Dr. Sophia Yin: She made a difference, and she will be missed

This weekend I’ll be attending the 20th reunion of my class at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine. Seeing classmates again and catching up on each other’s lives is something I always look forward to, but this gathering have a dark cloud, I fear. That’s because we’ll be mourning the loss of a cherished colleague who was one year ahead of us at UCD:

Dr. Sophia Yin.

By now the news of her death is pretty much everywhere, as is the fact that she took her own life.  But to me,  what matters is her incredible life and the legacy of change she leaves behind.

That change reached far beyond our own profession, of course. As the syndicated columnist Steve Dale noted yesterday as the sad news spread:

Dr. Yin’s mission in life was to improve our understanding of animals and their behavior so that we can care for, appreciate and enjoy our time with them better.

Dr. Sophia YinSo true. She inspired countless trainers and behaviorists, and her work is part of a trend towards more pet-friendly veterinary practices that minimize stress through handling techniques she popularized. She was a passionate advocate for animals, and our professional and our world is better for having had her in it.

I have known her for 24 years, and I talked with her frequently. She was always a friendly face at the veterinary conferences, and I so admired the work she did and the impact she made.

We are all reeling  with shock and disbelief,  but I hope as we go forward we will focus on the words of our colleague, Dr. Jim Wilson:

When it comes to recognizing and helping us understand the importance of low stress handling of pets, all of us as veterinarians, academicians, pet owners, animal behaviorists, dog trainers, veterinary students, support staff and the animal kingdom as a whole have lost one of the most important people our profession has ever known. […]

Let us continue to promote all of her fundamental low stress findings and teachings. Those materials are and always should be a part of the core educational content of the Fear Free movement. If we focus on that part of her life and legacy, we can continue to grow her impact and efforts on how animal caregivers recognize and proceed with her life’s dream, i.e., reducing the stresses faced by the animals in God’s kingdom as we, their caretakers, help them. As I see it, this is the only way we can make something positive out of yet another of life’s negative experiences.

As many of you know, Dr. Wilson works with us at VPI helping veterinary students get off to the best start possible in their careers. He is a very good friend to many of us in the veterinary community, myself included. I think his words have real resonance, and I will be using them to set a context for my understanding of the loss of our colleague, not only this weekend with my classmates but also long into the future.

Rest in peace, Sophia. I hope you know what a difference you made in this world.