His presence always seemed larger than life. And if we have anything to say about it, his legacy will continue to change lives for a long time to come.
Hoover lived most of his years with Don. When we met them, Don was 87, and Hoover was 10. Think about it: At age 77, Don went in search of a yellow Labrador puppy who could compete in dog shows. Once he reached adulthood, Hoover ended up exceeding the breed standards for size, and settled in to being Don’s constant companion. Their friendship took them on a few adventures together, and Hoover’s company was an enduring source of pleasure for Don. Don taught him early on to sit down when a car passed in the street: Out visiting a friend or two across that same street on his own, Hoover still sat down every time a car went by. He also carried a favorite stuffed animal with him nearly everywhere, napping with his head cushioned on the toy when he could.
Ultimately Don sought a move into assisted living. He delayed as long as he could, as Hoover would not be able to come along. As he delayed, both Don’s mobility and Hoover’s declined. Don’s family could not take the dog. Don called more than a couple rescues and no one returned the calls. Finally, a friend connected with us, and that same afternoon we put a foster home in touch with Don. He liked who they could be for his best friend, and they offered to stay in close touch about Hoover.
This is where Hoover’s legacy took a new turn.
No one—absolutely no one—liked that Don’s move to assisted living meant saying goodbye to Hoover.
When we posted Hoover’s need for an adoptive family on social media, it prompted two volunteers to offer to drive Hoover back and forth to visit Don in assisted living. That idea struck a chord, and Hoover’s Taxi Network was born. What evolved over the next year or so is now a cadre of volunteers who ferry dogs from their adoptive homes to visit their original person in assisted living. Hoover was the first, and the inspiration. These visits have a careful scaffold of planning around them, designed to ensure the process works for everyone (and because we are a dog rescue, it especially must work for each dog.)
We found golden hearts for Hoover when the Marker family offered to adopt him. They wanted a senior dog—and only a senior dog—for their three children and they absolutely wanted to be a part of Hoover and Don’s continued companionship.
There was some recovery to do for big Hoover. He had not exercised in quite a while. The first time out, he could walk 10 feet and then sit down. Chad slowly made it around the block with him, only to have Hoover finally give up and sit in the middle of the road. A car drove by, and true to his early training, Hoover did not budge. Then the car left, and he still would not budge. Renee used a cookie to convince him to come back home.
Over time, he made it up to walking two blocks all in one fell swoop. That may not sound like so much, but with steady encouragement, Hoover dropped 25 pounds off his large frame, a change from 110 pounds to 85 pounds. He grumped regularly about his diet, never met a food he didn’t like, and demonstrated with great perseverance that “Hoover” was indeed his perfect name: He cleaned up every crumb, just like an efficient vacuum cleaner. Whenever it was time to eat, he would herd anyone he could toward his food bowl.
If dogs have passions, Hoover’s passion was his new family. He especially kept an eagle eye on Graham, who at age four had a lot of great ideas of things he could do. If Hoover did not agree with the evolving idea, he would grunt, attempting to change the course of a 4-year-old’s plan of action. Want to find Hoover? Look for the children. He loved his kids. There is no way to emphasize that enough. He loved his kids. He could usually be found in the same room with them, watchful eyes on their activities. If he deemed the kids were getting too rambunctious, he would issue a stern bark. He loved when they were excited, especially at Christmas or Easter. He would place himself in the center of the festivities, eagerly watching the chaos, wagging his tail, loving every minute. At night, he would sit in the kids’ room at the bottom of the bunk bed, waiting for bedtime songs to finish. Then and only then, he would pad out of the room, content to spend the night underneath Renee’s side of the bed. If ever a big yellow dog could take on the role of a nanny, it was Hoover.
He also knew the family routine. Renee worked from home, with Hoover ever at her feet. When she left in the afternoon, he knew her mission was to get his kids. He would wait at the door, with as many stuffed animals in his mouth as he could (he could get a lot in that big mouth), ready for a big hello.
With all of his attention to his kids, Renee, and Chad, Hoover also seemed to relish going back to see Don. He knew exactly who lived in the assisted living facility, and was eager to get inside. He would promptly resume his old spot next to Don, and they would share snacks and enjoy their companionship once again.
This past winter was more and more difficult for Hoover. He struggled to get up after lying down. His kids hung out with him, but more and more it was clear Hoover’s body was failing his spirit. The Markers took a Sunday to dress up in special clothes and pose for a last set of pictures with Hoover. The next morning, they let him pass peacefully.
Hoover was what so many seniors prove to be—a remarkable personality that adapts to one or many, keeping his sense of self amiably intact throughout, sure of what his life should hold. What no one could have predicted is that the course of his life, with two families who loved him dearly, would change the lives of many who will follow after. Hoover’s outlook was marked by his preference—and the preference of all who knew him—to say hello rather than goodbye. Through Hoover’s Taxi Network, his big spirit will live on, helping people and their dogs not have to say goodbye simply because a change of residence seems to require it.
~ Mary Gustafson