KPA Remembers Dr. Sophia Yin

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Editor’s note:

Dr Sophia Yin had a profound impact on the animal training and care community, including Karen Pryor Academy (KPA). Here, KPA faculty member Laura Monaco Torelli remembers Dr. Yin and reflects on the many gifts she shared. Dr. Yin’s gifts will keep on giving, improving the lives of animals and the humans that care for them.

A special star

Dr. Sophia Yin and Laura Monaco Torelli at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago

Dr. Sophia Yin and Laura
Monaco Torelli at the Shedd
Aquarium in Chicago

Individuals lucky enough to have met Dr. Sophia Yin knew right away that they were in the presence of someone extraordinary. Dr. Yin exuded passion and enthusiasm for all topics that were animal-related. Her caring nature went beyond animals, though; she had the seemingly effortless ability to educate the human element of the human-animal relationship.

Every tribute that has been written since Dr. Yin’s passing emphasizes the number of professionals she impacted—positively, of course. To read through these beautifully written tributes makes it clear that we all carry a piece of Dr. Yin within us. Her tireless efforts to educate those who contribute to creating a positive and enriching environment for animals resulted in stories and examples too many to count. However, in hearts and memories, the animal community will always count. Each contribution from Dr. Yin mattered on many levels.

Dr. Yin literally wrote the book on how to help veterinary professionals improve the experience for themselves and the patients in their care with her groundbreaking book and DVD, Low Stress Handling, Restraint, and Behavior Modification of Dogs and Cats: Techniques for Developing Patients Who Love Their Visits. Dr. Yin’s enthusiasm about and expertise in positive management and training techniques set the bar for others. Her inclusive nature and approach to teaching reached well beyond the veterinary community. This reach extended to professional groomers, pet owners, and trainers who work with various species of animals. Traveling the world as an advocate for positive animal management and care, Dr. Yin did so with an approachable quality. People would line up for the chance to meet and learn from her; her seminars and lectures were always jam-packed with attendees.

Dr. Yin made learning fun. Her generous inclination to educate others is also reflected by the free resources page on her website. These excellent handouts have become go-to resources for professionals to share with clients and colleagues. Dr. Yin had piles of these free handouts available at the seminars and conferences she spoke at. How quickly they would go, for we all had so much respect for the value of her outreach education. For example, the insight and balance Dr. Yin suggested in her child-and-dog safety handouts, using them as a forum not just for learning to read canine body language, but also including simple suggestions to advocate for children, is simply brilliant. Knowing that we learn from those around us, Dr. Yin saw the value of teaching young children what to do. This was a proactive effort on Dr. Yin’s part to modify both human and canine behavior for more positive outcomes.

Shared time at Shedd

It was through a series of fortunate events in 2010 that I had the immense pleasure of learning from Dr. Yin during a low-stress-handling seminar, and also observing her passion for exotic animals. Dr. Yin wrote a blog about this experience that captured her enjoyment as she spent time learning from, and also sharing her perspectives about animal husbandry care and training with, Ken Ramirez and the training team that gave the tour at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium. Observing Dr. Sophia Yin’s passion—one day teaching a seminar with canines, the next day excited to meet a beluga whale and stingrays—demonstrated clearly to me her delight in immersing herself in nature. At the end of her blog, Dr. Yin wrote, “All in all it was a magical hour-and-a-half.”

Spread her joy onward

Dr. Sophia Yin was a magical person, professional, and advocate for a relationship between people and nature that is both considerate and empathetic. Her legacy lives on not just through her books, handouts, and DVDs, but through every person and animal whose life was improved because someone learned from Dr. Yin. She will be missed beyond words.

About the author
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Laura Monaco Torelli, Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner (KPA CTP) and a member of the KPA and ClickerExpo faculties, is the Director of Training for Animal Behavior Training Concepts in Chicago. Since 1991, Laura has worked with and trained beluga whales, dolphins, sea otters, seals, river otters, and penguins (at the John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago), primates, large cats, birds of prey, reticulated giraffes, Arctic foxes, horses, parrots, macaws, tree kangaroos, and red pandas (at the San Diego Zoo and Brookfield Zoo), and, of course, dogs (just about everywhere). Laura has spoken at many professional conferences and has appeared on various broadcast media.