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Gotcha (Again) Day

Like many of you, I have a dog and she is the love of my life. But maybe not like many of you, my dog and I have an incredible story.

My girl came into my life as a scruffy three or four month old puppy when I was sixteen years old. I was in high school, living at home with my family and our two golden retrievers. A friend of a friend had found this sweet golden retriever puppy wandering the side of Airport Road in Salisbury, NC. She looked like she had had a home at one point, but her collar was way too small for her and she was filthy. The kind stranger who found her gave her a temporary home for two weeks while she looked for her owners. No one came forward, so eventually she started looking for a permanent home for this sweet baby. Our friend thought of us, having already had two golden retrievers. The puppy was brought to our home and she fell right into the pack. She was home. We named her Sophie.

Sophie became my very best friend. She chose me to be her person and I happily obliged. I raised her. She was my heart dog, my soul mate. We had the deepest connection. We just understood each other. I always knew that when I grew up and left home, Sophie would come with me.

While I was away at college, my parents went through a divorce and I had a falling out with my father. Things with my family became so unhealthy that I made the extremely difficult decision to completely cut my father from my life - a decision that holds true to this day. The biggest problem of this scenario was that my father had Sophie and he wasn't keen on giving her up. At first, that decision made some sense. I lived in a dorm room, and then a tiny apartment. My mother was in no position to take in Sophie and the other dog we had as a family. So, it made sense for Sophie to stay with my father... Until it became apparent that as long as I was protecting myself from a damaging relationship with my father, I would never see my dog again. My biggest fear was that if my father was doing this much mental and physical damage to his own daughter, what was stopping him from doing the same to a defenseless animal? Realizing this, but knowing there was absolutely nothing I could do, I gave Sophie the biggest hug and promised her that I would come back for her some day.

Over three years went by. My heart was absolutely broken. I had given up hope on ever getting my dog back. I imagined scenarios where I broke into my father's home and stole Sophie, finally giving her the welcoming home and love that she deserved. I cried endless, countless tears for the dog I had loved and lost. I prayed she was safe and okay and that we would find our way back to each other some day. But my hope was lost.

On August 19, 2017, I received a phone call from my brother. His words to me were, "Dad is getting rid of Sophie. I assume you will take her?"

When I tell you my heart stopped, I cannot exaggerate. This was the most unexpected scenario and I had a million questions but of course the answer was overwhelmingly, "Yes, of course, I'm on my way right now."

The details of Sophie's rehoming are unimportant and uneventful. I tend to believe that my father was ready to move on with his life, ridding himself of anything remaining of the past, Sophie being one of them. Part of me wants to believe Sophie was given as a sort of peace offering. None of this has been confirmed, of course. I'll likely never know the real reason. No matter the circumstances, Sophie was finally where she belonged, with me.

I drove to my brother's home where my long-lost friend was waiting for me. I took a moment to compose myself in the car before I went inside. I didn't want to scare Sophie by being hysterical and I wanted to be as clear-headed as possible for our reunion. Walking inside and seeing her for the first time in over three years was the most surreal moment of my life thus far. I knelt down to her level and she looked me in the eye, offered me her paw as she always does ("holding hands," I call it), and I just knew this was always meant to be.

We welcomed her home for good. We worked with her on the anxiety she carries as a result of her stressful living environment - the very same anxiety I have myself. We carefully exposed her to new and exciting things that life has to offer. Sophie goes everywhere and does everything with us. She plays in the yard with the little boys who live next door to us. She goes to Hobby Lobby to go shopping with her mama. She lays on a warm patio while her parents enjoy a beer. She snuggles in bed with her people at night, knowing she is safe and so loved. She was so very missed every single day and I tell her as often as I can how thankful I am to have her back.

While this story is often very hard to tell, it is my favorite to tell. It's three years to the day that I received that call from my brother and it is still so surreal. Sometimes I look at Sophie and say to her, "I can't believe you live here with me." I can't believe this happened to us. I can't believe I lost her. I can't believe we survived this. I can't believe she's mine for the rest of her days. Happy Gotcha Again Day, my sweet Sophie girl. That day will always be the best day.

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