The Story of Sophie

This last week was difficult for me. I made the decision to put my 15-year-old cat to sleep, and this wasn’t easy. She was the last “premarital” pet we owned. She was very social and liked being around the family, often positioning herself so that it was easy for us to pet her. My husband knew her for 13 years, and he loved her too. At the very end, he was running to the pet store (30 minutes away), trying to find food that she would like to eat. I appreciate that more than he’ll ever know.

I got Sophie in 2001, shortly after I moved into a rental house in Athens. It was the first time I was independent enough to rent a place by myself (aside from when I lived out of the country). It was a little mill house that had been built in the 1920s and renovated beautifully. I loved the hardwood floors and built-in bookshelves. I can’t think of that house without thinking about Sophie because she was such a part of it.

When I picked her out at the shelter, it wasn’t just because she was so beautiful. It was because she had the best personality of all the cats I met there. She was clearly affectionate and loyal, marking me as her territory right away. All the other cats seemed frantic and stressed. Later I learned that Siamese cats can become very attached to their owners. (Sophie was a Siamese mix.)

Every other cat I had in my life would always disappear if you brought them to a new home. They would have to explore the whole place, sniff every nook and cranny before you saw them again. But when I brought Sophie home for the first time, she stepped out of the cage, took a brief look around and then came right up to me, giving me a full body rub on the leg as if to say, “Thank you! Thank you!”

When I lived in that little mill house, I worked full-time at the university, and I would come home every day around 5:30pm. I left Sophie outside all day long, and everyday, she would run up to my car door as I got out, meowing a greeting. Some people say that cats only care about humans because we feed them, but I know this wasn’t true of Sophie. There were times she’d greet me, but she didn’t want to be fed. She just stopped by to say hello and then continue exploring the world outside.

My neighbors at that house was a young couple with two little girls, and they had two dogs and cat too. One time the mother told me that Sophie had been hanging out in their backyard with them and their dog, but suddenly Sophie swirled around and darted over the fence toward home. My neighbor said she looked in the direction of my house and saw that my car was pulling up in the driveway.

Sophie was with me during a time of my life that was sometimes lonely because a couple of dear friends moved away from town, and I had not met my husband yet. Although I liked my job okay, I was beginning to realize that working in an office was stifling, and it wasn’t what I was suited for. I would be so tired in the evenings and on the weekends, I couldn’t go out or do much else. But Sophie was my friend. I would sit outside with her and drag a stick through the dirt for her to chase, or I’d watch her climb the big pecan tree in front of the house. She slept with me every evening and greeted me with meows and purring every morning.

When she was little, she refused to leave the boundary of her territory, which comprised of the lot my house sat on plus our neighbor’s lot. So when I went for a walk, she would sit on the edge of that boundary and wait for me. She would howl her head off, if she could see me. Later, in the house where we now live, she began to follow my husband and me on our walks. If we were walking away from the house, she would continue to howl. If we were walking back toward it, she wouldn’t howl, content that we were going in the right direction.

Once she was frightened by some dogs that lived at a house on the other side of the subdivision. They couldn’t get to her, but they barked at her, so she decided to wait across the street from that house on the edge of some woods and wait for us. When we came back by, she was gone, and our neighbors with the dogs (who had been sitting out on their front porch) said that a huge deer stepped out of the woods behind Sophie and scared her, so she ran into the woods. I had to go find her. She had climbed a tree, and when she heard me calling, she ran toward me. I had to laugh, wondering what a little cat would think of a big deer.

Unfortunately, after I moved here with my husband, away from that little mill house and friendly neighborhood of people and animals, we didn’t know we’d move next to a very controlling person who wanted a perfect yard and absolutely no cats walking on his precious lawn. If I had known that, I’m not sure I would have moved here. But such is life, and Sophie had to become an indoor cat. He insisted she’d get used to it, but, of course, she didn’t. Until the day she died, she was trying to escape the house. She loved being outside.

Now that I have a new-found love of science, nature and especially birds, I understand why some people insist on keeping cats indoors. But I still think it’s cruel to keep a cat inside unless you keep her inside from the time she was born so she won’t know any better. That’s my 2 cents anyway.

Sophie was able to roam outside again earlier this year because our neighbor moved away. But because of her health, I later decided to keep her indoors again. I am so thankful for those few months when I could be outside with her again. Since I knew she had failing health, I spent a lot of time with her, loving her, appreciating her presence and how she’s been a great family pet. I couldn’t ask for a better cat, and I’m glad I was able to give her a long life.

Goodbye, Sophie. You’ll be missed.

Pets Are Good for Children

{pictured above left to right: Sophie, Banjo, & Millie}

I found a great article in the Fall 2011 issue of “Healthy Pet,” which we receive through our vet’s office.  The name of the article is “Kids and Pets: Growing Together” by Lynette A. Hart, Ph.D.

Many times as I watch my boys interact with our pets, I’ve been thankful that we are in a position to own pets.  That is, nobody is allergic to the animals, and we have time to care for them properly.  We have two dogs, one cat, and six little fish.

The article begins by stating that many parents think giving a child a pet is a great way to teach them responsibility, but unfortunately, most children are not mature enough to care for a pet’s daily needs.  My husband learned this lesson when he bought that fish aquarium for our then three-year-old.  Although he didn’t expect our son to take care of the aquarium, he thought he would be more interested in watching the process.

Interestingly, I have observed how our son started out by being fascinating with the aquarium, later losing interest, and yet later finding a renewed interest.  Sometimes he does “help” his daddy clean the aquarium, and ever since we added an algae eater to the mix, he and his little brother like to sit and watch the aquarium for a few minutes in the mornings.

I never expected my son to be responsible for the aquarium or sustain an interest, but over time the aquarium has given him much more knowledge about fish and the work that goes into keeping a tank.  There are probably other lessons in there that I’m not aware of either.

The article also says that pets can give a child a sense of self.  Since most dogs and cats love their owners unconditionally and offer constant companionship, this “can be restorative” and helps kids “build self-esteem.”

I don’t know about my kids, but I know that the companionship of my little Siamese cat, Sophie, is very restorative.  It’s relaxing at night when she curls up next to me, purring like a little motor is inside of her.

It’s probably also relaxing for her to be with me after a day of being pounced on and chased by two little boys.  God bless her for being so patient.  I admit there have been times when I was in a pickle, needing a moment for myself, and I would say, “Look, boys! There’s Sophie!”  She is great at distracting them for me.

Another benefit of having pets, according to the article, is that kids learn how their behavior affects others.  This is true.  As I mentioned, Sophie is very patient, but she will not tolerate actions that could possibly hurt her, and I don’t blame her for that.  When she hisses at the boys, I tell them they need to be more mindful and gentle.

“Gentle” is one of the first words my children learned, thanks to Sophie.  This has come in handy many times outside the home too: at petting zoos, with friend’s pets, or other people’s toys.  (I wonder why it doesn’t work when I tell my eldest to be “gentle” with his younger brother?)

When my boys begin to chase and torture the dogs, they see firsthand how the dogs run and hide.  I’m not sure that has taught them anything, though.  They still like to chase and torture the dogs.

But I’m glad we have the dogs because my boys are not afraid of other people’s dogs.  We have had two sets of friends whose children quake with fear at our neighbor’s sweet, lumbering lab that wanders into our yard from time to time.  I’ve also noticed that my boys don’t fear animals in petting zoos either.  Though I teach them to be cautious, of course, I’m glad they feel comfortable with animals.

The article also says that losing a pet is often a child’s first experience with death, and dealing with it in a respectful way can be a valuable lesson for a child.  Also, showing a child how a pet needs healthy food, grooming and exercise can teach them about healthy habits for themselves as well.

Finally, helping to train a dog can give a child leadership skills.  This is a great idea. I have always wanted to get a German Shepherd, but I want to wait until my boys are old enough to participate in the obedience classes.  It would be a great experience for a child to help care, train and love a dog from a puppy into adulthood.  But all in due time…

If only there were obedience classes for young children.

This column was originally printed in the September 21, 2001 edition of the Barrow Journal.  You can view on the online version by clicking here.