I returned home to Western North Carolina just in time to let my girl go. When she let me know it was time I packed all my things and drove straight home. Philadelphia to WNC with a stop in the triangle just long enough for Natalia and Jess to say goodbye to her.
I was a dumb kid when Hope came into my life. Walking down the street in Southeast Portland, lonely and directionless when I saw a man selling pit bull puppies. I think buying selling animals like they’re commodities is bullshit now just as I did back then but I saw this tiny puppy and my brain started making all kinds of rationalizations. I leaned down to pet the dogs and one of them jumped up to lick my face. It was a done deal, just like that. The first and only time I ever experienced love at first sight.
I handed the man the money I had in my wallet, picked up my new friend and headed back to the house I was crashing in. I didn’t even have a leash or collar. My decision was that impulsive. She was so small and so light. Carrying her wasn’t any sort of burden. Somewhere along the walk I said to her, “I think I’m going to name you Hope. What do you think about that?” She licked my face again, and I knew, reckless or not, that I had made a good choice.
Hope and I grew up together. Every moment of joy, of heartache and heartbreak, all the slow hours of depression and struggling against the void, I literally had Hope by my side. She was smart, she was strong, she was fierce and she was devoted and outgoing. She loved people and she loved other dogs. If I have one regret about our time together, it’s that we had to grow up together. That she was subject to all of my growing pains. I’m a healthier person at 40 than I was at 24. I owe so much of that health to Hope. I only wish she could have stayed around longer to reap the benefits.
But I would like to think I have given her a good life. 15 years and 11 months isn’t a bad run for a little dog. She nearly met her doom a few times over the years. There was a snake bite, a fight with a goddamn horse, and the time the two of us almost got swept out to see by a surprise wave. Despite it all, it was old age that got her.
The better of the two of us to the very end, there have been so many times over the last year where I could feel her telling me, “stop making such a big deal, Sass. It’s only death.” The thing that we all fear the most, and my girl faced it with bravery and humility.
It’s a gift in a way to know when your last hours with someone you love have arrived. I spent the night with Hope with a hand ever near her too bony chest, listening to her breathe. Counting the fleeting flickering of her eyelids. Whispering a thousand prayers of thanksgiving to her and whatever benevolent force led us to one another, giving me the chance to experience a love like this.
I held her as she let go this morning, surrounded by flowers Roth both planted and picked for her. We were in the shade on the farm. As she went I thanked her for a lifetime worth of love and told her she was the single best thing to ever happen to me. I reassured her all the dog friends and people who loved her and went before her were waiting for her on the other side. I told her I would miss her for the rest of my life and that I would see her again.