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Happy the Golden Jam Spreads Compassion and Medical Care to Shelter Dogs

For 23 years I have regarded my orchard in Malibu as a gift, one to be shared and enjoyed.

The orchard is nestled in a ravine, a hundred meters from the sea and is protected from the salt air by a stand of mature avocado trees. Despite its proximity to the ocean mist, the orchard thrives.

For over two decades, it has been a source of pride and joy.

I visit the orchard nearly every day. In winter, the trees are resplendent with navel oranges, Meyer lemons, and sweet grapefruit; in spring, the apple trees bloom; in summer, crows haunt the orchard from their eucalyptus perches, dive bombing and poaching the ripening guavas and figs.

At the change of seasons, we harvest baskets of fruit and give them to friends and neighbors. In fall, ever since September 11, my children and I deliver apple pies to our first responders at Station 71, the fire station at the end of the street.

The Malibu Pie Festival arrives in October. For years my apple pies have won Blue Ribbons. The apples are extraordinary. I freeze pies for Thanksgiving, my annual feast at the beach. From the oranges and lemons, I make juice. We cook with the figs or gift them to friends.

However, until recently, despite the efforts to mitigate food waste, we composted more than our family could consume or donate. There is simply so much fruit.

During the years of drought, I felt particularly guilty about the excess fruit and the water consumption. Turning off the water to the orchard seemed like a viable option, but losing the orchard was a distressing thought.

So in December of 2013, I reduced the watering to half of what it had been.

During the holidays that year, my then 12-year-old twins and I discussed adopting a dog as a companion for our seven-year-old Golden Retriever, Happy. Two months later, on Valentine’s Day in 2014, we drove to the Lancaster Animal Shelter, to meet a female collie shepherd whom I had seen on the LA County Animal Care website.

In the photo online, this lovely girl sat smiling at the camera.

It was a good sign, I thought. She hadn’t been at the shelter for long.

When we arrived at Lancaster, I queried about the dog on the website. An attendant directed us to Building 3.

Lancaster Animal Shelter is one of a handful of no-kill shelters operating in Los Angeles County. It is also one of the most overcrowded.

Outside of Building 3, the deafening sound of barking dogs alerted us to the mayhem within. I coaxed my children inside, past the dozens of kennels, past a Boxer, a Dalmatian, two German Shepherds, a litter of Chihuahuas and a young Black lab with a nasty ocular hemangioma, all pleading for our attention.

My children became emotional.

Some dogs panted and paced in their 4×3 ft cages; others lunged at us. Sadly, others appeared to have lost hope. They neither rose nor barked but lay withdrawn in their concrete cells.

Such was the condition of our dog’s roommate.

In a kennel on the right, about a quarter of the way along, we found the dog we came to meet. She rose with a limp and greeted us. Through the cage, we noticed the metal staple in her right shoulder. She was wall eyed and her right ear palsied.

The attendant offered we spend time with her outside, away from the commotion.

“Why is she here?” I puzzled.

He shrugged. “Dunno,” he said. “Owner surrender. Twice.”

My twelve-year-old son wiped a tear from his eye.

My daughter pleaded, “Please mommy, Can’t we take her?”

Yes, we adopted her. She was perfect. On the way home, we named her “Hope.”

In the days and weeks that followed, I reflected often about the dogs still at the shelter. I worried about their fate and what would become of them. Would the Black Labrador with the hemangioma be adopted? Would he be put down because his medical needs could not be met? There must be tens of thousands of dogs like him, I thought.

At home, Happy, our Golden Retriever, greeted us. Predictably, she and Hope became instant friends , but their differences were obvious. Hope had not spent time indoors nor had she seen grass, or been up a flight of stair. However, from Happy, she learned the ropes and learned quickly.

Over the next few weeks, Hope began to relax. She didn’t mind walking on the grass or on the sand at the beach, and she enjoyed her baths in the beach cabana. After a few months, she followed Happy into the ocean for a dip.

The following winter season brought another abundance of citrus fruit. My friend and former Head Chef of the renowned Bistro and Bistro Garden restaurants, Gilles Dirat, stopped by. Gilles gathered a basket of navel oranges from the orchard and whipped up a batch of his grandmother’s French Orange Marmalade in my kitchen. It was the most delicious marmalade I had ever experienced, a perfect blend of Malibu meets the French Riviera.

We began to produce the jam with the bounty of fruit in the orchard. This mitigated part of the issue of food waste – one of the major contributors to global warming. For me, that checked one box.

Once again I thought about the black lab at the Lancaster Shelter. I wanted to do more. It seemed producing jams may provide an opportunity to help dogs like him.

I decided that part of the profits from Happy the Golden Jam would provide medical care for homeless animals. For thousands of dogs, this may mean the difference between euthanisation and finding a home.

For me, this became the most rewarding part of producing Happy the Golden Jams.

In 2016 friends insisted we sell the jams and by 2017 jam production was in fully swing.

Neighbors stopped by and carried caseloads of jam from my kitchen, and Pacific Coast Greens, our local Malibu market, placed the first order.

The orchard remains among my greatest sources of pride and joy. I visit it every day and watch it change with the seasons. I am so grateful for its abundance, perhaps now more than ever.

Happy the Golden Jam is dedicated to Happy and Hope and dogs everywhere who inspire us with their compassion and acceptance. We have much to learn from them.

Happy the Golden Jam… spread the compassion.

For more information about Happy the Golden Jam, go to

This essay was featured in the Sept. 23rd edition of The Sunday Paper, Maria Shriver’s free weekly newsletter for people with passion and purpose. To get inspiring and informative content like this piece delivered straight to your inbox each Sunday morning, click here to subscribe.