Sometimes you have no idea that you’re drowning until someone throws you a life preserver. She was my life preserver.
Prior to her coming into my life, I was unemotional, distant, and closed off. I was scared to death of allowing anyone or anything near my heart because I didn’t want to feel the pain. I had been stung several times before by some really bad relationships in high school mixed with a severe blow to my heart as a result of the passing of my beloved grandmother, coupled with my naturally quiet, introverted nature, it resulted in the closing off of my heart and my distancing myself from anyone who could possibly get through the wall I had built around myself. I wasn’t an affectionate person, not because I didn’t want to be, but because I was scared stiff of expressing any kind of affection due to the fear of rejection or experiencing pain later on, after I had already gotten attached. I told myself a million times that I didn’t need anyone, that I was perfectly fine on my own. I didn’t think there was a problem with the way I was conducting my “heart life”, so as the saying goes, why fix something that ain’t broke? It’s truly amazing how we can go on living and doing and not realize that something is broken until someone walks up and hands us a wrench and some superglue.
Somewhere between December 6, 2010 and February 14, 2011, she was shipped from the Kentucky shelter where she was born to a shelter here in New York. I’m not sure why she was shipped here, maybe overcrowding? I believe it was by the hand of Providence. God knew I needed someone to break through that wall of mine and he knew that this sweet, furry creature was the only one that could. I’m always amazed at how He works and makes things happen. You see, I was never really a dog person (something anyone who has only known me since having Sophia wouldn’t believe). I liked dogs, don’t get me wrong, I was just never someone who wanted a dog for my own. I grew up with family dogs, and my aunts, uncles, and grandparents all had dogs, but for me, I never had the desire to have one of my own. My twin sister on the other hand loved dogs, and had always wanted one. Her first dog was a Golden Retriever named Lady, she was a stray that was found in a field. Fast-forward to 2011, my sister who had lost her latest dog a few years prior was looking to get another dog. Yes, that’s right, Sophia was originally supposed to be my sister’s. She had found a puppy that she was interested in and was going to drive the two hours to take a look at her, and she asked if I would go with her. So on Valentine’s Day 2011 we made the two hour trip in a snow storm to go see this puppy. Looking back, I find it incredibly fitting that we got her on Valentine’s Day, because she ended up stealing my heart. (Valentine’s just happened to be a day that both parties had off). A little back story on how we found her: My sister had a mutual friend with a woman who worked at the shelter where Sophia was, that shelter was planning on getting rid of Sophia for some reason or other, so the woman took her home, planning on finding the puppy a home herself.
We when got to the woman’s apartment, we found Sophia hiding under the kitchen table with a kitten. She was scared to death of everything and they ended up dragging her out from under the table so we could see her (which immediately caused me to feel bad for her). My sister informed me in a hushed tone that she wasn’t so sure she wanted the puppy after all, with her being so skittish and all. Ashley (my sister) was use to happy, playful, outgoing puppies and dogs. She wasn’t interested in a “special case”. As soon as I saw that cute little face, I felt compelled to take her home, so I talked my sister into getting her. She rode the two hour trip home in my arms (Ashley was driving), and was absolutely perfect. She was the perfect passenger and slept most of the way home with her head hidden in my coat. We got her all settled in at home and quickly learned several things: 1) She was scared of EVERYTHING. 2) She felt safest in small, covered places like behind the couch or in her crate. And 3) She was scared of her own water dish. I worked with her a bit and found out that she was scared of the water dish because it was metal and the sound of the metal on her collar hitting the dish whenever she drank scared her. It was a problem easily solved, we just got her a plastic water dish, one that she still uses today (she’s a creature of habit). We also started picking out a name for her. Several names were thrown around including Juliet in honor of Valentine’s Day, but none of them seemed to fit. My mother threw out the name Sophie, and it was the one that seemed closest to fitting her…… But then I came up with Sophia, as in Sophia Loren (the name of the Old Hollywood legendary Italian actress). Sophia seemed to fit her and she seemed to respond to that one the best as well. So Sophia it was.
Now, again, the puppy was still technically Ashley’s dog at this point. Two days after bringing Sophia home, my sister left for two weeks on a house-sitting job, which left me to take care of Sophia. My sister was gone the majority of the time that year, rarely spending anytime at home, and when she was home she rarely spent time with her new puppy. That left me to take care of her and train her. Through learning all of Sophia’s quirks and preferences, and training her, she soon bonded to me and not my sister. I potty trained her, I taught her how to approach anything new to her in a way that made her feel safe but also helped her acclimate herself with it, I taught her not to be afraid of every single thing and that she could trust that this environment was a safe one. I also taught her how to sit, stay, and come, and how to ring the bells on the door that I had placed there to let us know when she wanted to go out, because she had yet to learn to tell us in any other way. We were together literally 24/7 that first year (and have been pretty much inseparable ever since). I learned about her needs and how to read her body language, she learned how to read mine, but more importantly, she learned how to get to me in a way that no one else could. Looking back on that first year, I can’t pinpoint the exact moment it happened, but somewhere along the way, Sophia managed to break right through that wall around my heart without me even knowing it. I didn’t realize what had happened until it was too late. I was already totally and completely attached to that beautiful little furry creature. It was clear whose dog Sophia really was, and with that, my sister signed ownership over to me…… and to think, just a year ago I didn’t think I wanted a dog! ;)
It has been just under 6 years now and I cannot imagine life without my furry baby. I taught her to be braver and gave her security and love, and she taught me about unconditional love and patience. She taught me that showing affection is healthy and feels really good, and it’s also a necessity. She is treated like the princess she is, totally spoiled rotten (as it should be). She quickly took charge of the house hold and even made friends with my mother’s toy poodle, Jackson, who was less than enthused when she first arrived. She has wormed her way into the hearts of every single member of my family. None of us could possibly imagine life without her. She not only broke through my walls, she also demolished them. There’s an old saying “It is better to have loved and lost, then to have never loved at all”. I never really believed this saying and, quite frankly, didn’t see the logic in it. Why risk the pain? Since Sophia came along, I can understand that saying. I know that when the day comes when God decides to take her, it will hurt…. And by hurt I mean I’ll be a complete basket case. It’s going to hurt like no other hurt on earth…… but I’ve come to realize that it will be worth the pain. I’m so blessed to have these years with my Sophia, to have experienced the pure love of this dog. It’ll be hard to let her go, but it would have been much worse had I never experienced her at all. I hope everyone gets the chance at least once in their life to experience the love of a dog, it’s the best kind of love.
I have a lot of people comment on my ridiculous, crazy love for this dog. They can’t understand how I can love this dog like my own flesh and blood child. The thing is I can’t begin to explain it to someone who has never experienced it for themselves. She is my best friend, my constant companion, my confidant, my sidekick. She’s always up for anything, as long as she gets to be with me. She goes hiking and walking through the mountains and woods with me, she loves rides in the car, she picnics with me, sleds with my kid sister, plays in the snow with us, and adores going on our annual daddy-daughter camping trip. I couldn’t ask for a more perfect dog. She’s a diva, no doubt about it, she’s incredibly smart (maybe a little too smart haha), and it’s usually her way or the highway, but then again, her way is always more fun. ;) Yes, Sophia is a very fitting name for this photogenic, intelligent, furry diva. I thank God every day for sending her to me. He knew we needed each other. <3
***** Originally published on http://www.elizabethaustinwrites.com/writing-just-in-case *****