Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Sophie, the Dog Star

Several friends have either had illnesses with their animals or their pets died which reminded me of my old dog, Sophie, who died last summer. I wrote this essay which explains a lot about her right after I had heard she was dead.

A Dog Star
I call my mother once a week now. I used to call her everyday but her responses on the phone are beginning to sound like a tape-recording, “How’s the weather? How’s Sophie? Have you seen Sophie?”
Sophie is a German Short Hair pointer I had for 12 years who was born under a lucky star. My friends nicknamed her “Sophie, the Wonder Dog”. I acquired her in 1996, in Central Park while on a jog, and stopped to pet her. In talking, the woman walking her, told me, Sophie came from an animal shelter but the dog was too high energy for her so she was looking for someone else to adopt the dog. I had just gotten a new job, a new weekend house in the Hamptons and had just split up with a boyfriend who had a wired haired pointer. I had fallen in love with pointers rather than him. So after a night’s rest, I called the woman and agreed to the deal, I would adopt Sophie.
                  The next 3 years, included Sophie’s disappearance in Central Park for 7 hours after her prong collar broke while being walked. I soon found that she would grab small dogs as if they were chew toys to play with, so Sophie became “the Dog Who Bites Little Dogs”. We passed a dog obedience class at the ASPCA(Sophie wore a muzzle), I took her for long jogs in Central Park but that didn’t deter her from biting another dog while a movie was being filmed. Sophie and I would get in a rental car every weekend to go to East Hampton which included her jumping through a screen window of the tiny cottage I had rented for the summer.
                      When I moved to Chicago, in 1997, I made sure the bank included “dog moving expenses”. The next 10 years would be filled with all sorts of Sophie stories. I met with dog trainers, talked to my vet, exercised her all the time, and had her walked 3 times a day. But Sophie stayed a defensively aggressive dog. Perhaps, she loved me too much and vice versa. Her last year in Chicago, I took Sophie to the Animal Emergency Clinic 3 different times for enterotomies. As my life got more stressful, she would eat the carpet like ramen noodles. To see an animal that was so willful and full of energy walking around with her entire underbelly stapled together was heart breaking. The last straw occurred when I needed to move from my beautiful 2-bedroom apartment with tons of windows to a studio. I knew I wouldn’t have the room Sophie required or the money to get her the exercise she needed as well.
                      Then my friend Kirstin, from Moab, Utah visited me a few months before I needed to make the move. It turned out that Kirstin was looking to adopt an older dog, she was separating from her husband and thought focusing on a new dog would help her get through this rough period. Good fortune!! I dropped her off in Moab a month later.
                      I visited Sophie last May. She certainly looked like a granny dog with a white, grey, grizzly muzzle and she was hobbling around a bit but she had otherwise turned into a new dog. Sophie lived in Kirstin’s house with 2 cats. She obeyed off leash and got along with other dogs. Basically the hikes and exercise Sophie had by living near Canyonlands National Park had eradicated all her neurotic city behavior. On my visit while I sat reading a book in the sun on the back porch, Sophie sat on her dog bed, listening to the birds and the wind go through the cottonwoods, no fire engines, ambulances, buses or construction sounds like she heard every day when she lived in the city. Sophie did live up to her reputation as the ‘wonder dog” over New Year’s 2007, she got lost in the woods in Castle Valley an area about 15 miles from Moab when Sophie was being watched by a friend. Sophie survived for 3 days in the wilderness, with freezing weather and hungry coyotes to make it 5 miles in the right direction back to town before she was found. Sophie lived under a lucky dog star.
                          Kirstin called me last week, usually we trade emails so I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. I called back and Kirstin told me that Sophie was not doing well. Since May, Sophie became incontinent. She fell down all the time and continued trying to break out of the house by jumping through screens. Sophie had not lost her willfulness but was going downhill fast. My immediate reaction was a picture of this grinning, willful, intelligent dog curled up on her most comfortable dog bed in my Chicago living room. I thought, ” No, you can’t put her to sleep, she is suppose to live forever.” I also realized Sophie had lived a peaceful, contented life these last 2 years, no operations, lots of dogs, lots of birds and lots of fresh air and love. Sophie had really connected with her inner wolf.
                                  I got an email from Kirstin today. She said that Sophie is now buried in the backyard underneath one of her favorite cottonwood trees and that her spirit will live on. I am sad but I know that backyard is a beautiful, peaceful, place that Sophie loved. I have not called my mother to let her know that Sophie has died. I need to. If I call and tell Mom that Sophie is dead who knows if she will remember? Sophie died with peacefulness and dignity. Who knows how long my mother will live, it could be years and years and how much farther she will deteriorate? If only humans lived under the same lucky star my dog Sophie did.

                                  My sentiments are still the same, I wish humans could be treated as humanely when it comes to death the way we treat our beloved animals. My mother still has her memory, but her life consists of smoking cigarettes, watching TV and sleeping. She sees her grand daughter every now and then and my brother watches over her.  We have not yet gotten to the point of putting her in a facility but we are close. She always said in her fits of anger that she wanted to die in the house, but how much longer can my brother wash and feed her? Time is ticking away but we are not quite there yet.

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