“What a great name for a therapy dog.” I often hear that when I’m out on visits with my golden retriever, Hope. When I got her at just nine weeks old, I had no idea she would become a therapy dog. In fact, I wasn’t even aware of pet-provided therapy.

I began training Hope as soon as we brought her home. I enrolled her in puppy obedience class and she proved to be not only sweet, but also smart. So much so the trainer asked if I had considered making her a therapy dog. She thought Hope would be perfect for it.

About the same time my father underwent quadruple bypass surgery. Before his surgery he and my mom came over almost every weekend to visit Hope. They don’t have a dog and really enjoyed visiting her. She seemed to have a special place in her heart for them, too. While Hope is friendly and social with just about everyone, there are a handful of people she absolutely adores. With these people she gets so happy and excited she forgets all her manners and training. My parents are two of those people.

So, when my dad came home from the hospital, I took Hope over for a visit. When she saw my dad she sat down right next to his chair so he could pet her. And, when I saw the big smile on both my dad’s face and Hope’s, I knew pet therapy was definitely in our future.

We continued our training and in August of 2014, at 20 months old, Hope became a certified therapy dog. Since then, Hope has done hundreds of pet therapy visits. It’s amazing when I think of all the people she has helped. She has visited the VA Hospital, nursing homes, health and rehab facilities, assisted living homes, colleges, high schools, libraries, a senior center, and even a chronic pain and addiction support group.

A Special Encounter

One of our most special encounters happened on a visit to a nursing home. We walked down the hall and into one of the rooms. It was apparent the patient was unable to talk when he did not respond when we asked if he would like to visit with the therapy dogs. That didn’t stop Hope. She walked right up to his bedside and pushed her head under his hand. Then she just stood there letting him stroke her fur. He warmed up immediately, smiled, and by the time we left he was trying to communicate with us. I don’t know if he understood what I, or the other woman with me, was saying, but I’m convinced Hope was communicating with him. In five years of doing this work it was one of the most special moments I’ve experienced. It reaffirmed what I knew early on about Hope: she is too special of a dog to keep to myself. I have to share her with others.

The bond Hope and I have is unlike the bond I’ve had with any other dog. Perhaps it’s because not only do we live together, but we work together, too. She’s my dog but she’s also my partner. I’ve met so many interesting people through our therapy work. This little golden girl has been such a blessing to me, my family, and to so many others. I feel incredibly blessed and grateful to have her in my life.

We call her Hope, but her full registered name is Shesa Sweet Ray of Hope. Little did we know when we gave her that name that’s exactly what she would become to so many people.

Hope and her handler Debbie have been certified for five years. They are certified with Love on a Leash and Alliance of Therapy Dogs. They live and work in Hendersonville, North Carolina.

Follow Hope on Instagram @goldenretrievershopeandfaith