A Measly Handful of Star Dust
In May 2017, I was perusing Facebook like any normal day - scrolling through feeds and liking photos as I was waking up. On any normal day, I’ll stop and read a story about a dog in need, share it, and then move on.
Fortunately, our foster-spot was vacant when this bean appeared on my Facebook feed:
She only had a shelter name at the time (Mariah), and no one knew where she came from - just that she was found wandering aimlessly in a neighborhood in Fulton County, Georgia. What we did know about her was just beyond heart-wrenching, and it is what caused my pause.
This sweet, 3 1/2 lb little speck was wandering aimlessly because she was blind.
Thus, my introduction to Pibbles & More Animal Rescue. I know what you’re thinking - this isn’t a pibble, this is a piece of kibble! What is a pitbull rescue doing pulling a teacup rat terrier from the shelter?? Yeah, we never really answered that question, but no one is sad that we did it.
I knew that there was now a teacup rat terrier-shaped hole in my heart and no one else but this tiny little creature could fill it. I contacted PMAR immediately and told them I would foster this little fallen star. I had a home check that afternoon by one of their experienced fosters, learned what I could immediately learn about fostering a blind dog, and went and got her the next morning.
When I say she was tiny, there’s no way to accurately describe the exact amount of tiny that she was. The entirety of her fit into my hand. Singular. One hand.
I wrapped her up in a scarf, and the damage was done. She fit right into that tiny little itty bitty hole she had created in my life, and she was mine. She needed me, and I could no longer live without her. So I took her home, and she fit in like a missing piece.
It was at the vet, for a routine check up to ensure everything else was okay, that the next level of heartbreak happened. Not only was this tiny speck totally blind (and in pain from said blindness), she was also completely and totally deaf. Lost. She was in a world she could no longer see, nor hear, and had no way of knowing what was safe.
Quick detour. If you haven’t read the book, or seen the movie, Howl’s Moving Castle, please do so as soon as possible. You can buy the book here - it’s a young adult novel, but loses none of it’s charm when reading it as a full adult. Diana Wynne Jones and Hayao Miyazaki both create such an intimate fairytale world that I’ve been irrevocably and helplessly lost in for a very long time. From this book came Mariah’s new name.
The main character, a young girl named Sophie Hatter, is unjustly cursed by a witch and turned into an old woman, is forbidden from telling anyone that she was under a spell, and despite the unfairness of it all, decides to go into the wastes to seek out any hope she could find. She doesn’t complain, she doesn’t cry, she doesn’t seek comfort. She hikes up her britches, makes the best of what she’s got, and commands her own destiny in order to break her spell.
Which is how this little sunspot came to be known as Miss Sophie Hatter, or Grandma Sophie as I would affectionately call her, as she was estimated to be about 8 years old.
She may have been dealt an unfair hand, and lost everything she ever had, but her tenacity and will to live kept her moving. She was quite hale for an old lady, even though she was skin and bones, and was not timid, even in the smallest definition of the word.
As you may be thinking, the world is full of well-intentioned people who would “just love to take this sweet little girl in… if only we could.” True to life, we knew that finding Sophie’s family was like looking for a needle in a haystack, but those are the kinds of foster dogs that we love the most - the ones I have to say yes to - the ones who aren’t likely to get adopted any time soon.
For me, that just meant I had all the time in the world with my little dewdrop.
As she started settling into our home life, a few things immediately became apparent. She LOVED to eat, she LOVED doing things on her own, and she LOVED to cuddle. Despite my best efforts, I only have two arms, so Sophie and I had to figure out a compromise so that I could go about my day, and still give her the security she needed. Needless to say, we came to an agreement:
Yes. I wore her around like this for 3 months.
Blind dogs often learn their environments pretty quickly, and with Rigby’s help, Sophie learned the lay of the main floor within a few short days, and was soon confidently walking around the house and the backyard. Her little ears worked as guide buffers as they would usually hit anything in the way first and she could re-direct with ease. She worked her little path from her bed, to the food, to the potty, and back to the bed. If she ever got lost, she’d just sit down on her bony little butt and scream for help.
Described by anyone who heard it - it was a cry only a mother could love. My question is, how can something so little and cute have such an ugly bark?
Sophie relied on her other senses to survive. She could find food across the room, she would eat anything that smelled like food, but perhaps most importantly, she learned to identify safety by using the very hearts that she stole. She couldn’t hear you, she couldn’t see you, so this was how she knew you - she knew your heartbeat, and that was where she stayed.
Needless to say, I had a very lazy summer.
In August, I received an email I had to read twice. I knew these kinds of families existed, but had yet to encounter one in the wild.
“Dear Rachel, we adopt senior special needs dogs, and we want to add Sophie to our pack.”
Even now, as I’m writing this, I’m having trouble reacting. It’s a rare person who adopts old dogs, and even rarer to find someone who adopts special needs. It was too good to be true.
But no amount of blinking and re-reading woke me from my dream. It was real, and it was true. Someone wanted my sunspot. And guys, she hit the jackpot.
What I worried would become a “months, if not years” foster ended up being just 3 short sweet months, and Sophie was adopted by her angels.
I cried. I always cry, but this time was different. It was the cry you cry when the hope you lost is returned to you in spades. I realized that Sophie had more hope and faith in her little 3.5 pound body than I had in my whole being, and she taught me that even the dimmest hope can shine bright.
Normally, this is where my foster story ends. I keep up with my fosters via social media, I check in on them from time to time, I wish them Happy Gotcha Days. But not with Sophie. I kept up with Sophie almost every day. She was so happy, but she was so special. I had to be sure she was okay.
She had a boyfriend named Shrimps, who adored her.
She had a wonder woman costume.
She had a t-shirt that said “La la la, I’m not listening.” Because she was deaf.
They didn’t just love her. They were utterly devoted to her.
6 months after Sophie went home, the bad news came. She wasn’t eating, but couldn’t afford to lose any weight - there was nothing to her already. The vet told her family that she had Insulinoma. It was in the early stages, and they hoped they could treat her. They started medication, and kept us all posted. Every time I saw a picture of Sophie on Instagram, I said a prayer before I read the caption, because any post could have been the last one. However, things were looking hopeful - she was responding well, eating, gaining weight, and even bounced back from a few setbacks.
But there’s only so much one little Wonder Bean can handle.
On September 1, 2018, Sophie’s mom posted her photo. Her last photo. The one I prayed and prayed would never come. Sophie wasn’t meant to win her battle, though her little body went down fighting.
My measly handful of star dust, that little fallen star, is finally back in the heavens where she belongs. I’m sure she sprinted across that Rainbow Bridge, barking her ugly little bark, shining brightly the whole way.
True to her namesake, Sophie encouraged that “the best shine the brightest when circumstances are at their worst.” Sophie faced the worst circumstances, and never stopped shining.
Shine bright, Little Star, wherever you are. Thank you for teaching me to never lose faith, to always be brave, and to never stop fighting. We’ll see you at the Rainbow bridge.
Just a measly handful of star dust.