Captain Danielle Hopping
In the morning when they come into the office at the Salvation Army’s Territorial Headquarters (THQ) in West Nyack, N.Y., Captain Danielle Hopping and her service dog Nadia step through a little white retaining gate mounted at the bottom of the door. Hopping takes her seat at a desk, boots up her computer, and turns on a videophone.
The THQ finance officer checks her messages by watching a recording showing a person who’s facial and hand motions are indicative of the American Sign Language.
Nadia, a black labrador, walks quietly to her pet bed and gets comfortable, but pays close attention to Hopping’s activities. A dear companion for five years, Nadia also serves as Hopping’s “ears” by responding when the phone rings, the door chimes or a fire alarm sounds.
When did you lose your sense of hearing? I’m 41 and have been deaf since birth due to my mother’s sickness with Rubella, a viral disease better known as measles and whose symptoms can include fever, rash, and birth defects in pregnant women. Although over time I’ve learned how to talk, all sound is beyond my ability to detect.
How did you manage, day to day? As a child, I relied greatly on my close–knit family. My mother lived with her parents and the three of them helped me and my brother Dave after my dad passed away. My mother died in 2016.
When did Nadia become a part of your life? During a hotel fire, I had a portable strobe light smoke alarm in my room, but it failed to function. I couldn’t hear anyone banging on my door or what was going on outside of it. That escape convinced me to seek additional help. I contacted an organization called Canine Companions for Independence, which has been in service for 50 years. After 22 months of training, Nadia was ready to address my needs.
It was the best decision I ever made in my life. She’s my best friend.
Romans 10:17 says, “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God,” but you’ve clearly developed and maintained strong faith. How did you do it? My faith is stronger than it used to be. For many years, I had a hard time accepting my deafness because I felt lost in this world where people can hear. I didn’t think I had a positive future; I felt like my deafness might hold me down.
But while growing up, my gram, Major Mae Beck, always reminded me not to give up hope. She always said, “Don’t give up hope because God knows what He is doing in your life and future.” She believed that God had a plan and purpose for me to be deaf to show others that He is with me and all of us, every step of the way.
Five years ago, God showed me why I should not give up hope and to keep my faith strong. He brought Nadia into my life. When I found out that her name actually means “hope,” I felt she was a gift from God. He was saying to me, “I got you.” Today, I truly believe that my gram asked God to send me Nadia as a sign. As the Scripture says, “There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off” (Proverbs 23:18).
She must have been your mentor and role model. Yes, my gram, who was promoted to Glory on January 1, 2005, knew me the best and could put up with me. She was my best friend. She was a strong, real, Christian woman. She was not afraid to speak her mind and express her feelings.
For my whole life, Gram was my cheerleader. She always told me that I could do things and always reminded me not to give up. She also reminded me of my favorite childhood story, The Little Engine That Could. She would always tell me to say, out loud, “I know I can! I know I can!” as the little engine did, going up the mountain.
Are there any other people who come to mind? My deaf role model is Sue Thomas. She is awesome, strong, stubborn, and a Christian woman who reminds me so much of myself. She grew up in a solid Christian home with strong family support. She did struggle for long time, but she found God and realized that He was with her every step of her life. It was Sue who told me about service dogs who help people with severe hearing loss. Sue also gave me words of advice, which I still use in my ministry.
What is your message to people reading this story? I want them to know that, whatever your disability or issue is, don’t let it define you; don’t let it hold you back. Our disabilities don’t have to be disappointments. Like everything else, they are part of God’s plan.
We might not know why we have this disability, and we might not see it as a good thing, but I do believe that, in the future, God will show us the reason. God is using us to show others how to be positive, living testimonies.
That’s why I believe God wants me to stay alive and continue in His ministry. I thank God for using me for His purposes. My favorite quote is “Don’t Give Up! There is always Hope!”
interview by Warren L. Maye