“Hope is relational. It doesn’t exist in the abstract. Hope confronts. It doesn’t ignore pain, agony or injustice. It is not a saccharine optimism that refuses to see, face, or grapple with the wretchedness of reality. You can’t have hope without despair, because hope is a response. Hope is the active conviction that despair will never have the last word.” -Cory Booker
Last spring on the tail end of grieving the death of an important father figure in my life, the missteps of a creative project, and the weakening ties of romance, I lost my beloved 7 year old pup Lichen overnight to sepsis. The evening leading up to the trauma, Monday March 12th, was a fine blend of the ordinary and ecstatic. We’d just returned from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan the previous weekend where we’d spent three days together romping through woods, spotting snowy owls and racing snow mobilers next to Lake Superior. I felt full soul connection and contentment with my dog partner after the trip. I remember lying in bed that morning reveling about the completeness. Twelve hours later, post normal jaunt along the lake walk, HOTDISH Militia meeting, and dinner, Lichen started acting agitated. By 11 pm I’d called the emergency vet. At 3 am we visited. At 7:45 am we were at his vet. At 10:30 am, Dr. Juten told me I had to put my baby down.
Total heartache. Grief without restraint. I allowed myself to know and feel complete despair for weeks on end.
One month later friends encouraged me to go to an Animal Allies’s training. The program allows community members to become foster parents for animals of survivors of domestic violence. Volunteers offer free and safe space to dogs and/or cats and combats the reality that most times folx don’t leave violent situations if there’s no place for their pets to go. I showed up early for the training and decided my grief over Lichen wanted time with kittens and puppies. I had no intention of bringing anything home. I was still willing my solo sadness to clean out my soul.
While I bond deeply with a dog once he/she decides I’m theirs, I’m not the type to drool or fawn over baby or homeless anythings. My heart is vast and practical. As I snuck into the kitten room, I smiled at the furry bundles tripping over my shoes and attacking my hoodie drawstrings. I also quickly remembered I’m not much of a cat lover.
I wandered down the aisles of dogs and sent small blessings out at every gate, wishing and willing them all to find homes as fast as possible. I returned to the lobby to wait for the facilitators of the foster program to lead us back to the training room. I leaned against the counter and spotted a poster on the wall. In bold letters the word Hope stood out. I leaned in. A picture of an off white dog with a wonky head tilt stared back at me. I moved closer to read her story. Blind, from Dallas, Texas, two years old, extremely friendly, American Eskimo mix.
“Do you want to meet her? Do you want to walk her? Here’s a two page sheet with everything you need to know about adopting a blind dog.”
I move away from the wall and stare at the Animal Allies staff smiling broadly at me and holding out the info I hadn’t even asked for.
“I’m just here for the foster training.” I answer quickly and concisely.
“Here, I’ll leash her up for you and you can take her for a quick walk.”
“Ughhh, ummmm, okay I have a few minutes before the training starts. Uhhh, sure. I guess. I’ll walk her.” Hesitant and heartbroken, a month’s worth of foggy sad shadowy slowness steadied me even in the face of the other’s wily optimism. I knew I wasn’t there to adopt a dog.
The shelter named her Hope after she’d found Duluth following an accident that left her blind, two foster families, multiple hospital stays, and a long trip north- just in the first four months of 2018. She pranced out of the double doors, sight and care free. The round, pink nylon leash was placed in my hand. “Hope does great on all the trails around here. She just needs a little direction avoiding poles or signs.”
We moved outside together. It was a brisk mid April evening. Piles of snow made it fun for her to mark and cleared gravel walking paths allowed for easy walking. She and I did a small loop and headed back inside.
“She’s cute,” I said and turned to attend the training.
The next morning I called my friend Lindsay, the executive director of Animal Allies, to tell her how the night had gone. She’d known me for fifteen years and Lichen for all seven. Lindsay was one of my people who’d encouraged me to attend the TPPSH training and become a foster to heal my hurting heart.
“It actually felt great to be at Animal Allies, in the same room I’d played with Lichey when deciding whether to adopt his 9 week old fur-ball self seven years earlier. I think fostering would work for me. We’ll see what happens.”
“Great! I’m sorry I wasn’t here to see you.” Lindsay replied
“No problem. It was good for me to have some time with animals beforehand. I walked a cut pup named Hope.”
“HOPE!!!! Oh my gosh. I Love that dog. If I had any more room in my house for another animal I would adopt her. She is such a fantastic little being. You should adopt her! Come visit me. Come visit us. She’s sitting right here in my office. Come visit right now!”
Lindsay’s exuberance was the opposite of the baseline emotion I’d been feeling for the last 30 days. However, a chance to connect with my friend for the first time since Lichen died was something I wasn’t going to pass up.
An hour later, my friend Amy and I sat in the administrative offices of Animal Allies petting Hope and chatting with volunteers and staff about her and my recent loss. Tears flowed and laughter bounced of the walls. Hope was joyful, brave and boldly crashed into corners as well as navigated doorways and chew toys like a champ.
Mostly I observed everyone else with the two year old pup. No one could resist Hope’s charm and resilience. Each heart was opened a little wider because of her courage and playful insistence- her blindness was no damper.
I decided to put a hold on her for the weekend. If I chose not to adopt her, my money would be a donation to Animal Allies. As I pondered the decision at home, the blindness didn’t concern me inside. Mostly I wondered what it would be like to have a dog attached to me every single minute we’d romp together outside.
My and Lichen’s relationship was grounded in off leash runs and bigLake swims. He and I lived a free and untethered life together. He’d whip through woods and wild places in ways my two legged body would never explore. He carried my heart into the fast chase and flat undergrowth. I lived vicariously through his fox hunts and deer dances. His ability to cover ten to fifteen miles when I was hiking five made each adventure that much more exciting.
Bringing Hope home would change how I lived with and learned my landscape. Was I ready for that? On Tuesday when the hold expired I returned to Animal Allies unsure of my decision. Weighing on me was the plane travel I’d planned months ago for the next day. My mom had turned 75 at the end of March and I was headed down to Dallas to visit her.
I walked into the shelter and the staff smiled happy to see me again. They led me back to the smaller of the two visitation rooms and returned with toasted marshmallow colored Hope.
“She was waiting for you!! I’ll get the toys with the bells in them.”
“Umm, okay.” I said feeling nervous around the staff’s eagerness to connect us. Many parts of me resisted. I wanted my established seven year old relationship with Lichen. Our enormous, overflowing, familiar soulful love. Not another new to me being. Hope moved close and I petted her. Sitting and playing together in this back room of Animal Allies felt strange, scary and unexpected. I went outside at one point and called a southern love. I cried. I admitted that this dog was amazing.
“Get the dog Erin.”
I responded with a list of sensible reasons against.
“Go inside and adopt the dog right now.”
I cried and said, “How weird is it she’s from Dallas!”
“Seriously. Go make her yours.”
“I can’t believe I’m already contemplating adopting another dog.”
“She’s yours. Go sign the papers.”
“But I’m supposed to fly tomorrow.”
“Drive down instead. I’ll book you a hotel.”
I started to smile and said, “But, what if…”
“Go inside and get Hope. I love you. This little being is waiting for you.”
After several hours of processing and re-planning the next couple weeks, I walked out of Animal Allies with a new baby and best friend.
I called her Bat the minute we hopped in my car. I knew it was her name- without hesitancy. Every one of my dogs have been odes to nature, these vast wild places inside and outside of me that are my first and everlasting love. Similar to my connection to dogs, there’s a knowing in my soul about how to be with wild and natural space. Less words and rules, more room for easy spontaneous fun and trust.
I stressed the first twenty four hours over her learning all the stairs into and out of my third floor walk up. I drove to Dallas with this dog the next night. I introduced her to my mom and southern lover. I took her to the places I grew up going to escape big city southern life with my very first four legged love. I cried more tears about Lichen. I announced the things I see with my eyes that she can’t- as we drove by cows, oil derricks and creeks.
Bat, as in blind as a, and I have now been together for five months tomorrow. She is teaching me to see the world in new ways. We rollerblade, kayak, swim, run, walk, hike, camp and eat ice cream together. She comes to work everyday with me and is the Planned Parenthood therapy dog. My co-workers, contract employees and the clinic patients exclaim with glee, “Bat!!” when they see her. A handful of folx we’ve met on the streets remember her from Animal Allies- either as volunteers or near adoptive parents. I still cry for Lichen often and continue to discover the joys this new being brings my life on the daily. She is my Bat and will always be hope too- hands down, easy and perfectly beautiful proof that despair will never have the last word in my life.