To borrow a phrase from the Grateful Dead: “What a long strange trip it’s been.”

As you read this it has been a little over a week since our sweet 14-plus-year-old golden retriever, Tucker, “Passed Over the Rainbow Bridge” on our annual road trip to Florida via travel trailer.  

My husband, Brad and I, chose this method of travel decades ago because of the dogs.

At this stage in our lives, we are pretty experienced dog rescuers having embarked on our third journey into the world of rescuing an older male golden and giving them forever homes and they giving us unconditional love.

First came Lenny (short for Lennon as in John), then Simba and then Tucker wound his way into our hearts in January of 2011.

Tucker, we were told while visiting his foster home in Baltimore, had made his way up from Roanoke, West Virginia and was apparently on the bottom row of three high crates of rescue animals.  We later learned he was somewhat traumatized by the ordeal.

With leash in hand, we took him for a walk in the neighborhood of the foster family, but never asked if he was good in the car.  He was not. We have a travel trailer! What a long, strange trip it’s been.

During our interview as possible new masters continued, Tucker turned three times, and settled not by our feet but on our feet.  He soon became known as “The Velcro Dog” because he just wanted contact with his humans (or any humans for that matter).

We’d take him to the dog park and he’d diss the dogs and run over to get attention from the humans.  On many a walk in Fort Washington State Park, Tucker would see someone coming toward us and he’d stop in his tracks looking to be pet by the passerby.  

If someone did stop to stroke his soft light golden hair, we welcomed them into the “Suckers for Tucker” fan club.  It was always good for a laugh.

Tucker was loved and spoiled.  He even had his own credit card that helped with no interest charges we put on it for two surgeries and a variety of veterinary visits, meds and lotions and potions over the years.  It’s a shame we didn’t get bonus points. But Tucker was our bonus as we received paybacks daily in the form of loyalty, companionship and tail wags.

With some hesitation about the long journey to Florida considering Tucker’s age, arthritis and general geriatric ailments, we left Flourtown later this year in order to attend a Celebration of Life in North Carolina for cousin Linda Sue Lusen, a horse and pet lover.  Linda was born on the same day in the same hospital as Brad. We figured a stop for two nights in North Carolina would break up the trip for all of us.

I can tell you we had “no regrets” delaying our journey as we caught up with Linda’s four older brothers, their spouses and extended family the night before for a casual dinner.  The following day we were honored to be part of a loving ceremony with friends, family and Linda’s co-workers who all brought along some homemade dishes of food of every kind. There was a separate bar set up for those who wished to do a shot of tequila from one of the many shot glasses Linda collected during her 68 years on this planet.  Tucker made an appearance at the end of the event and was warmly welcomed.

As we made our way into Florida the next day, Tucker (and I) suffered gastrointestinal issues.  Not fun for anyone.

“Had someone fed him some fried chicken under the table?” I wondered. “Or was it just that the long ride had taken a toll on everyone.”

I took Imodium and we found the lovely Dr. Jeffrey Slade at Sebastian Animal Hospital where a caring staff assessed Tucker’s condition.

Blood work was done and his white blood cell count was high, indicating he had an infection.  Our sweet boy was given IV fluids and a host of meds and we took our tired, gentle soul back to the campground for 48-hours of intensive caregiving.  Tucker was mostly not a happy camper.

We did get Tucker in the water at Sebastian Inlet twice during this time, and took him back to the vet for a follow-up visit and another IV infusion to keep him hydrated.  That was Saturday. By Monday I was calling to see if we might visit earlier on Tuesday to explore our options. The receptionist offered that if our intention was to ‘put him down’ we could come late that afternoon.  Brad was not ready. He needed more time to say goodbye.

By Tuesday morning, March 5th, our pack knew what the true option was – to help get Tucker over the Rainbow Bridge.  Pronto!

We wrapped Tucker in his favorite blanket and two men in the campground helped us lift Tucker into the truck to his date with destiny.

Instead of carrying him into a sterile examination room, we laid him on the back lawn where vet tech Rhonda and two other workers treated us all with dignity and respect.  Huddled on the lawn with blue skies above we said our finale goodbyes and gave our tuckered out friend permission to leave his loving masters. Snipping a lock of his nearly white hair, I said a prayer asking Linda to meet him on the other side of the bridge and pull him over.   He was gone rather suddenly.

Shedding tears of relief as much as sorrow, I quietly looked up to the clouds that had gathered and mouthed the words “thank you” to Linda Sue for helping pull him over and greeting him and helping him to make a transition to a world where there was only beauty and no more pain.  His suffering was over. Ours was just beginning.

We cried, then called and texted close family and friends.  We mourned, we held each other, we hugged, we walked in circles and somewhere along the way we healed.  

I did not post our news to Facebook until three full days later and the most poignant message came from a friend who said, “he was such a gentleman” and indeed, he was a gentle soul.   

We opened this gift of a rescued dog every morning and cherished him as he did us unconditionally.  

In the end, we gave him ‘the gift’ we could not give my mother or father, or Linda Sue – a hand in helping take them to a better place where there is no pain and only peace, joy and love.  
Flourtown resident Barbara Sherf is co-author of a horse memoir with her late father titled, “Cowboy Mission: The Best Sermons are Lived…not Preached.” This article is excerpted from her next book titled Golden Gifts: Lessons from The Dogs Who Rescued Me.  Barb can be reached at CaptureLifeStories@gmail.com, through her website www.CommunicationsPro.com or Facebook.com/BarbaraSherf.

read more

Pulitzer Prize winner, ex-Hiller, reflects on career

by Barbara Sherf

Famed Philadelphia Daily News and Philadelphia Inquirer political cartoonist Signe Wilkinson was the first female political cartoonist to receive the Pulitzer Prize, which was awarded in 1992. These days, though, Wilkinson is more interested in learning how to navigate her 9-month-old granddaughter’s SUV-sized stroller along Philly’s none-too-even sidewalks.

The Center City resident, who lived in Chestnut Hill from 1985 to 2006, has raised two “perfect” daughters with her husband, Jon Landau, an immigration attorney, and now helps to care for her first “perfect” grandchild. These are among the major life feats that give her the most pride.

When asked her age and home town, Signe said she was “a baby boomer born in Wichita Falls, Texas.” Sometimes ideas for her political cartoons, which appear on Philly.com as well as in print, come to her while she rows on the Schuylkill River. But more often it is while she reads three newspapers and a myriad of websites each morning that ideas occur. After sketching several ideas, she runs her favorites by editors and then hits the drawing board, literally.


read more

Board chairperson arrested in protest at PECO: Hill Friends’ author can teach you all about ‘Activism’

by Barbara Sherf

For the fifth time since the 2016 presidential election, award-winning author of three books, nationally recognized speaker, and 25-year activist Eileen Flanagan will be offering another online course in May titled “We Were Made for this Moment: Finding Your Role in Strategic Activism.”

Flanagan, a member of Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting, currently resides in East Falls with her husband, their dog, Spud, and “the stuff our two kids left behind when they went to college.”

A graduate of Duke and Yale Universities, Flanagan considers herself a lifelong learner from her writing, speaking, activism, weekly walks in the Wissahickon Valley and gardening. Flanagan is on a mission to help people make their activism more effective and spiritually grounded through her online courses.


read more

Wyndmoor therapist dealing with 50 years of seizures

by Barbara Sherf

Grace Moses, 63, has had epilepsy since she was 13. “It was awful as a teenager trying to balance out the meds, having seizures in front of friends and just not knowing when one was coming,” said the Wyndmoor resident. “Eventually, I was able to control the seizures and for many years have had seizures irregularly.”

That was until five years ago, when she had five seizures in one day. Moses, who received her master’s degree in occupational therapy from Philadelphia University and had been working as a hand therapist at the Upper Extremity Institute (in Blue Bell) for five years, then began to experience life “on the other side” – as a patient.


read more

Shell-shocked by election? ‘Make America Kind Again!’

by Barbara Sherf

Labcorp Technician Kathy Moody and Chestnut Hill resident Laura Flandreau are all smiles after receiving their free hugs.

Labcorp Technician Kathy Moody and Chestnut Hill resident Laura Flandreau are all smiles after receiving their free hugs.

My husband and I traveled to our ‘happy place’ in mid-October, a week before my father passed away and three weeks before the presidential election. Instead of telling people I was going on vacation, I used the term “retreat” as I wanted to tune out the nasty news cycles, get back to nature and pre-mourn my father’s pending death.

Walking along the beach of Assateague Island in Maryland, where the wild horses roam, I started looking for seashells; however due to the ravages of Hurricane Michael, what I found were simply shards of shells.

Now that my father has passed away and as my way of dealing with the election results, I now take these remaining shell shards around with me wearing my “Make American Kind Again” button that Mt. Airy Dumpster Diver artist Ellen Benson made, and I hold a handmade “FREE HUGS” sign, doubling down on kindness.

Last Friday I gave and received 12 hugs in 15 minutes at the LabCorp facility in Wyndmoor. Chestnut Hill resident Laura Flandreau and technician Kathy Moody were the first two to receive the free hugs.

“We don’t get enough hugs. It was wonderful, warm and a great way to start the day,” said Moody as a fellow technician liked the idea but had “a thing with personal space.”  I respected that.

“It was a wonderful brightening up of my day,” echoed Flandreau as I hugged her and each person in the waiting room. Nobody declined.

From there I went to Camden in an attempt to probate my father’s will. Turns out I was in the wrong county, but along the way I met a bus full of blind people who asked for and received more than one hug.

Walking up to the burly security guards at the courthouse, one looked at the sign and acquiesced. “Sure, we can all use hugs,” said Bob Fenton as his co-workers lined up behind him for more hugs.

Smokers outside of the building received hugs; a hot dog vendor received a hug; construction workers received hugs; a woman in a wheelchair, members of the Hispanic, African American and Caucasian populations gave and received hugs. Children with mucus running down their little noses got and received hugs. A man coming out of Wawa who initially declined because he was sick broke down and agreed to a hug. Even the gas station attendant, with the heavy smell of petroleum on him, took two hugs and vowed to make a sign of his own.

Of all four dozen prospective huggers, there was just one man who outwardly declined.

“I’d rather have a gun,” he said as he hopped into his pickup truck and sped off.

As I gave and received the hugs, I whispered “Make American Kind Again.”

“Amen” was the word most responded with.

When I finally got to the right building and department for surrogate court, the security guard, the receptionist and my contact for the will, Ameenah Rasheed, wearing a Muslim head covering, gave and received hugs.

As Rasheed proceeded to look at the paperwork, a look of concern came over her face. She explained that since I had my father’s mailing address changed to mine several years ago, the will needed to be processed in Norristown, Montgomery County, a mere 20 minutes from our Flourtown home, even though he was living in South Jersey at the time of his death.

“I’m so sorry you had to come all of this way,” she apologized.

“I’m not,” I responded. “The people in Camden welcomed me with open arms, and in no way was this a wasted trip.”

On Saturday I proceeded to do the “free hugs” thing at the Chestnut Hill Library and to the five attendees of the Patchwork Storytelling Guild.

“My reaction was mixed,” said Ray Tackett of Germantown. “I thought it was a sweet idea, but some could consider you a weirdo. I liked that it was relatively spontaneous, and I didn’t have to think too much about the decision as you walked toward me with the sign and open arms.”

Later in the afternoon I made my way to Germantown to sit with a dozen area residents at a post-election support group for individuals having difficulty dealing with the election results. Claudia Apfelbaum of ClaudiaListens.me, a Germantown-based psychotherapist specializing in healing from personal and interpersonal trauma, led a workshop called “A Time of Mourning.”

She said that many people are experiencing fear and despair since the election. Apfelbaum suggests that doing progressive things together with others is a major way of combatting the fear and feelings of isolation. “I am encouraging people to put their energy out there in a positive way, whether it’s taking up a cause, being creative or simply being kind to another.”

As I got back in the car, I looked again at the dwindling number of shell shards and again saw the beauty in their imperfections. May we all see the beauty in our imperfections and in this imperfect world.

Barbara Sherf can be reached at 215-990-9317 or Barb@CommunicationsPro.com.

ORIGINAL SOURCE: Chestnuthilllocal.com

read more

‘Free hug mobster’ spreading love in Hill and suburbs

by Barbara Sherf

J. William Baxter of Glenside receives hugs from Barbara Sherf at Trader Joe’s.

J. William Baxter of Glenside receives hugs from Barbara Sherf at Trader Joe’s.

For those of you who missed my Dec. 8 article about using kindness as my form of activism and carrying a “free hugs” sign around wherever I go, let me share where the idea came from:

My therapist, Edie Weinstein, suggested this idea to me at one of our sessions.

Following the death of my father and the elections, I saw a clear need to get back into therapy, and I’m told that the mental health business is booming right now.

Weinstein started doing the free hugs thing on Valentines’ Day weekend of 2014.

“I brought a group of friends to 30th Street Station for a Free Hugs Flash Mob,” said Weinstein, who had a heart attack in June, 2014. “Our intention was for people to remember that every day is a good one to express love. We walked around the train station for an hour or so and hugged a few hundred people between the 12 of us. Friends started calling us ‘Hug Mobsters.’

“Shortly afterward, in the midst of cardiac rehab, I ‘took it on the road,’ so to speak, since walking was part of my recovery and I realized that hugs are heart-healthy, not just for the cardiac muscle, but for the common emotional heart we all share. Since then, I have done Free Hugs events in the Philly area, as well as D.C. I hugged people on Election Day and several times post-election. I have done them at parades, community gatherings, festivals and rallies, as well as nursing homes and in the Phoenix airport while waiting for a plane.”

I too keep my “Free Hugs” sign in the car, but one difference is that as I give and receive hugs, I whisper “Make America Kind Again.” Those four little words, placed on a button made by Mt. Airy artist Ellen Benson, have opened up arms and conversations.

At Harston Hall, a nursing home in Flourtown where my neighbor Ginny Ashenfelter is, the free hugs turned into a support group meeting with a half dozen mostly African American men. Bruce Nichols, 61, a permanent resident there, lost his mother around the same time I lost my father in October, so we have a special bond. “I think you’re on the right track with the hugs,” said Nichols.

I sat with him for a half hour or so and let him visit with our dog, Tucker, a sweet golden retriever whose age we guess is 12 and who I fear will pass over the Rainbow Bridge soon. “He’s a sweet boy. I love animals and hugs, so you pretty well made my day, my week, my life,” Nichols exclaimed.

I then proceeded to hug another two dozen patients and staff members within the facility and enjoyed a visit with Mrs. Ashenfelter, former owner of The Happy Butterfly store in Chestnut Hill. “Thank you for the hug, and thank you for coming,” said Ashenfelter, noting that she had few visitors and would welcome visits from area residents who knew her. “People say they’ll get in to visit, but they don’t. Everyone’s too busy. We need more hugs.”

I received a free hug from a Muslim African American woman I’ll call Mina who did not want to be identified for security reasons. “I have no fear,” she said. “It’s all in God’s hands. People don’t understand how we are all interconnected in this universe. People should learn to treat each other with kindness and respect more, and your idea of the ‘free hugs’ sign just kind of put it in their face.”

She shared with me that the issue of racism is not new and that the idea of Donald Trump in the White House is something she has come to accept. “We’ve fought the fight before, and still there is evil among us. There is greed and superiority and sexism added to the mix, and it is painful at times to watch … I’ve learned to love people, even the ugly side, and also take pity on them … I won’t walk in fear.”

As I sat in the meeting room at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church before my “A Course on Love” book discussion group, a man from Tibet, Sonam Kun Tso, saw my sign, and we exchanged hugs and ideas. I had seen this landscaper/handyman on several occasions but never connected with him until he saw the sign.

My “Free Hugs” sign is getting a bit tattered since I hugged 100 seniors at a Holiday Concert at the Center on the Hill in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill last Thursday. Geneva Ashworth of Mt. Airy was there and initially didn’t recognize me as I was giving out free hugs at the Trader Joe’s in Abington the following day. “I just received a hug yesterday, but I’ll take another,” said Ashworth.

Over the weekend I hit the Flourtown Giant, Dollar Store, Hallmark store and even the Planet Fitness gym. “Oh I’m too sweaty,” said Jane Prosser of Lafayette Hill. “I am too; let’s hug,” I responded, and we did hug.

Flourtown resident Barbara Sherf can be reached at 215-990-9317, or visit her blog at CommunicationsPro.com. She is looking to sit down and have a conversation with a Trump supporter to better understand her fellow humans. 

ORIGINAL SOURCE: ChestnutHillLocal.com

read more