This guest post was written by my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker, to commemorate the work and honor the loss of our friend, veterinary behavior expert Dr. Sophia Yin.
There is no other veterinarian I can think of who has made such a dramatic difference in bringing scientific principles into practical step by step practices for veterinary handling and animal training the way Dr. Yin did. She used her platform to teach interaction principles with animals that focused not only on their physical well-being, but their mental and emotional well-being as well.
I feel a hole in my heart knowing that Sophia’s heart is no longer beating in this world. She is so missed. But, as I reflect on her life, I can’t help but see the incredible legacy and contribution she left for veterinarians, veterinary technicians, animal trainers, and pet owners. We are forever grateful and indebted to Sophia for her teachings, whether it be in socializing a puppy, helping a reactive dog or using lower stress handling for vet visits. Her book, Low Stress Handling for Dogs and Cats, is my go-to book for using lower stress handling in the hospital setting.
In the training and veterinary world, there is a lot of backtalk and criticism. A couple of months ago I heard a rumor that was going around, and that I had been led to believe may have been from Sophia. Rather than feel bad about it, I decided to reach out to her. My family had such an honest and open relationship with her that it felt like the right thing to do.
In our emails back and forth, we talked about how hard it can be in the professional world to not feel insecure at times because of things that are said or the perceptions. Within the email thread she was incredibly encouraging and further pointed me to why it was important to always be direct with others. Here is just a portion of what she said:
“I used to have the same perceptions even for several years into my veterinary career. It kind of ruined my veterinary school experience. I finally had to make a rule for myself that, if it was important, I would just ask to find out what other people were thinking or to find out what was going on rather than trying to guess.
On the flip side that meant that if they said something they didn’t mean, they might have to suffer:-). For instance, if someone says, “call me or drop over the next time you’re in town” and they’re just saying it to be nice., too bad for them… I might call them and drop over !!! And I won’t feel guilty if they didn’t really mean it!
Just so you know, I doubt that anyone would be saying anything negative about you… even in the tough dog trainer world. You are a solid trainer. You write well and you are good on camera! And most importantly, you are open to different ideas and are hungry to learn.
That puts you so far ahead of the majority in the field and it is what keeps this career interesting and challenging.You should be proud of where you are in the field and how much you have accomplished!
Her encouragement at the time absolutely amazed me and inspired me, and even more so now do these words touch my heart.
In the past couple of months, our relationship went from largely professional and friends to a deeply personal friendship. Sophia reached out to my father, Dr. Marty Becker, to walk through some dark times with her when she needed encouragement. My father was there to listen, to empathize about his own dark times as well as guide her professionally.
My mom, Teresa, a woman of incredible depth of faith, talked at length with Sophia about Christ and how He was what this life was all about. Sophia relayed that the talks with them both were uplifting and encouraging. Though Sophia was going through tough times personally, the light seemed to be coming back on in her life and things were turning around.
Then, my mom called me in tears to tell me the news about Sophia’s passing. I immediately felt sick and my heart dropped. It still feels like it can’t be true. My family and I are left wishing we had known just how dark things felt for her that something more could possibly have been done. My dad was deeply grieved as they had grown especially close over the last few weeks, and he so honestly said, “Somehow we failed her, but I know God has a special place for her and she will be at peace.”
As I think about Sophia, I think about her deepest longing that her life would have meaning and value. She said to my family, “This life’s work is really my worth…. what I have to offer to the world.” She strived to do what others had not done, and in that huge platform, she said she faced the fear of failure and the feeling of not living up to her potential.
Just before Sophia’s passing she sent me a present in the mail along with a congratulations about my marriage to Ben. The present was a salt and pepper shaker with the pepper being a Dalmatian lifting up a leg that magnetically stuck to the salt shaker fire hydrant. Her note said she got this for me, because “some things just go together.”
I had an epiphany just last night about life that directly ties to her gift to me. I realized that sometimes the responsibilities and callings we have in life can be so big, it can be daunting. If we look at the huge hurdles we are facing and all the scrutiny and potential of failure that comes with the opportunity before us, it’s tempting to step back, offer less of ourselves or take a smaller role.
But we aren’t living out of the real us or able to make a difference if we step out of the role our heart’s were made for. We are each given a unique calling in this world and a place only we fit. The greatest gift we can give to ourselves, and ultimately to this world, is taking that risk of falling and attempt to fly. We do so by sharing our real voice, our true heart, offering our talents, our time and contributing in the unique way were were each made to do.
When we step out and really offer all that we are, sure, there is that fear of failure and falling, but at the same time, that’s the place our heart’s were really meant to soar and we aren’t really living unless we take that chance.
I love the humor of Sophia in the salt and pepper shaker and how “some things just go together.” I think of Sophia today and all that she was and all she left behind in this world. As I think of her, I can’t help but correlate how Sophia with magnetic like attraction was drawn to the purpose of helping animals and those who cared for them. Her defining stamp of protecting the emotional state of animals has left its mark on this world, just like the dog on the hydrant, that can’t be undone. She stepped into her role, took the risk to be who she was, and she implemented change that directly impacts the lives of animals and their people for the better and will continue to do so. She soared above and led others along with her in the journey.
I leave today in prayer that her spirit is continuing to soar up above as her words and knowledge continue to move here on earth.
My dad said today, and I couldn’t agree more that “the greatest gift we could give her is to honor her memory by working doggedly to make sure her vision and action plans become reality.” With that same magnetic attraction to step into the role before me, I am inspired by Sophia’s vision and legacy to do what I can in my time here on earth to step out into what is before me and fully live in my calling.
Love, purpose and light prevail over fear and darkness every time. We miss you Sophia, but we will not forget you and what you were about.