Every now and then I read a headline on Facebook that seems impossible to be true. This week I read one that I and countless other dog lovers wish like mad was not true: the passing of Dr. Sophia Yin. It is true that this brilliant, kind, much-loved veterinary behaviorist suddenly passed away on Sept. 29, 2014 at age 48.
Dr. Yin was a veterinarian who moved into behavior and training after seeing countless dogs die in shelters due to a lack of understanding of canine behavior. Her passion produced a lot of incredible resources in a very short time, which you can find on her website, including Low-Stress Handling, Restraint and Behavior Modification of Dogs & Cats; How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves and Perfect Puppy in 7 Days: How to Start Your Puppy Off Right. She had several wonderful DVDs as well. Dr. Yin also invented a remote-controlled reward system that aided training called Treat and Train.
Like so many other dog trainers, I often sent Dr. Yin’s enormously helpful videos and blog posts about canine behavior to my clients. She provided 100 free videos on YouTube. Imagine being so dedicated to animals that you offer 100 free training videos. No one else has done that.
She had an impact on me as a person and as a trainer, though I never got to meet her. We trainers are an unregulated lot, and within the profession there is a tremendous amount of negativity with trainers beating up on one another. Instead of putting her dukes up, Dr. Yin got busy producing top-quality books, DVDs, videos and more that demonstrated the kind, humane way to train dogs — training that is steeped in science. She had the intelligence, compassion, vision, and drive to rise above the fray and give dog owners something concrete to learn how to help their dogs, and she did it with a smile on her face. She had a way of communicating that made us all feel that we knew her and she was a friend. I have no doubt that animals in her presence felt that same way.
A sadness has circled the globe about Dr. Yin’s passing. If we could have bundled the enormous respect and goodwill that existed for her, we would have wrapped our collective arms around her and pleaded with her to stay with us. We need her wisdom and compassion. I will take from her life’s work to never delay doing something that is important, especially as it relates to animals.
I had Dr. Yin on my list of talented trainers to interview for Dogster. I never imagined she would pass away before I could do that. Her manner of death — a suicide — makes me feel that she understood at some level that her time here was limited. Like Robin Williams’, her life was so full and accomplished; from the outside looking in it seems that they packed into their shortened lives more than most of us who live a long life ever can. The internal pressure was on them, probably 24 hours a day. It is a pressure those of us who don’t have the same struggle can find hard to understand.
I can, however, understand how hard it can be to be a professional in the dog industry. A report recently published on DVM360 noted that veterinarians have the highest suicide rates of medical professionals. The report goes on to say: “The truth is, this is a tough, tough field, and the toll it takes is financial, physical and mental, every day.”
Some of their sorrow must come from watching good pet owners lose their beloved friends. I can also imagine that the callousness of too many owners and the lack of care many animals never receive affects professionals who do what they do because they love animals. I’ve never met a veterinarian who doesn’t have countless sad stories about someone casually dropping off a litter of puppies with orders to put them to sleep because they were an inconvenience to someone too lazy to spay their dog.
I will renew my passion for helping dogs and I ask all who were touched by Dr. Yin’s intelligence and wisdom to do the same. Here’s some things you can do to honor her:
The world wishes that you are able to rest in peace, Dr. Sophia Yin. We imagine that you are comforted there and surrounded by the countless animals you helped. You can leave us assured that you will not be forgotten and that you were enormously appreciated.
One way you can pay tribute to Dr. Yin is to watch this video, “Tough Love: A Meditation on Dominance and Dogs,” which was released in her honor.
Her friends and colleagues remember this talented professional in their words below:
Trainer Sarah Kalnajs: “A few days ago those who work with, live with, and love companion animals suffered a terrible loss with the death of Dr. Sophia Yin. In addition to losing a champion of pets, many of us — including myself — also lost a friend. I got to know Sophia when we decided to do a series of seminars together several years ago. We figured that by combining our very different presentation styles we could please everyone who had come to hear us speak – something that was a goal for both of us. I’m not sure if we ever completely achieved that goal, but we had some really great times together. We heard early on that people referred to our seminars as ‘going to hear Yin and Yang’ and ‘getting the best of both worlds.’ During our entire time together I couldn’t help thinking, “Why does this amazing woman want to share the stage with me???”
You probably already know that Sophia was a brilliant scientist, a fantastic trainer, a caring veterinarian, a talented author, an inventor, an engaging presenter, and a generous colleague who gave away so many of the educational materials she created for the benefit of pets and their owners – materials she could have easily sold for profit.
But did you also know that she was incredibly funny with a quick wit and amazing comic timing? That there was no giant-sized ego lurking behind her giant-sized accomplishments? That she was a determined athlete? That in all our travels together I never once heard her say an unkind word or gossip about anyone? That she looked at the world with genuine wonderment when seeing things for the first time, like when we saw Sugar Gliders in Arizona or Beluga whales at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium?
While I feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to get to know Sophia during our seminar tours, I always felt a little starstruck in her presence … and that, unfortunately, kept me from sharing things on a more personal level – something I will always regret.
I still can’t believe she’s gone. Reality will take a very long time to sink in, but I hope to keep Sophia’s work and mission for kindness in dog training alive in any way I can, for as long as I can.”
Trainer Suzanne Clothier: “The announcement of her unexpected death is sending shocked ripples through the dog training and veterinary community. I find myself wishing that in some way, she could fully appreciate how much respect, admiration and outright gratitude there was for her in this world, and how much people appreciate all that she contributed through her work. I don’t know that anyone ever knows how many lives they have touched or the good that they have done. Maybe from where she is now, she can see that. I hope so. Vaya con Dios, Dr. Yin.”
Trainer Emma Parsons: “Dr. Sophia Yin was a superstar! She was an amazing doctor, writer, speaker and animal advocate. Her ambition was contagious and her words awe-inspiring! I knew her through her work with reactive dogs: a mission close to my heart. She leaves a tremendous hole in the world, especially in the veterinary and dog training communities. Rest in peace, Dr. Yin. You will be so sadly and so painfully missed.”
Niki Tudge, President of the Pet Professional Guild: “Dr. Sophia Yin contributed so much to the education of dog trainers, veterinarians and pet owners in regard to the more progressive and humane approaches to pet care and training. She was a beacon for the force-free pet training and low fear movement. Her work, so readily available, was a fabulous resource for all of us. She will be sorely missed while her work continues to shape and influence our industry.”
Dr. Jeff Nichol: “Dr. Sophia Yin was much more than a friend and colleague in the practice of behavior medicine for pets. She was a tireless advocate for the dogs and cats whose lives were diminished by disorders of the mind. She championed their welfare and taught the science of bringing joy back for them and their families. Sophia’s sudden passing leaves a very big void in our pursuit of healthier behavior. She will be missed for many years.”
Paul Owens, The Original Dog Whisperer: “She made a huge contribution in the world promoting fear-free, stress-free, nonviolent animal training. Dogs and humans alike were blessed by her exemplary skills and indefatigable spirit. Her voluminous work will continue to foster and promote kindness toward animals for decades to come. She will be sorely missed.”
From Trainer Pat Miller: “In a world still far too densely populated by animal care professionals who rely on intimidation, fear, coercion and pain to accomplish their goals, Dr. Sophia Yin was a bright shining light. Most of us had no idea she was battling demons that would steal her from us so cruelly and so soon. Her spirit may have left her body, but it lives on in the works she left behind, in the hearts and minds of all of us who learned from and were inspired by her, and in the positive influence she will have on the lives of our animal companions far into the future. May you fly free and find peace, Dr. Yin.”
Did you know of Dr. Sophia Yin? Has a dog trainer had an impact on you like Yin had on so many? Tell us your stories in the comments.
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About the author: Annie Phenix, CPDT-KA, is a force free professional dog trainer enjoying her mountain-filled life in Colorado. She is a member of the Pet Professional Guild and the National Association of Canine Scent Work. She takes her highly trained dogs with them everywhere dogs are welcome because of their exceptionally good manners. Phenix generally leaves her six donkeys at home on the ranch … but she is thinking about clicker training those little hairy hee-hawers as well.