The text message was like a punch in the gut . . . “Sophia Yin passed away. Tragic!”
How could this be? It was so sudden, so unexpected. Then came the news. It was suicide. More confusion. More pained thoughts. I decided I just needed to remember her as I knew her.
You see, Dr. Sophia Yin, DVM was unstodgy and atypical in so many ways. I remember our first meeting at an Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) conference at which we were both presenting. She was nervous about how her talk would be received. I was antsy about mine too, so we talked our way through the nerves, got the butterflies in our stomachs to fly in formation and had a blast. During the post-banquet meal we literally bumped into each other on the dance floor (Well, it was more that I stumbled into her). I was blown away when Sophia busted some serious moves she had learned in a hip-hop class. She then proceeded to teach this rhythmically-challenged old cop a step or two. That was her way—sharing the joy she found in the things she knew.
Through the years we saw each other off and on at conferences. At one such gathering she asked Jen and me to participate in beta-testing a training device she had developed. We gladly signed the non-disclosure agreement and watched her demonstrate was to be the Treat & Train marketed to the masses by the Sharper Image™. We loved the device and gave her feedback on it and then watched as the gadget-hawking company horribly mis-marketed her brainchild. We followed the ups and downs as she kept it alive with modifications and name changes with other partner companies. It is only through Sophia’s perseverance that the device survived and thrived to remain one of our favorite training tools. That was her way—turning stumbling blocks into stepping stones.
While at in Seattle for the 2009 American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) Sophia came and visited us with her friend and colleague, Dr. Valli Parthasarathy, DVM. They were both committed to furthering animal welfare through their work as veterinary behaviorists. Sophia was a strong proponent of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) and its enlightened approach to animal training and behavior modification (http://avsabonline.org/resources/position-statements). Beyond that she had just completed an amazing project “Low Stress Handling, Restraint, and Behavior Modification of Dogs and Cats”—a text book and DVD combo for veterinarians and other care-providers who handle animals. Sophia didn’t just live by her animal-friendly beliefs; she shared them in marvelously accessible ways. That was her way—innovate as you put principles over methods.
A couple of years later Sophia asked me to review and comment on one of her blog posts about a research paper. I read her post and the underlying study and told her that I thought the study was flawed and the authors’ conclusions were overbroad. We each argued our points and in the end she chose not to post my comment. Still, our respect for each other never waned. We both trusted that while all too often the only thing two dog trainers can agree on is what the another dog trainer is doing wrong that was not the case with us. At our cores we were aligned in our respect for dogs’ ability to learn from the consequences of their choices and that in training those consequences should more often than not be something the animal wants to experience again. That was her way—to stand for her beliefs while still respecting others principled choices.
As you can see Sophia Yin was an amazing individual. I choose not to dwell upon the whys of her departure from this Earth, but instead to remember her as a brilliant star that burned brightly enough to change many a ship’s course.