers in a show – there were hundreds of dogs (lots of barking!) and people there but, after getting over her initial nervousness, Liberty behaved perfectly. She sat or laid quietly by my side and watched all the dogs and people walking by and she seemed to pay special attention when her buddy, Carly, was in the rink going through her paces. It didn’t bother her one bit that she was the only “mutt” in the whole arena!

Angela & Carly at dog show 4-9-16

Angela & Carly at the dog show


Dogs are not our whole life but, they make our lives whole.  ~Roger Caras

4-12-16 another tough day at work

Another tough day on the job 🙂

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Stuff I Like- Part 4

Ocean dreaming 001An October morning at the beach!!

My tolerance for the heat and humidity of the summer months here in NE Florida has decreased over the past few years so I don’t go to the beach as much during those months as I used to but, the spring and fall are delightful. I especially love October and November and, during the years that I had a timeshare in St. Augustine Beach, I always went in late October/early November. The early mornings and nights are cool, the air during the day is warm but, not stifling, the sky is usually clear blue and there is almost always a pleasant breeze. Another bonus is that the beach is quiet in the fall because it is in between family vacation time and the arrival of the “snowbirds” so there are very few people around. I almost feel like the wide open space belongs to me. I live close to the beach, just a 10 minute drive, but my favorite beach is a few miles north of where I live and well worth the few extra minutes it takes to get there. Even the drive is a pleasure – an officially designated scenic highway that winds through a lush hammock, over an inlet, and offers beautiful unobstructed views of the ocean. A rare treat on the East coast.

I was waiting for a day with cooler temperatures and no rain in the forecast so I could put Liberty in the car and head for the beach and that day arrived this week. The timing was perfect because I had been feeling a little bit blue and I knew I needed to take what I call a “happiness action”. We got there and were walking along the shore well before 9 and it was a beautiful morning – I could feel my mood lift. Yes, I practice what I preach! I don’t wait for someone or something to make me happy – I find it for myself.

I have a 20′ retractable leash for Liberty that I only use when we go to the beach so she can run in and out of the ocean and chase the sandpipers. The first time I took her to the beach, just a couple of weeks after she came to live with me last April, she was afraid of the ocean. Every time a wave approached she ran the other way! I walked along the shore, where the water is shallow, and gently encouraged her to let the waves wash around her feet. Gradually, she realized the water could only reach as far as she allowed and that began the relationship she has with the ocean to this day – she loves to run in and out of the waves as they rush to the shore but she never lets them wash over her! It brings me great happiness to watch her play – her pure joy is contagious! She met a black Lab, who was also enjoying the ocean, and they ran around and leapt at each other for a few minutes while his owner and I laughed at their antics. She also met a nice little boy and an elderly man who stopped to greet her. Liberty is a social bridge for me and I often speak to people who I wouldn’t have met if I was alone. No wonder I refer to her as my “therapy dog”.

After our walk we enjoyed a drink and some snacks and then Liberty stretched out in the sand and watched the birds running along the shoreline and the people walking by. As I wrote in my journal, I kept pausing to gaze at the ocean and the blue sky and I thanked God over and over for such a beautiful day. All this beauty and happiness cost me nothing but the gas for my car! Makarios 🙂

We don’t make ourselves happy, but we can make choices that lead to happiness. ~Randy Alcorn

Fun in the ocean 10-15-15 beautiful morning at the beach 10-15-15

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4I haven’t been writing much this year – except in my journal – only one post so far but, for those who have been following this blog I have to share some sad news. On April 8th I had to make the very painful decision to have my sweet Stella, mascot of this blog, put to sleep.

I adopted Stella when she was a senior – at least 8 years old, probably older – and we only had 4 1/2 years together but she was very special to me. I’ve known lots of dogs in my life but Stella was definitely the sweetest and best behaved. She actually looked like she was smiling! She had many health problems and I’m sure the care she received gave her a couple of extra years but it wasn’t just extra time – she also had a great life with me. She loved being in the car and easily adapted to new environments so she went on many vacations with me – several trips to the West coast of Florida, three trips to the North Carolina mountains, and one trip to the North Georgia mountains. She was one of the first members of the Flagler Humane Society Ambassador Dog Team and served in the PAWS to Read and Bite-Free programs for 3 1/2 years. She accompanied me when I presented SELF seminars at Christmas Come True, often serving as an “ice breaker” for people who were feeling nervous about being there. She went to the beach many times and enjoyed sitting on a bench with me at Waterfront Park just watching the world go by.

I’ve written before that I believe my Dad’s spirit brought Stella into my life at a time when I needed a friend and now I feel that Stella led me to adopting my new friend, Liberty. Many times over the last few years I considered adopting another dog and often went on rescue websites to browse but always pulled back because Stella’s medications cost $300 per month and I feared that I might end up with another dog with health problems. I also never saw a dog I was particularly drawn to. A little over a week ago I decided that I would check the websites and, if I found a dog I liked, I’d go and meet her and, if I got a good vibe, I’d adopt her. I thought it might give Stella a “second wind” to have some youthful energy around her. I checked two websites I normally went to and they didn’t have anything that attracted me so I went to a third site that somehow led me to Rescued Hearts, a rescue I had not heard of before. They only had 11 dogs that met my criteria and in that group of photos I saw a young female who reminded me of Stella. She also was described as a beagle mix with a sweet nature. I knew I had to go meet her and, when I did, I had a really good feeling about her so I adopted her. She was scheduled to be spayed that week so I couldn’t take her home right away.

Meanwhile, Stella started getting sick that weekend but, she had “48 hour” bugs several times in the past so I thought she would get over it. When I could see that she wasn’t getting better I took her to the vet. Results of blood work showed that both kidneys were failing, her white blood cell count was very high, and the beginning of a liver problem. I knew what I would have to do and I dreaded it. The way things turned out, Stella didn’t get to meet Liberty but it seems that I have been blessed with another sweet dog and I have to thank Stella for leading me to her. Liberty has only been with me for 3 days but she is settling in very nicely and the good feeling I had about her was absolutely right! We have walked each day – I’m teaching her how to walk on a leash (we’ll also be going to a basic training class) – and she greets people and other dogs much the way Stella did, with a sweet friendliness. I am amazed at how lucky I have been to find another dog who is so good-natured, likes to be in the car, doesn’t bark, and, although still quite young, is house broken and basically well-mannered. Every time I look at her I am reminded of Stella and I’m grateful for that special friendship and for the new friend she led me to.

Good girl, Stella.

Stella 3-3-13 002

Volunteer spirit

Walk onAmericans are the most generous people in the world when it comes to donating money and goods to those in need – you don’t have to take my word for it, it is well documented that we give more per capita than any other country. We also log hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours at community and charitable organizations. Recent statistics show that 83.9 million Americans volunteer and their contribution is valued at $239 billion. Volunteerism is a basic part of the fabric of American society but it is not as common in other parts of the world, especially countries where people have been conditioned to look to their government for all their needs. Americans have roots in the rich soil of independence and personal responsibility – from the first colonists, to the pioneers, to every wave of new immigrants; we have relied upon ourselves and each other for our survival. Volunteerism started with neighbors and grew through the establishment of religious, charitable and fraternal organizations and now it is just ingrained in the American character to help those in need (in this country and all over the world) and work to improve our communities. Don’t ever forget that we have an all volunteer military.

I’ve been on both sides of volunteerism – I’ve been the director of programs that rely upon the help of volunteers and I’ve been a volunteer – and one thing I have learned is the importance of understanding your reason for volunteering. People volunteer for many reasons, not all of them good. If you’re in it for your ego – you want to boss other people, show your importance, brag about how special you are, be acknowledged with awards, add to your resume – you should step back and think about your motives. I think doing the right thing for the wrong reasons is the same as doing the wrong thing. You know the old chestnut “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”. If you’re following a genuine desire to support your community or help people or animals in need then you are serving your higher self and you will get all the rewards you need. Even if you volunteer for all the right reasons, it is still important to choose the right place. Volunteering is often suggested as the perfect antidote to loneliness or boredom but you should also be sure that you choose something that speaks to your heart or captures your interest. Be true to yourself and you will be a blessing to yourself and others.

Volunteering can be a great learning experience. My first volunteer work was at a shelter for victims of domestic violence. I was a stay at home mother with a one year old baby and I wasn’t even thinking about volunteering but, one night I watched a movie on TV about domestic violence and I was so moved by it that I wrote down the 800 number that was shown at the end. I was not a victim of domestic violence, nor was anyone I knew, but my heart told me to call and ask if there was anything I could do to help. I volunteered at a shelter for the next 3 ½ years and I learned a lot about myself through helping others in need. That was 35 years ago and my experience at the shelter planted the seeds for a career in social services and also led to quite a bit of other volunteer work. I admit that there have been  times when I agreed to do volunteer work more as a favor to someone than because it spoke to my heart but I learned a lot about myself from those experiences, too.

Four years ago I listened to my heart once again and volunteered to be a dog walker at the local Humane Society. What a great feeling it was to take the dogs out of their kennels and let them enjoy being outside for a while. That’s how I met Stella! After I adopted her I wanted to do volunteer work that would include her and someone told me about a Humane Society program called Ambassador Dogs. Dogs and their owners go to the library twice a month for PAWS to Read (kids read to the dogs) and also visit nursing homes and do Bite-Free education presentations. Stella has a very sweet, calm personality and I knew she would be good with kids and other dogs so we joined the Ambassador Dogs. For more than 3 ½ years we both had a lot of fun but, sadly, we recently had to retire due to Stella’s health issues. One of the things I realized through that experience is that some day I would like to have a certified therapy dog and, because of Stella’s sweet personality and cute little beagle face, I’d like to adopt my next dog from the Beagle Freedom Project, which rescues beagles from research labs. Don’t feel sorry for Stella because she has a great life – a walk every day, lots of treats, and the most important thing, LOVE!

I knew that another volunteer opportunity would present itself in good time and I have learned how to let things come to me – quite a lesson for someone who was always so impatient. Several months ago I had a dream that I was leading a horse through a quiet meadow. I felt peaceful and happy and the dream had a feeling of positive energy that stayed with me all day. I had never dreamed of a horse before and I wondered what the meaning could be but then forgot about it. A few months later I happened to notice a little article in the local paper – I’m surprised I even noticed it – about an equestrian therapy program that was looking for volunteer horse leaders. I felt drawn to it and started to write an email, but then chickened out because I have no experience with horses. One day I suddenly had a light bulb moment and connected the dream from several months ago to the feeling I had when I read the article. I decided that this was a sign I needed to follow so I went to visit Whispering Meadows Ranch. I got a good feeling about the place, the people who operate it, and the work they are doing with disabled children so I volunteered. I’m being trained to lead a horse with a disabled child on board (as part of a 4 person team), and also how to exercise and groom a horse. I love to be around animals and I also get to be part of a program that does wonderful things for disabled children – it’s a real win-win for me.

 The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” ~ Ghandi

Stella is enjoying her retirement

Stella is enjoying her retirement

Anticipating Christmas


One of my 2013 Christmas cards – available now in my online shop at Zazzle !


Thank you, Dad

Our perfect companionsThis post is for animal lovers so; you can stop reading right now if that isn’t you! Ever since I was a little girl animals have given me so much love and happiness and I want to pay homage to my Dad for being such a great role model regarding the special relationship we can have only with our “four legged friends”.

First, a little background. Dad was born in a small town in northern England in 1923, the second of four children. His father made a living delivering coal on a residential route. In those days coal was the primary source of heat in England. My Grandad was only about 5’3” tall but was very strong as a result of shoveling and lifting heavy bags of coal. He was also responsible for collecting payment and taking orders; just like the milk man or the ice man. His “company vehicle” was a wagon and a Clydesdale horse. They belonged to the company but it was his responsibility to care for them so they were housed in a stable leased by his employer within walking distance of his house. My Grandad was also an animal lover and my Dad told me that he took great pride in grooming Daisy, the Clydesdale, just as if she were his own. Every Sunday he went to the stable and brushed her coat until she shone and combed the knots out of her mane and tail. He cleaned the leather harnesses and polished the brass. Sometimes my Dad would help him and he told me some great stories of times he spent with his father and the big, gentle horse that towered over him. There were a couple of cats living at the stable that Grandad adopted (or did they adopt him? You know how it goes with cats) and he gave them milk each morning for which they showed their appreciation by keeping the mouse population in the stable under control. My Dad said that as his father walked over a small stone bridge that led to the stable he would crack his whip and the cats would come running from their hiding places, knowing this was the signal that meant they were going to get their milk.

Growing up, my Dad’s family always had a dog and I think he felt that a house wasn’t really a home without a dog in it. My Mom likes dogs but wouldn’t have chosen to own them so this was something she had to accept when they got married because strays always seemed to find him. Even when he was stationed in India with the RAF during WWII he rescued a dog that had been savagely attacked by a monkey and nursed it back to health. Before we immigrated when I was 5 I had already had two canine companions and it wasn’t long after my parents moved into their own home in the US that Dad came home with a puppy that had been abandoned. He was a little black Cocker Spaniel named Skippy who was my companion from age 7 to 18, when he laid down in the sun on the patio for a nap and never woke up. As an only child, Skippy’s companionship was very special to me and I have happy memories of playing in the yard with him and how he good-naturedly let me put baby bonnets on his head. A few months after Skippy died Dad and I went to the mall to get a part for a TV he was fixing and came home with a Golden Retriever puppy – the first dog Dad ever paid for! – who we named Brandy. Brandy was Dad’s pride and joy and if I close my eyes I can still see them walking up the street together or Dad sitting on the back steps brushing her.

Congratulations on adopting a dog My Dad taught me that a relationship with an animal is one of responsibility because you are taking care of one of God’s creatures and they come to depend on you. He never said that to me in so many words; he just showed me by example how to treat them and care for them. He could never abide the ill-treatment of any animal and would get upset if he saw anyone hit a dog. My memories of my Dad are forever linked to the dogs we had. Right after he died I was meditating and had a clear vision of him and Brandy and I just knew their spirits were together, in fact, I’m sure all the dogs he loved have found him. I hadn’t owned a dog for many years until 2009 when I was volunteering to walk dogs at the local Humane Society and I met Stella. Just the way that happened I know my Dad’s spirit had a hand in it and the weird thing is that Stella has so many personality traits that remind me of him!

So, thank you Dad, for teaching me about loving and caring for our animal friends, for bringing the special friendship of a dog back into my life after so many years and for all the wonderful memories that I will cherish forever.


Thanksgiving 2012

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