There she was, foraging through the trash cans in our driveway. Feeling that surely someone must miss this aged Sheltie, I called the county animal shelter. I was told they would hold her there for five days, in case someone claimed her. With a guilty and heavy heart, I called daily to see if she had been claimed. I really wanted someone who had loved her come and rescue her. I could not get this old dog off of my mind. I had recently lost my 15 year old dog, Velvet. I had chosen her from the Houston Humane Society when I was ten years old. We had grown up together, and now she was gone.
After the mandatory five days I was told that unclaimed, the old Sheltie would be put to sleep. She was “about 15”, almost totally toothless, and nearly blind from cataracts. She had fleas, ticks, was malnourished, and was in obvious poor health. Told that unclaimed and deemed unadoptable, she would be put to sleep that day. I immediately went to get her, paid the adoption fees, and named her Hope.
We drove directly to my veterinarian. He confirmed her advanced estimated age, the vast variety of parasites, including heartworm, and a severe kidney infection. Further tests showed that Hope had nerve damage in her hips and legs, suggesting she had probably been abused, explaining her stiff, shuffling gait.
We successfully put Hope through all of the various, necessary treatments. However, it was dangerous for her to under-go the two-part heartworm treatment. The treatment drug used contained arsenic, which was injected intravenously into the dog to kill the heartworms. As the heartworms die, they constrict the dog’s heart. Hope collapsed during the second treatment. The true survivor that she was, she bounced back though. She survived another hardship.
After weeks and months of tests and treatments, Hope was finally given a clean bill-of-health. It was an amazing sight when one day Hope greeted us at the door, wagging her tail for the first time!
Not long after this, Hope went into what was to be her last “heat-season”. Unfortunately, it lasted for six weeks (rather than the usual three). Grits, our three year old yellow lab, and ever the romantic, thought for sure he could make a May-December romance with her work. We on the other hand, wanted the entire situation to be over! Hope had to be given hormone injections to end her cycle, and thus Grits’ infatuation.
For the next two years, Hope graced us with her sweet old-dog ways. Her resilience and appreciation amazed us. She loved everyone, letting them know with a subtle nudge of her nose and an easy wag of her tail.
Because of her poor eyesight, we had to keep watchful for her. Sometimes Hope would become “lost” in the yard, which thankfully was fenced-in. One warm sunny day, I could not find her anywhere. I called her, even knowing her hearing was very poor. It had been almost an hour since I had let her out in the yard, and most of that time I had spent searching. Heartbroken and perplexed, I sat down in the grass. All of a sudden there was rustling in the bushes, and out strolled Hope who had apparently found a cool, shady spot for a nap.
What was to be Hope’s last summer, we took her with us on a fishing trip to Minnesota. She traveled well both in the car, and the boat. She slept much of the time, just enjoying being with us. We loved being able to give her fun and security in her old age.
About a year-and-a-half after adopting Hope, I noticed a lump on the side of her neck. Checking further, I found several other lumps—all obviously enlarged lymph nodes. Being a veterinary technician, I knew this was serious.
The next morning I took Hope to work with me. At the clinic, we did a biopsy of the lymph node in her neck. Several days later I was the one who took the call from the lab, which confirmed my fear. Hope had lympho-sarcoma—a fatal blood cancer, with a very poor prognosis.
I was not ready to let Hope go, but while she appeared to feel fine, I knew it was only a matter of time. Hoping to prolong her life, even if only for a little while, I decided to try chemotherapy treatments for her.
She took the first intravenous treatment well, as she had all of the previous treatments. The second dose caused serious reactions, however. She was vomiting and had severe diarrhea. She also lost her usually hardy appetite, becoming listless, which was quite unlike her. I immediately discontinued the chemotherapy. This was not what I wanted for Hope; she deserved better.
Now I knew now it was only a matter of time before the cancer metastasized in her lungs. I knew that I had to watch for the signs: panting and walking with her front legs far apart, as she struggled to expand her lungs. I knew that when she started to have trouble breathing, it would be time to let her go.
When we adopted Hope I had promised her that she would always be loved and safe. She would have everything that she wanted and needed. I would never let her be hungry or scared, and there would be no more pain. I kept my promise.
She was comfortable. Her last days were of sunshine and sleep, petting and pampering. She let us know when it was time; I saw the signs. I took her in to the animal hospital before office-hours one morning. I held her and told her how special she was, and how loved she was. I told her how brave she had been. She went peacefully and painlessly, without fear.
On a sunny summer day (the kind Hope loved), two years after I took her in, I spread her ashes in the flower garden that she so loved to sunbathe in.
Not only had we given to Hope, but she had given to us. In spite of the pain that people had caused her, she gave us unconditional love and devotion, loyalty and trust.
Hope taught us about the quality of life and the importance of living it. She taught us that trust can lead to hope, and that hope can lead to love. Hope also taught us that while love can’t conquer all, it can make a difference.