Once Sophie recovered from Distemper, our family went into an adjustment period with the new puppy. That meant lots of changes in our life. I don’t know how you feel about change, but I’m not a big fan. I prefer the status quo where I can be in control.
But we can’t hold back life and for the next few years our family experienced more change then stability. Here’s a breakdown of what happened.
Sophie’s introduction to her housemates
For the most part Sophie fit into our family without much drama. Our Lab mix, Missy, was the perpetual mother dog. She took charge of teaching Sophie the canine household rules. She taught the puppy which furniture she could climb on and how to use the doggie door.
The doggie door lesson was a huge help in training Sophie to use the yard as her potty, instead of the house. Missy would push Sophie’s bottom with her nose, easing her through the rubber flap on the door. She did it until Sophie gained the confidence to do it on her own.
Our German shepherd, Bear, became Sophie’s playmate and bodyguard. His job was to teach her games and keep her safe. Sophie learned to love this idea and when life got too chaotic, you would see her slowly back her hind quarters against Bear’s body for comfort.
Sophie’s relationship with our cat Muffin was a different story. Muffin ruled over all of the animals in the house. She greeted Sophie by thumping her on the nose with her paw. Sophie quickly learned to treat the cat with respect.
Muffin was actually pretty new to our family, only joining us a couple of years before Sophie. She was a stray who had been abandoned in the desert near our home. My son found her on his way home from school. Muffin was an old girl who wasn’t fond of dogs. But when we noticed she’d been declawed and was trying to fend for herself in the desert, she became a reluctant member of the family.
Sophie came to love her role as the “baby” of our clan. She adored the attention she got from all of us and how she could run to her two elder housemates for help when the occasional sofa cushion somehow got eaten.
But then I started volunteering with a couple of animal rescue groups. I would help out at adoptions and exercise dogs who were kenneled. Each time I’d head out to an event, Ken would call to me saying, “Have a fun, but don’t come home with another dog.”
And even though I would fall in love with at least one animal at each adopt-a-thon, I never brought one home.
That Christmas I was invited to a fundraiser hosted by the local SPCA. Ken reluctantly joined me. When we were leaving the event, I said we needed to stop by the dog kennels to say hi to the pups.
As we made our way down the long aisle, we came across an extremely thin shepherd mix named Shadow. There was a sign on the kennel door that said she’d been rescued from a high-kill shelter because of a heart condition. She was expected to live for only a couple of years.
That was enough information for my husband. He stopped in his tracks and wanted to adopt her on the spot.
Sophie meets Shadow
To make a long story short, we investigated Shadow’s condition by contacting a specialist at Colorado State University Veterinary School. We found out that Shadow had a heart murmur and aortic stenosis, which is a narrowing in part of the heart.
Ken and I were told the problem would get worse as the dog aged. It was recommended that if we adopted her, we should love her and expect her to pass away within 18 months.
The good news is Shadow lived to be 14-years-old. She was originally 25lbs underweight when we took her home and as she gained more pounds, her symptoms disappeared.
The not so good news was that Sophie hated the idea of having a new dog in the family. She refused to let Shadow into the house.
My hubby genius came up with a plan. We put Sophie in the living room while Missy and Bear joined us in the backyard to meet Shadow. Sophie watched the introductions from a window.
Missy did her maternal “thing” and inspected the new dog from nose to tail. Bear started a game of chase with the new pup. Before long all three dogs were playing together.
As Sophie watched the interaction, she began to whine. We let her join the group and in a matter of minutes we had a wonderful bonded family. Sophie and Shadow became lifelong best friends.
My puppy went from being the baby in the family to Shadow’s unofficial boss. Wherever you saw one dog, you knew the other was close behind…. and they loved it that way.
How we exercised 4 dogs
Having four dogs led us to explore public dog parks. We needed a big area where all of them could run. That’s how we discovered Sophie was the fastest runner at the dog park.
When we entered the park, she’d run past every dog to get their attention. Then she’d head to the front of park in the lead position, ahead of all the other dogs, and wait.
One-by-one the other dogs would lift their heads and get into a “ready to chase you” position. Sophie would take one last look at the group and then start to gallop. The dogs would take off after her, chasing her from one end of the park to the other. She always stayed ahead of the pack, determined to win the race. It was by far her favorite game.
We continued our fastest runner at the park contests until Bear became blind and it became unsafe for him to be there. The races were always Sophie’s proudest moments.
A new house, a new routine
In April 2002, we moved to a new house and community. The dog park was exchanged for a 3-mile loop that surrounded our new neighborhood.
We also discovered a novel hobby that all 4 dogs enjoyed. We called it “house-hunting.” Lots of houses were being built in the neighborhood, so every evening we took the dogs for a self-guided tour.
The dogs loved it. They were thrilled to explore the interiors and exteriors of the freshly built homes. The dogs never left a mess and we never touched anything inside; we just enjoyed seeing what had been accomplished that day by the construction workers.
Our son was not as fond of the house hunting experience. He would shake his 16-year-old head and say that “his friends didn’t do this with their families.” But we didn’t mind his reprimands because the rest of the crew couldn’t wait for our nightly adventures.
The loop around the neighborhood became a daily ritual as well. Bear, Missy, Sophie and Shadow couldn’t wait for the time when we grabbed their leashes for the walk.
We traveled the 3-miles so often that a neighbor stopped us one day to see what we charged. She thought we were dog walkers. It was truly a joyful time.
But because life makes the rules, change was coming to our family again. Missy and Bear were growing old. We began to shorten the walks, until they became daily car rides.
Then in September 2004 both Missy and Bear passed away. They died 12 days apart. Missy suddenly became ill and Bear had been diagnosed with cancer earlier that year.
Taking dogs to the office
Sophie and Shadow were lost after their siblings passed. They looked all over the house for them. It was one of the saddest experiences of my life. Our wonderful bonded foursome didn’t exist anymore.
Ken and I knew we needed to establish a new routine, so it was decided to take Sophie and Shadow to work with us.
Every morning they jumped into the car and drove to our accounting office, where we put them to work…sort of.
They spent their time greeting clients, getting attention from the staff, walking to the mailbox and getting lunch. Lunch was by far their favorite job. They loved walking to the nearby deli every day for a half pound of sliced turkey.
Everyone enjoyed the new routine, but I found myself missing a house full of fur kids. So, one year later, we added a German shepherd mix named Cody to the family.
And while this might sound like a fairytale end to our story, it was just the beginning of a new big problem to solve. Cody was 100 percent afraid of men!