Debbie LaChusa

I Found Hope on the Internet. She’s been my refuge ever since.

Hope, my golden retriever, at nine months old

I walk downstairs and into the kitchen. My husband is sitting at the table with his laptop open and a big smile on his face. As I enter the room, he swings the computer around. A cherubic golden face fills the screen.

“Oh my God,” I say. “It’s Hope!”

My husband looks at me, puzzled.

“Oh, I didn’t tell you what happened on my run yesterday,” I say.

Three days earlier, I’d lost my best friend, Maverick.

Maverick was my dog. At nearly thirteen years old, the signs had been there for months. The vet had warned us, don’t wait too long. Maverick was ready — I could see it in his eyes — but I wasn’t.

We found Maverick in front of a Petco store a few days after saying goodbye to our previous pup. There he was, a little brown and black mutt, peering out from inside a shiny metal X-pen set up by a local dog rescue. I hadn’t gone there to get a puppy but rather to get a puppy fix. We were leaving on vacation in a few days. It made no sense to get a dog until after we got back.

I sat outside Petco, cuddling the pup for about an hour, trying to convince my husband this was our next dog. Eventually, I wore him down. We took Maverick home that afternoon.

Maverick was my constant companion and the first dog I truly became attached to.

As trite as it sounds, he was my heart dog.

So, in a weird, rather twisted way, I suppose it was fitting we said goodbye just after Valentine’s Day. Driving home from the Humane Society, where we let go of Maverick in the most compassionate, respectful way possible, all I could feel was the gaping hole in my heart. Yes, we had another dog at home — Cheyenne, a chow-chow — but she’d always been more my husband’s dog.

Three days after losing Maverick, I was out running when the name Hope popped into my head, accompanied by a vision of a puppy.

I always knew I’d get another dog once Maverick was gone, so I wasn’t all that surprised.

I’d been keeping an eye on the local golden retriever rescue website — we were pretty sure Maverick was part golden and he’d caused me to fall in love with the breed. I was hoping to find a male, a couple of years old and past the challenging puppy stage.

Because I wanted a male dog, and Hope is clearly a female name, I dismissed the thought, finished my run, and didn’t mention it to my husband.

Until the next morning when I came downstairs and saw that little golden face staring back at me from my husband’s laptop on the kitchen table.

After sharing my vision of Hope with my husband, we got in the car and drove for over an hour to meet her.

As we walked into the breeder’s house, there she was — the last remaining puppy from the litter — inside an X-pen, peering up at me just like Maverick had all those years ago. And, just like with Maverick, I knew immediately she was our next dog.

What I didn’t know was how much she’d live up to her name.

I got my first glimpse four months later.

Dad loved dogs, and he especially loved Hope.

He would regularly drop by my house, unannounced, to visit. I suspect he wanted to see Hope as much if not more than he wanted to see me.

Dad had heart surgery when Hope was six months old. When he came home from the hospital, I took Hope over to see him. I can still picture them sitting together on the patio, big toothy grins on both of their faces.

Hope, my golden retriever at six months old, visiting my dad after heart surgery
My golden retriever, Hope, at six months old, visiting Dad after heart surgery

That visit with Dad is what inspired me to begin doing volunteer pet therapy. A decision that turned out to be a godsend, not only for all the people Hope has blessed over the past eight years but also for me.

Burned out and in need of a break from my work, taking Hope into the community to visit with people facing challenges larger than my own gave me a great big whopping dose of perspective. Our daily pet therapy visits became a necessary and helpful distraction.

In helping others, Hope was helping me.

She also helped my son.

It began when I noticed he was holing up in his room more than usual. We rarely saw him, and when we did, his head was down and he was scurrying off to school, work, or back to his room. As a college freshman, I figured he was busy with classes, schoolwork, and his part-time job, like a typical teen.

But when he brought home his first report card, I knew something was wrong. My straight-A high schooler was failing. When I approached him about it, he fessed up. He was completely overwhelmed by college. He didn’t want to go to class. It gave him immense anxiety. So he’d disconnected. From school, from us, from life.

Thankfully he agreed to counseling. Afraid to leave him alone, I stayed home for an entire year while he struggled. Never one to sleep on our beds, Hope took to sleeping on his. If I couldn’t find her, I’d peek in his room, and there she’d be, curled up on the end of his bed. Keeping watch. Offering comfort. Helping him heal.

When Hope was nine months old, we lost our other dog, Cheyenne.

I came downstairs one morning and saw her lying on the patio. She usually slept in the house. I opened the sliding glass door. She didn’t move. I walked over to her. She didn’t lift her head. That’s when I realized she was dead.

Two dogs gone in less than a year.

Thankfully, I still had Hope.

Five months later, our next dog found us.

Chance was a five-year-old golden-chow mix being fostered by a member of our local golden retriever group. Unbeknownst to them, he did not get along with cats and began terrorizing theirs as soon as they brought him home. They were desperate to re-home him.

I was sitting on the patio, enjoying the warm sunshine after completing my morning run, when the email about Chance arrived. Even though I wasn’t looking for another dog, something about the message grabbed me. Perhaps it was the fact he was part golden, part chow — a mix of the two dogs I’d recently lost. Or, maybe it was the pleading tone of the email. I felt the pull, and it was strong.

We put Hope in the car and drove out to meet Chance. By the end of the day, the local rescue had fast-tracked the adoption process, and Chance and all his baggage were ours. We spent months helping him get over severe separation anxiety. We stopped going to the dog park because when he felt threatened by other dogs, he got aggressive. Despite his challenging behavior, he burrowed deep into my heart.

Nine months later, just as he was relaxing into life with us, Chance unexpectedly passed away.

It was Saturday. I was in my home office, finishing up a project when I heard a sharp wail emanating from the family room. I jumped up from my desk and hurried into the next room. Chance was lying on the floor, motionless and moaning. I yelled for my husband, we scooped up Chance and raced him to the emergency vet. After a quick exam and ultrasound, we were informed he had hemorrhaged and was bleeding internally. There was nothing they could do.

Three dogs gone in two years.

My heart was shattered.

But thankfully, I still had Hope.

It’s been ten years since Hope came into my life.

With her muzzle now covered in white fur, I affectionately call her Sugar Face. For a decade, she’s embodied her moniker, infusing me, my family, and total strangers with a knowing that everything will be okay. In her warm, unconditionally loving company, it’s nearly impossible to feel anything else.

Hope: the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best.

Hope, aka Sugar Face, my ten-year-old golden retriever, sleeping on her bed
Ten-year-old Hope, aka Sugar Face, sleeping on her bed

At some point every day, I’ll glance over to find Hope sitting nearby and gazing up at me with her deep, soulful eyes. I know what she wants. It’s become routine after so many years.

“Do you want a hug?” I ask as I walk over to where she’s sitting. I crouch down on the floor directly in front of her, and she nestles her head into my chest. Heart to heart, we sit there together, hugging.

I love my husband. I love my kids. I love my parents, my siblings, and my grandson. With all my heart.

But my love for Hope feels different.

Maybe because we work so closely together doing pet therapy. Maybe because she’s seen me through so much loss, disappointment, and pain. Or maybe, because her name, which preceded her arrival in my life, was truly an inspiration handed down from some higher power. And she chose to become that which she is called.

I sometimes joke with Hope that she must promise to never leave me. At the same time I know that, of course, she will. Dogs don’t live nearly long enough.

So I remind myself to enjoy her each and every day. I’m grateful for all the gifts she’s given me. And I resolve to always hang onto hope, no matter what.

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