Life at our house returned to normal once Sophie recovered from the Distemper virus. We felt very lucky to have overcome that crisis. We were also lucky that the new puppy fit right into our family, especially with our Lab mix, Missy and our German shepherd, Bear. Missy, who was the perpetual mother dog, introduced Sophie to the canine household rules and showed her how to use the doggie door by giving her bottom a push with her nose. Bear on the other hand, was the constant protector of our home and made Sophie feel safe. When life got too hectic you would see Sophie slowly back her hind quarters into Bear’s sturdy body and stay there with him until a sense of calmness was restored in our household.
Sophie wasn’t very fond of our cat Muffin, who promptly welcomed her to the family by thumping her on the nose with her paw. It was a gesture Muffin used on every dog in our house to say, “I’m an old cat so give me some respect and stay out of my way.”
Muffin had actually only joined our family a year or two before Sophie’s arrival. She was a stray that my son Matthew found in the desert near our home. She was an old girl that had been abandoned and once we saw she was declawed and had no way to protect herself, she became a reluctant part of our dog loving clan.
Sophie spent the first year thoroughly enjoying the idea of being the “baby” of the family. We showered her with attention and she thrived. She was also the only puppy we adopted that NEVER caused any damage of mischief. There were no eaten cushions from the sofa, chewed boat wires or sprinkler heads or any of the other typical antics puppies get into. Sophie was growing, learning, staying healthy and yes turning into a somewhat spoiled, but altogether good dog.
At this time in 1999, I started to volunteer with several animal rescue groups. I spent the year sporadically helping at pet adoptions or walking dogs that were housed at a rescue facility. Every time I went to volunteer, Ken would send me out the door with these words, “Have fun, but don’t come home with another animal.”
Those of us in the rescue world know that at every event, there is ONE animal that makes you fall in love. During the year there was a little black Chihuahua who wouldn’t leave my arms, a puppy I took for a potty break who had never seen a glass door and nearly crashed into it at a mall and a cat that swirled around my legs for hours, purring. I NEVER TOOK AN ANIMAL HOME. I knew they were safe with a rescue group and would eventually find a new family.
By the time Christmas rolled around I was invited to attend a fundraiser hosted by our local SPCA. I asked Ken to join me. On our way out the door, I said we had to say hi to the dogs in their pens. As we passed by, we came across a very, very skinny German shepherd named Shadow. The sign on her pen read that a volunteer had rescued her from a high-kill shelter because she has a heart condition and was expected to live for only a couple of years.
Ken was putty in Shadow’s paws. He wanted to adopt her on the spot. I explained she was in good hands, but he insisted I call to find out the details of her illness.
The SPCA said the volunteer who rescued Shadow had taken her to a veterinarian for tests and they found an aortic stenosis which is a narrowing in part of the heart. They faxed her test results to me and I contacted Colorado State University Veterinary School in hope of getting more details about the condition. A veterinarian/professor called back. After I read him the results he said if we adopted Shadow we should treat her like a normal dog because there were no reliable surgeries to correct the defect. He stated the stenosis would probably get worse with time and one day she would more than likely die of a heart attack.
To make a long story short, Shadow lived to be 14-years-old. I don’t know if the original veterinarian made the wrong diagnosis, but it seemed that her heart murmur and tired condition got better and better with every pound of muscle she gained. Shadow was 25 lbs. underweight when we adopted her.
The bad news is that Sophie absolutely hated the idea of giving up her status as the baby of the family. She came with me to meet Shadow and while that went well, she refused to let the new dog into the house.
Ken, the genius, came up with a plan. We locked Sophie in the house and put Shadow in the back yard. Next Missy and Bear were introduced to the newcomer. Missy played her maternal role perfectly, inspecting Shadow from nose to tail while Bear looked on. Before too long the three of them were hanging out in the yard like they had known each other their whole lives. All of this occurred while Sophie watched through the window. Finally we opened the door for her to join the group.
Sophie followed the lead of her older housemates and before too long she found something she liked even better than being the baby. She adored being the boss and best friend of Shadow. Where ever you saw Sophie, Shadow’s head would pop up too. The girls were together from morning and all through the night. They are probably still BFFs in heaven.
Having four dogs prompted us to look into a new way to give them some exercise. We found the Dog Park, which was actually a relatively new concept in 1999 and 2000 in Las Vegas. The one near our house had a small grassy area for little dogs and another next to it for large pups. Both were enclosed by a chain link fence that shared an inner wall and inside were benches for owners to sit and relax. Dog parks are interesting because there are pet owners who come to play with their dogs and owners who come to socialize with other dog owners. We were part of a subgroup of the first set. Ken and I were the overzealous, helicopter dog parents who not only play with the dogs, but oversee the games of all the other dogs too.
Missy spent most of her time trying to get the attention of the small dogs on the other side of the fence, but Bear, Shadow and Sophie wanted us to organize a game for them. We threw a ball, which Bear loved, but Sophie wanted us to run with her. That’s when we noticed she wanted to be the fastest runner at the dog park.
She would get the attention of the dogs, first our own and then the others at the park, by running and dodging past them. When they stopped whatever they were doing and lifted their heads to show that she had gotten their attention, she would run out to the front of the park and stop with her head down low and her rear in the air. She would wait for the game to begin. One-by-one each dog would take off after her. Sophie would turn her back to the group and gleefully start running with her head lifted out straight in front of her and her tail stuck straight out in back. She would literally gallop with her ears flopping at each side until the game ended when Sophie decided that she had won the imaginary race.
We repeated the fastest runner at the park race week after week until Bear went blind and it became too dangerous for him to play at the park. The race was one of Sophie’s proudest moments.