Ball Till You Fall: In Memory of Sophie

 

This morning my wife and I had to put down Sophie, our 14-year-old Golden Retriever.

If you’ve never heard the term “put down” as it relates to family pets, it means to euthanize, which is a clinical way of saying to kill painlessly in order to prevent or relieve suffering.

It is the ultimate act of compassion — to see another living being through the process of gently exiting this world.

Sophie had been on the decline for the past few months. This morning it was clear her time had come. Our amazing veterinarian Dr. Stern was there to answer our questions and administer the drugs that propelled Sophie onto her next journey.

By now, you’re probably wondering what all of this has to do with Young Adult literature and basketball. Good question. I’ll do my best to explain.

With respect to YA literature, I don’t know that I’ve ever read a book in the genre that didn’t contain at least one compelling act of selfless compassion, where the protagonist — or even the antagonist — put the welfare of another before his or her own.

Those heart-wrenching moments are what elevate human beings and give our lives a sense of fulfillment.

Consider this: When a young reader witnesses a character leading by example in such a remarkable way, the reader gets a sense of how one might live one’s own life with a greater sense of purpose. That is the power of a good work of fiction.

And then there’s basketball.

If you’ve read my previous posts here or viewed my video blogs, you already know that I’m fortunate enough to have a half-court basketball setup in the backyard of our home — a birthday gift from my awesome wife a couple of years ago.

Whenever I would hit the wall as I was crafting the first draft of “This Was Never About Basketball,” I would go outside and shoot free throws. The rhythm of the knee-elbow-wrist process eventually led to a renewed flow of words.

That’s where Sophie comes in.

For reasons known only to Sophie herself, she was obsessed with playing defense — or at least her own version of it — whenever she was hanging around the backyard and I stepped outside with a basketball.

She hawked me whenever I tried to take her baseline. She went after the rebound of every shot I missed. Once she secured the ball, she would try to puncture it with her teeth, which was not possible, given the size of the ball relative to her snout.

It was really the only time she ever showed her teeth. That’s just the way it was for an animal whose sole purpose in life was to offer abundant love in its purest form — unconditional.

We still have another dog, Beau, a 12-year-old Belgian Tervuren. While Sophie was innately friendly, trustworthy and kind, Beau is vigilant, stubborn and protective.

He’s a herder by nature, so it’s all about offense with him. Consequently, his game is one dimensional. He has little interest in doing the dirty work on D. All he wants to do is take the rock to the rack.

By contrast, Sophie was a lockdown defender. Think Detroit Pistons bad boy Dennis Rodman with better hair, or Chicago Bulls small forward Scottie Pippen with a lesser vertical.

That was Sophie.

Relentless.

Motor always running.

Defend to the end — and that’s exactly what she did.

RIP, sweet girl.

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