Hope is a word Caitlin knows well.
“Hope means being able to look forward to the future without as much fear,” said Caitlin. “Hope means the world to me—it’s what I've relied on for many years and it’s what I try to bring to others.”
Caitlin, now 22, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of cancer, when she was just 14. It was during this time that Caitlin met Sugarbear.
Sugarbear, a golden retriever therapy dog, gave Caitlin comfort and friendship at a time when she needed it most. So, when Caitlin learned she was eligible to receive a wish through Make-A-Wish® Alaska and Washington, she knew exactly what she wanted: a golden retriever puppy, just like Sugarbear.
That’s when Caitlin met Scout. And that’s when hope entered Caitlin’s life again. “My wish at the time gave me hope, joy, and someone to share everything with, without fear of being judged,” she said.
Beyond his loyal companionship, Scout also gave Caitlin a reason to keep fighting. “Scout gave me something to look forward to, a goal to reach,” she said. “He got me moving when pain wanted to keep me in bed all day. Scout has given me a way to look back on my experience with a positive note and a way to move forward, while still having that tough time be a part of who I am.”
Today, Caitlin is seven years cancer-free and studying Radiation Therapy at Southern Illinois University. Once a week, Caitlin sets down her books and opens her laptop. A video pops up, first of her mom, and then, once Caitlin says “hello,” a wet nose sniffs the screen. During her weekly Skype dates with her mom, Scout recognizes the sound of Caitlin’s voice through the computer and rushes over to say “hello.”
For years, Caitlin has said that Scout is her ‘animal soul-mate,’ and that remains true today. “When we're together everything feels like it’s going to be okay," she said. "He seems to absorb my emotions and balance me. His sometimes goofy antics bring me smiles, and his love is evident in the way he follows me room to room and sleeps across my legs at night.”
When Caitlin first met Scout, she intended to train him to become a therapy dog, like Sugarbear, and bring hope to other children in the hospital. Today, Scout is near the completion of his training, and Caitlin aims to help him become a full therapy dog upon her graduation.
Whether or not Scout becomes an official therapy dog to help other children, Caitlin knows the impact he has made on her life has been transformational. “He came into my life at such a crucial point in the development of my sense of self and has been with me through so many of the big changes I've made, that I can't imagine how these last few years would have been without him.”
“Hope,” said Caitlin, “is the light at the end of the tunnel that inspires you to keep going.” For the last eight years—through sickness and health—Scout has been that light for Caitlin, and only time will tell where they will go next.