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February 17, 2021Essay

Giving Up Hope

Ten years ago today, a helpless puppy was born. Shortly thereafter, he was entrusted to a hapless boy. We were a hopeless pair from the start.

To love a dog is a hopeless thing.

There’s no happy ending. No riding into the sunset. No magic, no heroics. Your heart will be broken. Millions share the anguish of losing a dog, yet we struggle to communicate what that loss means. 

Were the moon to vanish one day, the earth would still be whole. It would look the same yet be irrevocably changed. It would lose the rhythm of its tides. It would be missing the scarred guardian which swept aside incoming harm. It would wobble unevenly through space without the constant and steadying presence of its orbiting companion.

So too are we who lose our dogs. Listlessly titling, alone, and lost amongst the stars. 

Still. Still! We embrace dogs in our arms and our hearts. Despite knowing full well this is the answer to that pernicious question, “What’s the worst that could happen?”

The true power of dogs is that they steal the suspense. They free us from the fear which causes us to shy away from so many of life’s most worthy pursuits.They free us from the insidious hope there will always be more time with the ones we love. 

The worst will happen – it inevitably does. But dogs insist that we make the fates chase us down to exact their price. So that at the end of the journey, when the worst thing does happen, we find the agony a price well worth paying for one of the greatest adventures of our lives.

All these years later and I still close my eyes and know the shape of Eko’s orbit around my heart. But rather than a single satellite, it feels like a ring made of the broken pieces of my heart. As some read the stars, I consult these fragments of myself when I need direction.

Those pieces guided me as I stumbled through the process of creating the plush doll in Eko’s honor. They pushed me forward when I wanted to quietly give up. They insisted I assume that the worst would happen. That things would all fall apart. That no one would care.

They demand I still do it because the need to share the love in my heart must always be greater than what it might cost me. 

Last month I titled my head and shouted to my fellow hopeless. A beacon for all those who don’t have the words to describe the love and loss and bond they share with their dog, but who do know the exact shape – a ridge. A shape which means comfort. A comfort we yearn to share.

The cry faded and there was a moment of silence. And I was content. No matter if not a single voice answered. I had honored my promise to Eko to always choose love over hope. Still, I was awestruck by the responding chorus of voices around the world whose hearts know what words cannot. 

I’ve spent the last month furiously packaging plush Eko’s and shipping them across the globe. I have been deeply moved by all the people who now hold them dear.

Eko looks over a sleeping newborn who never met the dog who changed her parent’s life. A totem of remembrance that a Ridgeback’s loving guidance lasts not as long as they are alive, but as long as we are.

He is held in the arms of a widow who cannot see her family because of COVID, but finds small comfort in a gift which reminds her of her son’s dogs, and his love

He is hugged tightly in a special-education classroom by a student lovestruck by her teacher’s dog. 

He is in dorm rooms, delivery rooms, waiting rooms, offices, and all the places a dog cannot be, to remind weary souls that there is a Ridgeback faithfully waiting to restore their spirit. 

He is with all those who know your heart is your only compass amongst the stars, and a ridge is the needle which guides you true.

In a time of distance, I am profoundly grateful for this connection. That wherever you are on this journey, from waiting to welcome home your first Ridgeback, to saying goodbye to your last, you are buoyed by the communal love of those who share the road with you.

I can never repay the kindness, generosity and support shown by so many people. I can only promise to pay it forward as best I can. With that in mind, Eko’s birthday seemed like the perfect day to make the first donation to RidgebackRescue.org from the proceeds of sticker sales. A gift made possible, fittingly, by all of you. (It’s also a gift to me, because giving away a big check has always been a dream of mine!)

On what would have been Eko’s 10th birthday, our gift of $2900 in his name will help ten rescued Ridgebacks find new homes.

This is my inheritance from Eko. A family, home and life made possible by his love. With our heads tilted back in laughter, or by the hair pulling of a baby sister. Two mischievous pups eyeing the treats I dropped, and another erasing the marker on the bottom of the check because why miss an opportunity to cause a bit of trouble?

My puppy made me wealthy beyond measure.

So where do I go from here? I don’t quite know. But we’ll travel amongst the stars as Eko taught me. Guided neither by hopes or fears, but by love. 

Comments for Giving Up Hope

  1. wow that is great and it is the perfect post for world kindness day too…. a happy heavenly birthday to your soulmate… if I ever had known how much I can learn from a dog I never had wasted my time in school (sorry mom&dad)

  2. Paddy lundquist says:

    Our Mr Ekö T’Challah was named in memory of the first Ridgie who introduced me to the crazy world of Rhodesian Ridgebacks. We think of Eko every day. Hugs!

  3. Anne Stein says:

    Beautifully poignant. Thank you so much for putting into words what no one else can, and realizing how important these words (and an Eko likeness) are! The worst that could happen would have been to never have my dog, but the next worse almost happened last week. Thankfully we live another day. Together. 😃🎉🍾

  4. Kyla says:

    My Mr and Mrs peep have had five dogs together. Four have been rescues and they were the best four. If you want something that lives longer, get a rescue parrot.

  5. Neal says:

    Over a year ago you had some very kind words for me when we lost our RR. Like in this post, you expressed what many of us cannot articulate and in some cases feel silly doing so. Whether people are keen to canines or not, your talent to convey to others the impact of what these animals do to the human spirt is evident. I told myself I would not go through the loss again. But after revisiting your website and YouTube videos I have come to the conclusion the the joy does out way the pain.

  6. Eve says:

    Thank you for the timely words. We are losing our ridgeback to cancer and I told myself I would never be able to own another one again. But reading this post has given me hope that maybe someday I may be able to open my heart again.
    In the meantime, I shall live vicariously through your videos, photos, and blogs!

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