Literally. Hope died. A golden Great Dane with the heart of a lion. Placing her muzzle on your chest, she would stare into your eyes. I see you. Like in the movie Avatar, she really “saw” who you are. Strange, I know…but Hope was an old soul. And she knew other old souls. Our most sensitive guests could feel her knowing. “This dog’s amazing!” Yes, she was. 

Steve had Great Danes growing up. Our first, Grace, was a big black beauty. The perfect Nana for our kids. Very protective, she watched over them until 2002 when she died at the age of 11. Old for a Great Dane, but we needed her. She was in great shape, a little arthritis in her hips, not able to go on super long walks at the end, but no real illness. She died of a heart attack while I was away with Kyra at a gymnastics meet. Steve tried to resuscitate her, to no avail. 

Six weeks later, I got a call. A woman I worked with years before in the kids’ elementary school asked if I still had our Great Dane. I shared the sad news. And she asked, “Would you like a pup?” It was too soon. We were still grieving. Besides we had our two Border Collies to keep us busy. The younger was in mourning …Ida would only sleep on Grace’s bed, eat out of Grace’s bowl. We weren’t ready. But something told me to go. 

In a litter of four female pups, the largest fawn toddled over and sat between us. Steve picked her up and she submitted, but when her sisters came over to investigate, she got in their way. These are my people! 

So we brought Hope home and she became the alpha of our pack of dogs. Never of us. Always respectful of her human family, but her role was not one of nanny like Grace. The kids were teenagers. Hope became our confidante. She knew who to trust and who to be wary of. You felt safe with her. The first time Kyra went camping with her boyfriend, she took Hope. Never had she camped before without her father and she was not so sure her boyfriend could keep her safe. So Hope went with them. Carried her own pack, kept a stranger from intruding upon their campsite in the middle of the night, then slept between them…it was cold! 

Protective of all under her care, no other dog dared chase her cat! Pippin adored her…in spite of her great size…weighed more than me and taller than Steve on her hind legs…she was so very gentle with him. Pippin loved to roll on Hope’s bed and soak up her doggy odor. Hope walked carefully, laid down in the smallest of spaces, insisting she could fit in our lives, not matter how small the car, the room, the bed. 

She played like a Border Collie…full of energy….chasing the other two…not too much ball sense, but she loved to carry things. Especially your arm. Hope would take your arm and lead you out to the back. Come see my horses! Come see the great hole I dug, nearly caught that ground squirrel! Come, come, be with me! 

We moved deeper into Ojai when she was still a pup. A big pup, no doubt, but she became an integral part of our new lives. You see, when we moved, we got a property to fulfill three things…room for amazing gardens, a barn for the horses, and a place for my practice. When we moved to Ojai, everyone came home. Hope quickly became a therapy dog. My pediatric patients loved to be with her and of course she was gentle and patient even as a pup. Depressed adults found great comfort in the huge dog. She hated the rain, and we didn’t have a doghouse, so she spent the last couple years in the office…when it rained, if it was too cold, too hot…She loved her yard, soaking up the sun on the Saltillo patio, rolling under the oak tree, chasing squirrels in the back, but she’d rather be with me. So when I was through seeing patients, no matter if it was 5 o’clock or if I finished early at 3pm, Hope would start to “talk”. You know how Scooby-Doo talks, well that’s Great Dane. Hope would vocalize….loudly…no barking, not even whining, more like, Oh, please, please, come out and play. Let’s take a walk. The horses are hungry! Come on, you’ve been with them all day! It’s my time now! 

The “nurse” of our little ranchette, Hope kept you company when you were ill and if any of the animals fell ill, she was right there…trying to rouse a downed horse, licking his face, curling up next to him when there was nothing more to do. 

I have had lots of dogs from Irish Setters to German Shepherds, Danes, Border Collies, and a few mutts. All have been special, most were just dogs, Hope was more human. She felt greatly. An emotional dog, she mirrored your feelings and had very strong ones of her own. She was so beautiful, nearly perfect confirmation, we considered breeding her. Mostly because she suffered false pregnancies.  Every six months, about two months after her heat, she would start nesting, adopt a stuffed toy and start lactating. Within a few weeks, she acted as if her “pup” had died and she would bury it, then dig it up, curl up with it and cry. Until we got her spayed at the age of five, poor Hope would suffer post partum depression four months out of the year.

Our last Great Dane suffered false pregnancies too and upon the advice of our vet, we bred her, then spayed her. Grace never was depressed again. Not Hope. She was acutely attuned to our every emotion. She mourned the deaths of our Border Collies. When Ida died in 2007, Hope visited her grave every morning for a month. Pippin accompanied her. She would lie by the rock that covered Ida’s grave with the cat sitting on top of the rock and the two of them would…meditate. I joined them many mornings, Ida was my dog…in fact I mourned her death so intensely, that I never did write about her. Writing helps, but… 

Ida’s mother, Sara played around us…living very much in the moment as dogs are apt to do. When it was time to put Sara down after a long bout of illness, Sara greeted the vet, but Hope knew what was up and tried to block him from getting close to Sara. We talked to Hope and she lay down with us on Sara’s blanket and helped us hold the energy. Then Hope mourned Sara…sat by her rock covering her grave every morning. She was so depressed and so alone, we decided to adopt another dog. Got Charlie last year, in fact exactly a year from the day Hope died. It took a couple of days for her to get used to him, but after that I never saw a dog play so joyously with another. She never cuddled with the girl dogs, but let him sit on her bed, practically on her head! 

Romped with him in the field on the everlasting squirrel hunt nearly every morning. We were just there on Sunday, the day before she died. She was dragging a bit. I thought she was sore from climbing over rocks at the beach the day before. Didn’t realize her heart was tired. She was off her food, wouldn’t drink much, so yesterday I was syringing weak broth into her mouth. Her heart was racing, but she waited for Steve to get home, before collapsing. Of course, it was Labor Day and our vet was not available…so Steve carried her to the Suburban to drive into Ventura to the emergency animal hospital. I sat in back with her. Not a mile down the road, she lay back in my arms and died. I tried to resuscitate her. Steve pulled over and breathed for her while I did chest compressions. But she was gone. 

Steve’s right. When someone dies suddenly, their life force bursts out of them. There is no fading of energy like I described with Gran and Anita…no…Hope just burst out of herself and into the universe. No fear. Just gone. 

We buried her next to the girls. Who knew our little graveyard would get so full so soon. 

My grief is profound, but my gratitude is greater. 

Last night after wiping my tears for the umpteenth time, I prayed that I would be open to receive the gift of this encounter. And I felt Hope. “Why did you leave us so soon. Grace lived so much longer.” You needed her and she died when she was no longer needed. You needed me to go now. And I could see a portal opening. Just like the one that opened when our old horse Kitty died. I held onto her fiercely. So much so that the vet had to tell me to stop feeding her the magic formula and let her go. Just after Kitty died, the first bottle of Genesis Gold was placed in my hands. Then two months later, I began writing LoveDance. Her death preceded a great birth for me. And I have always believed that death begets birth. Now just five weeks after losing Gran and Anita, I lost Hope. I thought the third one would be our old gelding. I even made arrangements for his passing with dignified animal disposal…can’t bury a horse in the front yard…yet I know, that only one I loved greatly would be…the one to complete the triad. 

Hope and Grace…Their energies infused me…“What’s next Charity?” I could feel Hope smile. No, Joy. 

So this morning, I took a break from writing my sorrow and took Charlie for a run. We stopped by Hope’s grave and invited her along. Have you ever seen a Great Dane run? It’s a sight to behold. Her spirit soared across the fields with little Charlie. I could almost see her stop and put her great big head into a squirrel hole. Then stand over it, her soft full jowls helping her great nose capture the scent. Head cocked, so that her big velvety ears stood out like the Flying Nun. Hope was so beautiful…and she taught me so much. 

For me, the gift of Hope was: 

  • To be gentle, especially with myself.
  • To be patient with others,
  • But to ask for what I need when I need it, with passion if necessary.
  • That sometimes the best way to nurse a patient is to kiss their face and just sit with them.
  • To run with abandon, but stop and enjoy the scent of life.
  • To savor every bite, especially treats.
  • To tolerate what’s unpleasant if it’s good for me. (Don’t worry, Hope, there’s no baths in heaven)
  • To accept the gift of life…grandly with fervor, and then let go and embrace death. 

I guess we haven’t really lost Hope…we have her golden energy in our hearts. Thank you, Hope.