Monday, September 29, 2014

A Tragic day...

With complete shock and a heavy heart I would like to pay a tribute to an incredible woman, Dr Sophia Yin, who passed away suddenly this afternoon. Those who have been around her could tell you about the seemingly boundless energy and passion that seems to just emanate from all around her. I had the honor of knowing Sophia first as a professor where I was enrolled in her animal behavior class. At the time, I had a dog aggressive Boxer, whom I had tried (what turned out to be) every wrong technique in the behavior book. My interest piqued when I learned that Sophia too had gotten part of her start in behavior because of an aggressive but lovable Boxer dog and it was easy to draw a parallel to my own situation. I inquired with her about learning more and was taken under her wing to complete an internship in animal behavior with her in the fall of 2006. Every Thursday we would meet and ride the 6am Amtrak commuter train from Davis to San Francisco. This was a several hour long process that included a train to bus transfer to cross the bridge as well as an additional mile or so extra on foot once we were dropped in the city in order to reach the specialty hospital that was our destination giving us plenty of time to gossip along the way. The reverse of this of course was the way back home which we would reach by 9 or sometimes 10 o’clock at night. While at the Vet Specialty Hospital I would assist Dr. Yin by demonstrating techniques to owners during behavior consults while she explained what I was doing to the client. After each consult once the client had departed we usually had the opportunity to sit and discuss the case, how it differed for others, how it was the same. The semester flew by quickly (as they often do) but was marked by many great encounters and learning experiences both human as well as furry.
Shortly after my internship I graduated but decided to stick around Davis and become a Registered Technician as a stepping stone toward my ultimate goal of becoming a Veterinary Doctor. We kept in touch and I was still having problems with my Boxer so Sophia helped me out with some private training sessions. Being a poor college student I really didn’t have much money (this has not changed) and instead Sophia found ways for me to work for her. I ironed and mended clothes and even sewed a dog jacket for her JRT Jonesy and in exchange she worked with my pup including simply taking her for a week to live at her own home with her other dogs.
When Dr. Yin decided to write a book on Low Stress Handling I was delighted to receive a call from her asking if I would be willing to volunteer some time to help out with some of the many photos she wanted to take demonstrating the right and wrong ways to approach animal handling. Many people don’t know that the animals used in the photos were mostly borrowed from the local animal shelter. No they were not trained. Yes, the techniques worked. I will admit to quite a workout with a sweet (but very hyper and rambunctious) blue pitty who took every bit of my strength and left me drenched in sweat by the end of the day. Sophia also managed to play a pretty good joke on me by asking me to hold Jonesy (her naughty little JRT) the way I would begin holding any dog in the hospital. Knowing that this technique would not work on him she videotaped the trial and added it to the video demonstration for the book as well. Good one Doctor.
As the years passed we kept in touch and she supported my aspiration to become a vet, even writing one of my letters of recommendation. When I finally got into school she sent me a copy of her Small Animal Nerdbook in celebration.
Our last conversation was lighthearted and upbeat in the style as many we had had before. She told me that business was really shaping up and asked me who the man in my facebook pictures were and when told exclaimed "Ooh. Give me an update on THAT! (your boyfriend). He's cute!"
It is difficult to look back on these memories and come to grips with the idea that they are the last. Once again I find myself caught off guard by the fragile nature of our existence. A brilliant pioneer has been taken. Truly one of my personal hero’s and role models. May she find peace, rest, and love eternal.
Using Dr Yins techniques on my old Boxer Maggie at Armstrong woods in CA

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