I was nervous as the plane descended into California. Not because of the wildfires or the fog or the tiny airport, but because of the puppy. After a month of life at the Mighty Small Farm, would she have decided that Suzanne was her person? Or that she belonged with the pack in the big house, cuddling next to Riley and playing chase with Olivia Murderpaws? Would she like me?

And… would I like her? It’s hard not to like a puppy, of course — you’d have to have a heart made of ice or maybe no heart at all. But I did sort of wonder whether maybe Zelda had taken my heart with her when she left.

Fortunately, if she did, she brought it back with her when she returned. Because yes, after telling me to look for her, and letting me know she was on her way (via a half-awake dream in February), I have faith that the universe has let her come back to me. And yes, I know this sounds unlikely and ridiculous. To a mainstream Protestant, reincarnation is enough of a stretch without animals being reincarnated. But I have evidence! (Sort of?)

(Right here there should be a really cute photo. But I am struggling with my computer & can’t make it work. Sigh. So look at the sidebar for the pictures I’ve posted on Instagram from my phone, and if you’re getting this via email, you’re just going to trust me — she’s cute. Very cute!)

Sophie met me for the first time in the car at the airport, and greeted me with the hero’s welcome, full body tail wag and mad kisses, then fell asleep on the way home, just the way Zelda always did. She took Zelda’s ratty old squirrel with every evidence of delight and possessiveness, and played with it multiple times without ripping into it. After Suzanne confidently said, “She doesn’t understand fetch yet,” she returned the ball to me about ten times in a row, just like Z. (She then immediately forgot that skill and has not repeated it since. Not a single time!) Later she went to sleep while lying in the patch of dirt that Zelda preferred, which is a spot where none of the other animals choose to sleep, but where Z napped regularly. She’s also expressed a preference for drinking water in motion, via a fountain in the back yard, just the way Zelda used to (although Z used to knock on the water spout and ask for the water to be turned on, which is not a skill Sophie has yet demonstrated.) And when she took offense at a dog walking by the yard, Suzanne commented that she is very random in her objections — most dogs are friends, but a few are not. The dog she objected to was solid black and Zelda had a lifelong, seemingly irrational, dislike of black Labs.

Is this compelling evidence? Maybe? I suppose it depends on what you want to believe.

But soon after we got back from the airport, and before five out of the six above things happened, I carried two stones that I’d picked up on my adventures out to the pile of rocks that mark the place where we buried Zelda’s ashes. I sat down on the piece of driftwood next to the pile, my stones in hand, and started talking to Z. I wanted to tell her what the stones were and why they were special, but I was feeling… well, bereaved. Meeting my new puppy felt far more bittersweet than I’d anticipated, because I couldn’t help remembering my old puppy and missing her immensely.

Out of nowhere, Sophie burst through the flowers, hurled herself at me — and bit my nose! I yelped and she immediately switched to the hero’s welcome, tail wagging furiously, lots of kisses, and I had to laugh. I still put my rocks on Zelda’s marker, I still told Z that I loved her and missed her and always would… but I was already half-convinced that her spirit was back, minus the memories of her previous life, but with all the sweetness and strong opinions. Interestingly enough, I don’t think I’ve gotten the hero’s welcome a single time since then. But I guess I haven’t left her alone much.

One area in which Sophie is notably different than Z is that she’s interested in eating all the things. Lettuce, sure. Peach, why not? Random plant life, leaves, bark, cat poop, absolutely, it all tastes delicious! This, of course, is in complete contrast to Zelda who had to be coaxed to eat anything, even steak or rotisserie chicken, in the last years of her life. But maybe if you get reincarnated into a body with healthy teeth and no evil tick-borne chronic illnesses, food is more exciting.

It’s also possible that she chose to come back in a slightly bigger body in order to have a slightly bigger brain. If Z was a rocket scientist for a dog, Sophie might be a theoretical physicist. I would credit the magnificence of Suzanne’s training, except that Suzanne had specifically not started leash training yet, so I started that on Monday. It took about five minutes. Not that Sophie’s perfect while walking — she’s extremely excited and bouncy and needs to sniff all the things on both sides of the sidewalk and simultaneously go as fast as possible! — but she understands what the leash is, lets me put it on, doesn’t try to chew it or attack it, and is enthusiastic the moment I bring it out.

She also recognizes her name, mostly comes when called or signaled, sits when told to, is starting to understand down, stops at street crossings, looks at my eyes, and just in general is a spectacular fifteen-week-old puppy. Incidentally, she has not peed or pooped inside the tiny house once. That’s a little bit to my credit: I’m the one waking up every four or five hours to let her out. But last night she woke me up with a paw on my face and told me it was time, which is honestly pretty dang impressive for a baby. I suspect that there will be accidents in our future — perfection is unrealistic for both of us. But Bartleby was full-grown and still thought it was okay to pee anywhere he believed you wouldn’t see him, so Sophie’s definitely ahead of the curve. (Of course, B’s original owners were… not the best.)

One more Sophie story! For now, anyway, since my guess is I’ll be writing a lot more of them over the next months.

Yesterday we took our first real walk, 2/3 of a mile according to my step counter. Along the way, we passed a sewer grate and Sophie wanted to take a look.

Our conversation went like this:

Sophie: I must investigate this drain.
Me: No, your paws might get stuck in the grate. Come away from there, please.
Sophie: No, really, this drain is very interesting, I need a closer look.
Me: Your feet are too small, honey, you won’t like it if you step in the holes.
Sophie: You don’t understand, this drain is absolutely fascinating, it will be worth it.
Me: Well, we learn from our mistakes so let’s investigate the drain.
Sophie: Oh, yes, it is VERY interesting. You should really take a look.
Me (taking a look): OMG, HOLY — WTF?!!

There was a raccoon in the drain, looking up at us and hissing. We were literally maybe two feet above it. Totally freaked me out, despite the big metal grate between us and it. So she was correct, it WAS very interesting. She did not step in any of the holes, either. Theoretical physicist, to be sure.