If you know me, you know that hope is my favorite word. It’s tattooed on my arm, it’s the name of my MS Walk team (Team Hope), it’s in my favorite bible verse (Jeremiah 29:11). It’s also the name I chose for my baby boxer when I brought her home in 2002 at 8 weeks old.
I vividly remember the day that I introduced Hope to my son Jake, who was only 9 years old at the time. I told Jake that I had a big surprise for him, and then walked him into the living room with his hands over his eyes. When we got to the couch, I said, “Open your eyes!” And there was our new puppy laying in a little ball, asleep on the couch. Jake had a look of pure excitement on his face. “Is this Hope, Mama?” he asked. “Do we get to keep her?” He already knew that her name would be Hope, of course.
Hope was a huge part of my life, and both my son and I were beyond devastated when she died on Jan. 7, 2014, at 11 years old. Even if you don’t have a dog or have never experienced the unconditional love and companionship one has to offer — something I find very therapeutic for MS — you’ll understand why I’m sharing my story of Hope.
Boxers tend to be a little more on the hyper side and stay puppy-like for two to three years, and Hope was no exception. But that only added to her charm. I potty trained her, took her to puppy obedience class with Jake, and all-around adored my “second child.” When Hope was three, we added another baby boy boxer named Baron to our family. Hope went from being like Baron’s mom, teaching him what he needed to learn, to becoming more like his sister and companion. They were best buddies.
Hope, of course, didn’t know that I had MS. But she seemed to always know when I wasn’t feeling well. Whether it was just one of those days that took me longer to get from room to room, or when I went through chemotherapy in 2005, she was always right by my side — often cuddling up to me on the couch when there was clearly not enough room for her 76-pound body.
When Hope was five, Jake found a lump on her belly. We took her to our veterinarian and after some biopsies, we learned she had a few mast cell tumors that were indeed cancer. She needed major surgery. It was so hard to see her in pain, but thankfully the surgery went well and cleared her of the cancer.
After Hope turned 11 on Sept. 6 of last year, I found a few more areas on her body that looked suspicious. Once again, we learned it was most likely cancer. Knowing how old she was, major surgery was no longer a path we were willing to take. We decided to let her live out the rest of her life, and we said that we’d contemplate other options if and when she became uncomfortable. All was well for a few months. But then, on Dec. 28, Hope had a seizure at home. I felt helpless as I watched her lay stiffly on her side, foaming at the mouth, eyes fixed. When she came out of it a few minutes later, I took her to the animal hospital, where she received anti-seizure medication. A couple days later, she had another one, this time landing her in the hospital overnight with massive amounts of phenobarbital pumping into her veins to stop the seizures. The vet told me she would appear drunk and wobbly when I brought her home the next day, but it was worse than I expected. She just wasn’t there anymore — her eyes were glassy and she didn’t know what was going on. The medication made her very thirsty and hungry, but she was unable to stand to eat or drink. Hope’s inability to walk also meant that going outside to relieve herself was impossible.
I spent an entire 24 hours next to her on the living room floor, feeling helpless when she’d try to get up to go outside, or helping her drink from her bowl while laying on her bed. Jake and I agreed this was no quality of life for our girl. Hope couldn’t tell us to let her go, but we could see it in her eyes.
On the evening of Jan. 7, Jake and I said goodbye to our sweet girl as she took her last breath in our arms.
After Hope’s death, my intense grief turned into concern for my other boxer, Baron, who was clearly missing his best friend. The light in his eyes was gone. He didn’t know where to sleep and he wouldn’t eat. All of us were suffering together.
Despite my promise after Hope died to never get another dog who would eventually die (morbid, I know), I found myself browsing rescue websites. My intention was not to “replace” Hope, but rather fill this hole in our hearts.
We learned about a boxer puppy at a local dog rescue who was fighting parvo, a canine disease that often leads to death. But she was a fighter, and we knew she’d fit right in with us. After almost five months in quarantine, she came home to live with us, her forever family. I’m happy to officially introduce our new puppy, Grace.