Sophie Sunshine turned one on Sunday. In honor of the day (and also because why not? all spring Sundays should be spent so delightfully), we went on a little adventure. We drove up into the mountains to Etna, about two hours away, and took a gorgeous (albeit short) walk along the Steinacher Trail, followed by a picnic at a nearby campground.

The puppies were terrific. They were mostly off-leash and they’ve really figured out the “run wild through the woods, then return to check in on your person,” technique. The radius of how far they’re willing to go is probably a little bigger than I’d like it to be — I’d prefer it if Sophie never went out of sight, but she sometimes does — but the time she’s willing to be out of sight is just about right, maybe a minute but not much more than that. Amusingly to me, both puppies do well on a recall command of “Puppies! Far enough!” (Amusing because somewhat accidental — my “no barking” command in the backyard is actually, “Puppies! Enough!” which they’ve apparently learned means, “Rush back to the yelling person.”)

dogs running through grass

The puppies romping through the grass

On the way back to the car, I fell pretty far behind S, because I was playing a little mindfulness game with myself about appreciation: noticing the sounds of the birds and the rushing water and the wind in the trees; looking for small beauty and big beauty (what’s the tiniest beautiful thing I see, what’s the biggest beautiful thing I see); trying to distinguish and label the smells in the air; and stopping to simply take deep, long, mindful breaths. It was an excellent game — both in the moment and for memory purposes, because my memories just sparkle, it was such a beautiful day and beautiful place — but it was also excellent for enhancing the amount of exercise the dogs got. Sophie spent the entire time running back-and-forth between Suzanne and me. She was perfectly happy to do so, but she really wanted to be sure she knew where both of us were at all times.

While we were driving home, Suzanne spotted a bald eagle by the side of the road. I missed it at first, but then it flew across the road right in front of us. So big! I resolved to pay more attention, conveniently just in time to spot a small white thing moving in the ditch and say, “Hey, that’s a PUPPY!”

We were on a rural highway, so moving pretty fast, but Suzanne pulled over, did a U-turn, and drove back. I was right: it was a puppy. I got out of the car and approached it and instead of running away, the puppy said, “Oh, thank goodness, I’m having a really weird day, would you mind helping me out?” Tail-wagging, eager approach, clearly not afraid of people. Not a dog that had been living in the wild for long. But young, way too small to be away from his mama.

I scooped him up and looked around. Any other puppies? A mama anywhere? Any sign or indication that this puppy ought to be where he was? Answers: nope, to all of the above. So I got back into the car with the puppy and we brought him back to Arcata with us. (Side note: I would like there to be an explanation other than “people suck” for his presence in the ditch, but he must have been dumped. There’s really no other explanation that makes sense. Although I guess the corollary to that is that sometimes dumped puppies get found and rescued, so not all people suck.)

We named him Ishi Pishi, after the bridge we’d driven by just before we found him. (From that link, “Ishi Pishi Falls is a set of Class VI rapids along the Klamath River and can only be considered a waterfall by the absolutely most liberal of standards.” Ha.)

Sophie’s opinion: Worst Birthday Present Ever. She kept giving me Looks. The kind that said, “Get this thing out of here,” and “What have you done?!?” and “Take it away!”

Sophie saying “Oh, hell, no”

I did my best. We called Mara, the next door neighbor who runs a dog rescue, and she found a foster for him, so Ishi only spent a single night with us. A single, very long night — I had already forgotten how much work small puppies are, and Ishi was honestly too small to be away from his mama, in my opinion.

puppy photo

Ishi sleeping on Suzanne’s foot.

But now I’m going to get all woo-woo about the universe working in mysterious ways.  As long-time readers will recall, my dog Zelda owned my heart. I’ve had other dogs, I’ve loved other dogs, but Zelda was special. She was my girl. She died on January 9, 2021, and at the moment of her death, a voice in my head — my subconscious, if you like — said, “I’m coming back. Look for me.”

I did. And Suzanne did, too. And when Suzanne met Sophie, she said, “This one.” I was in Pennsylvania at the time, so I didn’t get to meet Sophie until a month later. On the day I met her, Sophie said — in so many ways! — YES. In the following days & weeks & months, though, I was less sure. It’s pretty easy to believe that Sophie has an older dog soul than, for example, Bear does. (She seems to have a more instinctive grasp of the difference between People Right and People Wrong.) But still, that doesn’t make her Zelda. She is her own puppy self, her own personality.

Except… her personality is very similar to Zelda’s. Dramatically similar. I wondered sometimes — especially as she developed an obsession with playing fetch – whether it was just me. Maybe the person creates the dog? Zelda was the only dog I raised from a puppy before Sophie, so maybe when you raise a puppy, the puppy just becomes the dog of your expectations?

Because Sophie has Zelda’s sweetness. She has Zelda’s gentle curiosity. She has Zelda’s persistence and inquisitiveness and attentiveness. She watches me the way Zelda used to: aware of my every move and alert to the possibility that it might be interesting to her. Per her DNA, she is more herding dog than terrier, but per her behavior, she could easily be 100% terrier. She likes to dig holes and chase balls, and in a choice between herding chickens and retrieving a ball, the ball wins. She is not Zelda, she is Sophie, 100% herself, but… well…

Enter Ishi. And the universe working in mysterious ways.

Because on a day when I was thinking about Zelda and Sophie and wondering about dog reincarnation, we randomly stumbled across a white puppy. (Zelda was white.) Said white puppy is clearly a terrier mix of some sort — he has a blotch of brown on his side, and a brown spot on his ear, and if you told me he is pure Jack Russell, I would not doubt you. (Zelda was a Jack Russell.) He has eyes like Z had when she was a puppy, with no color around the rims, and splotches on his nose like Z had when she was a puppy. He has physical similarities to Z.

But his energy is so completely totally different from Zelda’s, it would be impossible to ever believe that he is Zelda reincarnated. At maybe five weeks old, Ishi is clearly already a boss dog. No one is ever going to comment on his gentle curiosity or his sweetness. Boldness and determination, sure. I believe that Redwood Pals Rescue will find an excellent home for him and that he’ll grow up to be a great dog, but physical similarities aside, he in no way resembles Zelda.

But Sophie… well, at one year old, she is sunshine. I am so grateful to have her in my life, so lucky and so blessed. Of course, I need to remember this when she’s trying to convince me to throw the ball for four hours a day and when she comes in covered in mud and immediately leaps onto the bed and tries to snuggle down on my pillows. Mostly, though, it’s pretty easy to remember. Because she’s my girl.