The Email That Changed Our Lives

Career change” the email said. I almost clicked the trash button before I even opened it– I was sure this email had spam written all over it.

It had been a hard few months dealing with loss.  In March our sweet boxer suddenly died when a tumor burst in her stomach. We were in shock and heartbroken. The house felt quiet and seemed so lonely without a dog around to fill the silent moments.  I was dreading June knowing my oldest son was moving to college and life at our home would never be the same.  He was the first to fly the nest and I wasn’t ready. In April, on a whim, I emailed service dog organizations within our state and let them know that if any dogs needed a home, we were a loving family and we were interested. 

Time marched on but something was missing. Fast forward to the beginning of July and I had totally forgotten about the email. Because my son plays college sports he had already checked in for summer training and the band-aid had been pulled off.  My heart ached, I felt lost and it was a different sadness than I had experienced before.  Everyone in our family was adjusting, each dealing with the change in our own way. 

Sitting in my office after work one day, I randomly checked emails.  There is was, sitting inconspicuously placed between electricity bills, junk mail and welcome emails from my son’s new collegeThe subject line simply read “Career Change”. I wasn’t looking to change jobs at the time so the email seemed to have no value to me . Who knew that clicking the “open” button would change our lives forever?

I never had a dog growing up. My dad was afraid of dogs so he wouldn’t allow us to ever have one. My mom wanted one but my dad was a solid no anytime we asked.  I begged for a dog, offered to get a job to pay for it, and added it to my Christmas list every year but my dad never caved. We had goldfish, that was all. 

One of the first moments I knew I was going to fall in love with my husband was a conversation we had about pets.  During one of our marathon telephone calls where we talked for hours (remember there was no such thing as texting back then), he told me about his beloved dog Chopper who had died from nose cancer. During the middle of the conversation he paused, and I could tell he was choked up. He couldn’t speak for a minute, clearing his throat as he does when he gets flooded with feelings.  Knowing that he loved his dog so much that it still made him emotional helped me see the kind of loving father and husband he would be.  He gets choked up today talking about his love for our family and I’m reminded back to the moment he told me about Chopper. He loves us fiercely and it is something I adore and appreciate about him. 

The email was simple: We have a dog who might be a good fit for your family, please call us if you are interested. 

I quickly called the lady who had emailed me because I was intrigued about the dog she thought would be a good fit for our family.  My heart raced; I realized I was ready to open my heart again to another animal. She spoke about an older dog who had been trained to sense seizures or diabetic issues. It sounded like a very sweet dog but somewhere in the conversation as she asked about our family, what we liked to do, who we were, and she paused.  And shifted gears. 

“I think I might have a different dog who would be perfect for you.  She has too much energy to be a service dog but there is something very special about her. She’s a black lab and her name is Sunshine”.

Sunshine? For a dog? To be honest, we would never name a dog Sunshine. Who names a black lab Sunshine? We’re a family who would more likely name a dog Butch, or Duke or Bo.  We would have a Tank, a Max, or a Zeus. Even our female dog was named Sammy.  Sunshine, really?

My husband and middle son booked flights overnight to go meet the dog named Sunshine and see what they thought.  Would Sunshine fit in with our crazy crew?  Would she be the dog to fill the void that was missing?  Would she enter our hearts and become family to us? Upon meeting Sunshine, they both immediately feel in love.  My husband called me “We are bringing her home. She’s the one”.

Sunshine walked into our home after a 10-hour car ride with no hesitation or fear.  She trotted in, went right to the dog bed I had placed by the fireplace and made herself comfortable.  She didn’t bark, wasn’t skittish to all the attention we were heaping on her and showed no signs of nerves.  She was simply at peace.  Deep in her soul, I believe she knew she had found her forever home.

I’ve heard it said before that a dog loves a person the way people love each other only while in the grip of new love: intensely, unaware of imperfections, unwavering focus, playful and attentive, desiring little more than to be close and to be touched with loving hands.  A dog’s love is different: unconditional, faithful and calming.  Dogs give us company, reassurance, and love.  It’s one of the most powerful bonds we experience as humans.  A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.

Sunshine has lived up to her name. Simply put, she is a ray of Sunshine.  She has greeted me every day after work with a wagging tail and excitement to see me.  She welcomes me with joy .  She sniffs my leg as if it tells her where I have been and what I have been doing.  She dances around and always makes me smile, even after a hard or stressful day.  Her face is never in a phone or looking at a screen– it looks right at me with no judgement, always ready to connect. She helps makes our house a home.

In my humble opinion, she is the smartest dog, ever. If she was in high school, she would most definitely be in AP classes.  She loves going on walks more than anything. We had to start spelling the word W-A-L-K because anytime we said it she would run to the laundry room and grab her leash. But now, she even knows when we are spelling it and reacts the same. She’s a wonder dog for sure. There is no such thing as a short walk though, Sunshine stops to smell everything. She is curious and she wants to take it all in. 

It’s amazing how Sunshine knows how to tell time.  At 5 o’clock every day she goes to sit by her bowl as if to remind us it’s time for her dinner. She’s a genius I tell you.  She loves to play hide and seek with my husband and if you offer her treat, she’ll do tricks.  She gives joy to anyone who will scratch her belly and she growls at people only if she thinks she needs to protect us. She loves with all her heart.

Sunshine rides with me to go pick up my daughter from high school. She’s a great co-pilot. I smile every time I look in the side mirror and see that face flopping in the wind. She gets excited seeing all the kids come out of class, hangs her head out the window and says hello to everyone. She has a sense of adventure and loves to have fun. She spends all summer swimming in the pool with us and she’s always down for a good time. If Sunshine was in college, she would most definitely be in a sorority.

Like people, Sunshine has a bestie.  Paris and Sunshine are kindred spirits.  They have play dates and get so excited when they see each other to go on walks together.  When walk past the court that Paris lives in, Sunshine will turn and try to pull me to Paris’ house.  She knows right where Paris lives and always wants to drop in to say hello. When Paris is over, Sunshine shares her toys, treats and even her water bowl. They are buddies and their canine companionship is a true friendship.

Sunshine has taught me so many important lessons. She doesn’t hold grudges and wakes up happy each day. She is forgiving and understanding if I can’t talk her on a walk or forget to give her a treat. She appreciates the value of play. She reminds me not to take myself too seriously. Sunshine is a great example of how to greet people- with enthusiasm and with joy. She has taught me to give and receive affection openly. She loves without expectation and appreciates the small things in life, like a belly scratch or snuggle together on the bed. She’s a great reminder of how nice it feels to get outside and how fresh air does wonders for our mood. She moves on from her mistakes, not being defined by her slip-ups like chewing a hole in my daughters favorite shirt. She lives and she loves fully.

My furry companion is a teacher on this journey called life. Sunshine reminds me to live in the moment and to stop and smell the roses, literally. The roles in our relationship have definitely switched: first she needed me, now I need her. Life without Sunshine would be dark and gloomy.

Do we pick our dogs or do our dogs pick us? I believe somewhere in the stars Sunshine was destined to be in our family. The universe brought her to us and our DNA is in her blood.  She fits in our family like she shares the same gene pool. She’s sweet but she can be feisty. She loves people but don’t threaten her family.  She’s loyal and she is protective.  She is playful but don’t mess with her food.  She is faithful, trusting and easily amused. She likes to explore but she also likes to chill and just hang out. Ultimately, she just wants to be included and loved. It’s eerie how much we are alike.

As my kids grow up and leave me to begin their adult lives, Sunshine is my constant.  I know she won’t leave me until she crosses the rainbow bridge and I dread that day the way I have dreaded the day I drop my kids off at college.  The pitter patter of her feet is music to my ears as our home continues to get quieter.  Her wagging tail tends to my aching spirit because I feel needed and wanted.   We are her forever home and she is my forever dog. Like in life, after the storm, the sun will shine again. How fortunate are we that Sunshine brings so much light to our lives and how eternally grateful am I that she chose our family to be her family during her time on earth.

You are my Sunshine, my only Sunshine

You make me happy when skies are gray

You’ll never know Dear, how much I love you

Please don’t take my Sunshine away

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