It's a funny thing, when you foster dogs. Sometimes, you give a dog a name that doesn't quite fit, and you're not sure why. And other times, a dog shows you who she is immediately, and her name reveals itself. And there's a funnier thing too, that happens when that dog is adopted. Every single time, without fail, I ask the adoptive family whether they've kept the dog's name, or changed it. And they always keep the names that felt right, and they always change the names that don't. THAT's when I know that a dog is at home.
As a matter of fact, I accidentally kept calling one of our fosters, Annie, "Bella," even though that wasn't her name. I never mentioned this to anyone. Sure enough, when Annie went home, and I asked the family if she had a new name, they said, "Yes. She's Bella." And I had tears and goosebumps. Because, yes. She was Bella. And she always had been. I should have listened to her a little more closely.
Hope's name situation was exactly the opposite. Even though our family had just fostered a litter of three puppies (and decided to keep one), I felt pulled to open our home to another dog. Something about just having lost my soul dog, Hannah, very suddenly to cancer, had me feeling desperate to keep busy. To keep giving. Rehabilitating. Hannnah and I were both messes when she came into my life, and together, we rehabilitated one another. The empty hole in my heart that was left behind by Hannah told me I needed to keep saving dogs - not for the dogs, necessarily, but because the dogs who are saved do an excellent job of unassumingly and unexpectedly saving their humans.
So when the rescue group showed me a photo of an emaciated fawn dog, and I looked into her eyes, I said, without hesitation, "Send her to me." She had such hope in her eyes.
This is what she looked like when she came to us:
My oldest daughter, Madeline, and I took one look into her eyes in that photo, and I'm not sure who said her name first. The word was just kind of present with us, in the room, and one of us mouthed the word, "Hope." And that was it.
Over time, Hope became Hopey-Datta-Dooder-Dee and Hopey-Wan-Kenobi. But there was always Hope mixed in with the silliness.
There was a lot of work to be done before we could enjoy that level of silliness, however.
When we picked Hope up from transport van, at a shady rest area in New Jersey, she was a wild beast. All love, but wild. I'm glad I held on tightly to her leash, because she spun around like crazy, having almost no leash manners at all.
When she got in the car, she was overjoyed. In fact, she had a nasty case of "Happy Tail," where her tail, only bones and a little bit of fur, wagged so hard that it smacked against the car doors, car seats, humans, you name it! Since there was no fat for patting, she actually splattered blood all over the car. (That's okay, because my energy goes to nice dogs and nice cameras. Not nice cars. Then again, one day a car that doesn't make funny noises like it's going to crap out any second will be a luxury.)
So anyway, it wasn't until I got Hope home, and in the bath, that I realized just how skinny she was. When I gently sprayed water over her back, it pooled in the huge, empty space that was between her bony shoulder blades.
With Hope clean and smelling tolerable, I brought her into my son's room. (He is the ambassador for all rescued dogs. The gentle, unassuming spirit who, just by being who he is, brings every fearful dog I've ever seen around, to give humans just one more chance.)
There, although her tail was a bloody stump on the end - sore and bony, Hope laid down and allowed us to bandage her. She actually fell asleep, knowing, I'm assuming, that she was finally safe and cared for, despite the pain that she was in.
Apparently, Hope was used to pain and starvation. As the story goes, she had been left outside, down south, with 5 other dogs, to fight over whatever little food they had. I believe their owner was arrested for cruelty, but I'm not too sure about that. Hope and one other dog was saved. The other three died. But I'm not too sure about that, either.
So Hope's first day turned into Hope's first night, and with a few hiccups, like going after our dog, Louie, at first, Hope very gradually morphed into a gorgeous, confident, healthy family dog. A dog whose happy tail had to be amputated because she never rested it from wagging. Her happiness prevented her from healing, which is an odd thing, that I've never witnessed in another living being.
Hope learned that we don't go after the people or dogs who are trying to help us. We don't hurt others. We don't take without giving. We mirror the love we receive. We give back. We move forward, side-by-side. Here are Hope and Louie after some gradual, careful, work to get them to live peacefully together. (Click here for more of my experience with moving forward.)
She had a two potential adopters meet her, and I turned them both down. One was a beautiful family whose youngest child was just a bit too much for any dog at the time, although Hope tolerated her excited, loving energy beautifully, and one was a dear friend whose backyard fence was way too low. (Hope, in a single bound, can jump over a 5-foot fence without effort.)
The rescue group asked me to take professional photos of Hope. So my youngest daughter and I went out and did a two-minute shoot. This is what we got:
When I saw these photos, with Hope, shining more brightly than even the light above her, I knew she had fully evolved. I knew she was ready. I knew her family would find her soon.
Sure enough, shortly after this photo was taken, I heard from the rescue group that there was an application in for Hope. I received some emails from Crystal, Hope's applicant, and she asked all the right questions about Hope, and Hope's care. :)
That day, I knew Hope had to meet Crystal and her family. (It's a funny thing, when you foster...or at least when I do. Once you know a dog has found her home, you need to get her there quickly, before you start thinking too hard about what life here will be like without her. You have to focus on getting her where she belongs, not on what you wish could be.)
So I pulled my middle guy, Ryan, the ambassador out of school early. Cause when he's the one who brought the dog around, lessons like how to tune into another living being, and how to say, "goodbye" trump just about anything he could have been learning in a classroom on that sunny afternoon.
Here are Ryan and me, saying goodbye:
Sure enough, the second I arrived, and I saw Hope's yard, and her family, and her home, I knew she was where she needed to be. It's a funny thing, when you foster, and you want what's best for a dog. And for a long time, you are absolutely IT. THE best thing for a dog. And then, in a flash of a moment, you are not the best thing any more, and all you want, is for that dog to be where she belongs. HOME.
So I drove off to a nice little restaurant down the shore and treated myself to a glass of chardonnay and some kind of seafood. I can't remember now, except that it was delicious. I celebrated me, and the work my family had done, and most of all I celebrated Hope. Even though I was no longer fostering Hope, I was fostering hope.... Hope for a new beginning for more dogs.
Sure enough, when I followed up with Hope's family, and asked if they'd changed her name, they said, "No. She's Hope.
Because my life's story (and, yes, I'm writing a book) can be woven together by a thread of dogs who have come and gone and left their legacies with me, Hope gave me the confidence to ask for what I needed. And I started Hannah's Haven, with Hope as my cover girl. And Hannah's Haven allowed me to foster Sheba, a disabled dog who, to this day, has no place else to go. (Click here for Sheba's story...I'm still fostering hope for Sheba!)
(If you're reading this, can you help?)
P.S. Here's the kind of stuff I hear from Hope's mom, Crystal, these days:
"It's super late and I'm sorry but I was looking at your adorable pics of the dogs you've taken in and would like to personally thank you again. Thank you for all you do for these dogs. Specially and obviously Hope. But for every dog. These dogs don't have voices with out you and what you do is honorable and amazing. Also if you ever have time, I know you write a lot. I'd love to hear your version of hopes story. Xoxo thank you."
^And that, is why I'm sharing Hope's story today, and why I will continue, always, to foster Hope.