Today I took the dogs to Glenhighland Farm. It has been nearly 5 years since my last visit. GHF is a special place for me. Actually it’s a special place full stop. But it served an integral role in helping me heal after losing Jake six years ago.

When Jake died I wanted to keep border collies in my life but wasn’t ready to commit my heart fully to another dog. That’s when I discovered rescue. For me, rescue was a perfect outlet for my love, pain and passion. I could help dogs, spend time with them, pet them, love them, but not feel like I was replacing Jake by bringing one into my home permanently. I wasn’t ready for that for nearly a year after his death.

I had been living in Boston at the time and found GHF as the closest rescue I could volunteer at on-site. I wanted to work specifically with border collies, and I also found myself far too emotional to work at shelters where dogs stayed in little cages nearly 24 hours a day, waiting to be adopted or to die. The farm website made it out to be more of a sanctuary, some place dogs came to escape abandonment, danger and pain, and were allowed to heal and to find their path forward. It seemed ideal to me, but could it be as wonderful as the website made it out to be? I felt I had to go in person and find out.

Within moments of arriving, it was clear that GHF was everything its website makes it out to be, and more. Much more. The internet cannot capture its special magic, the sense of peace and sanctuary it projects, for both people and dogs. It is a place of deep healing.

Not long after I arrived, an SUV pulled up with several new dogs, freshly pulled from shelters in New York City. The first one brought out had a bandaged front leg. I was asked to hold onto his leash while they took care of the others – this little broken pup was going to the infirmary. I stood there holding his leash and talking to him quietly while others managed the three or four other dogs being unloaded. Suddenly a pointy nose pushed open the barn door, which had been left just lightly ajar, and out poured a dozen more dogs. Someone pointed at the dog who’s leash I was holding and yelled “pick him up!!” I momentarily thought to myself “I hope he doesn’t bite!” and scooped the injured bundle of black fuzz into my arms.

He did not bite. Instead, he snuggled into my arms as if he’d been there all his life. After the other dogs were quickly rounded up and put away, the founder of the farm came up to me, nodded towards the dog in my arms, and said “This one I’m going to call Ross.”

It was a year before I was to bring Ross home, a story I will tell at a later date. But when I finally signed those adoption papers, the only stipulation of the contract was that I bring him back for a visit. Nearly five years later, I finally made good on my promise.

I’d waited this long for several reasons, the main one being that I now live nearly 9 hours from the farm and haven’t had any reason to travel that way since bringing him home. The other reason is that Ross gets very stressed when brought to new homes or places that have a lot of dogs. I am Ross’s fourth known home, and prior to coming into rescue he spent weeks in a concrete cell in a shelter, injured and without proper medical attention. I assume that his fear stems from post traumatic stress. But Ross has been doing much, much better this last year or so, and since we were already in Ithaca, I decided it was time.

Ross was indeed very worried when we returned to the farm. When we pulled up, he immediately started shaking all over. I explained to him (for the 20th time) that we were just visiting and that he would be coming home with me. I let him out of the car with the girls and we went in for our visit. It was great to catch up and to see everything that has changed – new buildings and new ideas. The girls had a blast; Ross frothed and drooled and stayed more or less glued to my leg. Interestingly, every time someone would open the main gate, he’d rush over to see who’d arrived. Nearly 5 years away, and he still knew the sound of the gate (the girls paid no attention to it).

Once we were finished visiting, I took the dogs for a hike around the farm’s beautiful 175 acres of fields and forest. This is where the magic lies thick and deep. The sun came out, and even Ross forgot to worry as the dogs ran their hearts out and I slowly wandered along, soaking it all in.