Yesterday, we had to put down the best dog in the world.
We'd had Sophie for almost exactly eleven years. We got her at the ASPCA in Fort Wayne when my husband was in seminary. We were living in the tiniest apartment in a bad neighborhood, and the only good thing about it was that they let us have pets, with no limitations. So I went in to the shelter, told them I wanted a medium-sized dog that was good in an apartment (the pound wouldn't have even given us a dog as big as her.) They pointed to her, a year old border collie that had been left by a woman who'd left an abusive relationship and had been living in her car. Border collies are known for their energy, but Sophie didn't even like to stand when she ate. She was a good fit. At the shelter, they let her roam around freely. They hated to get rid of her. (almost every time we'd have her kenneled, she ended up with the same privilege. Everyone loved her) Her name was originally Bugsy. My Las Vegas roots couldn't abide that. Besides, she was too sweet. So, since border collies are one of the smartest dogs out there, and she was indeed clever, (and also because her markings kind of mimicked a clerical collar, and Sophia worship was all the talk at the seminary) we named her Sophie (okay, its not a good picture, but I can't believe how young and thin I looked! Photographing black dogs is a challenge. But you can see the fur she always leaves all over the carpet).
We also had a cat, Alyosha, about the same age. Still do. And this cat had a tendency to attack our thighs or achilles tendons as we walked by, or to dig its teeth into our toes in the middle of the night. I brought Sophie in the house, and the cat came around the corner to greet us (he was affectionate, but like most kittens, rather prone to spasms of visciousness). As he came around the corner, he froze in his tracks and the look of sheer hate in his eyes was clear. For the next few years, he channeled all that energy that used to be directed at us on Sophie, and Sophie had so much fur that she barely noticed. Alyosha would get directly underneath her and try to attack her belly. Sophie would just sigh and lay down on top of the humiliated cat. This went on for years until the cat eventually mellowed. They became good friends.
When we had Chris, Sophie barely seemed to notice, as long as we still played fetch after 7 p.m., when our neighbor downstairs turned off her hearing aids. But the first time we had a babysitter, Sophie didn't leave Chris for one moment, and laid down right next to the bed when he went down for a nap. She knew not to mess with his toys. I only had to scold her once, then I brought her stuffed animals from the food and clothing bank, and said "Sophie's bear" and she knew that one was hers and would rapidly destroy it, play fetch with it, etc.
We know that there were several times that she kept our homes safe from burglars. She only barked when there was something to bark about, but what a bark! Numerous mailmen were terrified of her, even though they'd only heard her from behind our door but had never seen her. She probably would've helped the burglars take whatever they wanted, as long as they petted her first.
My inlaws called her a trail dog. Wherever you went, there she was trailing you. I don't know how many times she's been stepped on because of this, poor thing. She always picks the spot to lay down for the night which is exactly where she can keep an eye on the front door and everyone else's bedroom. She was always sensitive to our moods and was always aware of where we were and what we wanted. We could command her using hand signals we never really even bothered teaching her.
She's lived both here and in California, crossing the country twice. Here she is the Spring after we got her. She loved to herd those geese back into the lake at the seminary, and then go in after them. I couldn't believe how far in she'd go. And above, she loved to run and play in the snow....reminds me of Fly in the movie "Babe."
Lately, the arthritis in her hips was getting bad. She could barely move, and after being rejuvenated a bit by anti-inflammatories, she got a little too hyper and messed up her ACL on her left rear leg and couldn't put any weight on it. She couldn't get up, and she was often falling over. The vet didn't think she'd be able to recover from the injury, even with surgery, since her hips were so bad. The pain would only get worse. The kids were allowed to say goodbye, and I held them in the waiting room while my husband held Sophie while they put her to sleep.
She was the first dog that was really my dog (well, my husband's dog, too...but not really my parents' dog). Even more special than being the dog of my childhood, she was the dog of my kids' childhood. She loved them, played with them, protected them...and us. I will never have another dog like her, though we may have more special dogs. I thank God for the blessing that He gave us in her.