Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Remembering Sophie

It's 4th of July which means BBQ, of course, and sparklers for children, half of which will refuse to hold one and howl in terror, the other half of which will naturally chase the first half around the lawn shouting traditional holiday chants like 'I'm setting you on fire' and 'let's try it on the cat.'

But today, because it's a holiday and hardly anyone is reading blogs, seems the perfect day to write about Sophie, our Alaska dog. Perfect because this is going to be a monster - nothing else will do for Sophie.

Kirk felt about dogs the way he felt about music - you could probably live without it, but what would be the point? We had had a dog for a little while in New Mexico, but since we were both going to school full time and raising a house full of toddlers we realized quickly we didn't have the time or energy to give the dog what he needed. He was found a new home on a farm where his lab-mix energy had room to express itself.

But the canine desire wasn't gone. Our first Alaska house wasn't friendly to dogs, but our second one was and I happened to see a small sign saying 'free puppies to good home' pinned to a post.

Kirk took Child 2 to 'check them out,' which meant that three hours later they came home with a handful of white and brown fur with two flop-down ears and a hopeful expression. She was half samoyed (maternal) and half neighbor dog and looked like just about every street dog you've ever seen in the middle east.

But oh, was she smart. Within a week she was completely house trained - not because she coveted the treats we bribed her with, but because she wanted desperately to make us happy. I took on her training because Kirk was still on his horrible schedule, and she immediately picked up sit, lie, come, and heel. Stay took a couple of days because it was utterly counter intuitive. She would cock her head to one side and think and think about it, knowing what I wanted, but unable to sort out this bizarre logic. I had to start her staying only a foot away, then two feet, and slowly get her to plonk her furry bottom down and wait all the way across the room. She never did understand why we should be apart, but because she loved us she did it anyway.

The only thing she didn't learn well was leash training. That was partly my fault - I never had a dog as a kid so I didn't know that leash training was necessary - and partly simply because we got her in winter, and for several months she was too small to walk on a leash for more than a few minutes. She would bounce along for about a block as we went to pick up the kids from school, and then start to shiver violently all over and have to go the rest of the way tucked into my coat with just her small fox-face sticking out.

She grew quickly that winter. Her flop-down ears decided to perk up after a few weeks, but did it one at a time so Kirk called her hi-lo after some sort of radar when she rushed to meet him at the door with her lopsided head. When she was tiny she would lie in the back window of the Saturn and watch the world go by, but by the spring she had outgrown that perch and ranged over the kids' laps instead.

That was a bit of a problem for them because Sophie was enchanted with cars. We would drive up Turnagain Arm, single lane each way, and she would watch for oncoming traffic eagerly so she could snap at each vehicle. Just the cars though - RV's were too big and she would turn her head and pretend she didn't see them; motorcycles were allowed by with just a head flick - I'll let you live this time, but just because you're not worth the effort. That wouldn't have been too bad, but she also liked to rush to the other side just to see what was happening over there, and would then realize there were cars escaping her vigilent watch so she had to spin around and dance back again. Our trips were punctuated with 'ouch! Sophie!'

Once, far later, Sophie came running to get me in great excitement. I had to look out the window, right now, it was vital. Across the street, the neighbors had their car up on blocks. Sophie seemed to know it was disabled, probably injured, and was convinced we could easily take it down now and eat like kings for weeks.

We took her with us most of the time - sledding, hiking, camping. One of Kirk's most special moments was an early morning with Sophie, the rest of the family still asleep in the tents, sitting and watching the tide come in while Sophie did fox pounces at the seagulls who looked at her in disbelief and only reluctantly joined in the game.

She loved us all passionately, but Kirk was undoubtably her man. TH White has a wonderful quote about dogs in The Once And Future King: 'It was nice for the dogs to have their god with them, in visible form.' And that was Kirk for Sophie.

We had her with us once when we went fishing in Wasilla. We always tramped a good way upstream to avoid the crowds. Kirk went first with Sophie and the shotgun, then the three kids, then me - a sort of kid sandwich to avoid losing anyone or have the stragglers picked off or anything. This time we had just jumped over a small stream and come around a bend, to find ourselves faced with a massive grizzly. Sophie took one look and promptly wound herself and her leash around Kirk's legs so tightly that he couldn't move. He fired the shotgun - into the ground in front of the bear. He was ready to shoot again if he needed, but the bear had gotten the message and it turned tail and ran away. Sophie spent the rest of the day fawning over Kirk. Her god was a wonderful god - her god made thunder.

Sophie got fixed the same time that Kirk had an operation (he had already been fixed, this was for something else) so they recuperated together. She had been given a nice blue bandana to cover up her scar, and she was very good about not licking at her stiches. She just curled herself up on the floor next to his couch, and now and then she would lick at his hand when he reached down to pet her. Not to worry, she seemed to say, we'll get through this.

She was only just over two when she got sick. She had gotten into some garbage a fisherman had dumped and eaten a lot of fishing line. She didn't show any symptoms at all until she suddenly began violently vomiting horrible black liquid. She hated making messes in the house, and looked at us miserably in apology.

Kirk took her to the vet and waited with her while they looked her over. He was there for several hours. Then he came home alone.

It was too late, he said. There was nothing they could do. The fishing line had tangled in her intestines so badly that most of her abdomen was already necrotic. He had stayed with her, holding her head and reassuring her while they quietly put her to sleep.

We scattered her ashes over the ocean from the ferry on our way back from Alaska: our little fox-faced dog. And we cried and we said goodbye.


Anonymous said...

Any chance of a photo of Sophie?

For Kirk said...

Most of our things are in storage, but I'll definitely go through them this weekend and see what I can find!

Anonymous said...

I'd love to see a photo of Sophie. Thank you!