Gerry Burpee and his dog Sophie relax Wednesday afternoon at Albert & Burpee Funeral Home in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — At first, Gerry Burpee did not want another dog.

His family already had one. And two cats. That seemed enough.

Then came Sophie — a runt-of-the litter poodle whose big personality makes her the perfect greeter at Albert & Burpee Funeral home, and the perfect companion for Burpee.

“I tell my wife all the time, thank you for talking me into it. I was adamant the last thing we needed was another damn dog,” said Burpee, president and director of the Lewiston funeral home. “I didn’t realize until we had Sophie for a little while that I never really had a dog. I had my dad’s dog, I had my son’s dog, I had my wife’s dog. I raised my mom’s dog at one point.

“The dogs all put up with me, but they weren’t really my dog. Now I know what people mean. I thought I had dogs before, but I was just taking care of other people’s dogs.”

Last year, friends of the family offered the Burpees first dibs on a puppy when their dog got pregnant. Burpee’s wife wanted one badly, but she preferred an apricot-colored female. Eventually, Burpee agreed. After all, what were the odds this litter would have a female puppy with red fur?

Then, Sophie was born.

Sophie is the official greeter at Albert & Burpee Funeral Home in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

She was the runt of the litter, a tiny ball of fur compared to her French poodle siblings. It was love at first sight. But less than a week before she was supposed to go home with the Burpees, a family member noticed a noise in Sophie’s chest. They rushed her to the vet, who diagnosed a hole in her heart — a fatal birth defect if left untreated. They then rushed her to a specialty vet outside Boston, the closest one able to perform surgery.

“She’s already famous, just so you know,” Burpee said. “When they got there, there was a film crew from the Nat Geo Wild channel. A show called ‘Animal ER Live.’ Episode one, season one features Sophie toward the end, (shows) her being rushed in and you see her surgery being done. So she’s already pretty famous.”

Doctors successfully closed the hole in Sophie’s heart and she traveled back to Maine just a few days later. The family friends worried the Burpees might not want Sophie anymore. That never crossed their minds

“We were just worried they wouldn’t want to give her up after all this. I wouldn’t blame them,” Burpee said.

Sophie went home with the Burpees last April. It wasn’t long before she was accompanying Burpee to the funeral home.

“She would often end up on my lap pretending to type, eventually falling asleep with her face on the desk while people making arrangements kept stopping to pet her,” he said. “She was good to have, she really broke the ice. She was comforting to people.”

Sophie took to greeting grieving families as they walked in, a welcome distraction for many. Sometimes she attended visiting hours.

“I’d bring her in with me when the family would show up — casket in the room, video playing, family all dressed up. I’d say, ‘If anybody objects, I’ll take the dog out.’ (They’d say:) ‘Don’t you dare! We’re a dog family,'” he said. “She’ll either sit in my office looking down the hallway waiting for people to come by, or she’ll wander off and I’ll go looking for her and find her sitting on the couch getting scratched by grandkids. She takes her job seriously. She likes being the greeter.”

And families liked having her there.

“I’ll be typing on my computer and turn to say something to the widow and have to wait because she’s got my puppy in her face, crying and mopping her face with my dog,” Burpee said.

The pandemic has put a temporary halt to that. While the funeral home is open, most arrangements are done remotely. Meetings with families are short and now include few people.

To her disappointment, Sophie isn’t greeting anyone right now.

“Now she can’t even get petted by the UPS guy. It’s killing her,” Burpee said.

Sophie does still get attention. Burpee’s two sons are home and one brought a college roommate with him. Funeral home employees, who have sheltered as a group, stop by every day to pet her.

“She’s seeing a steady stream of the same people,” he said.

Sophie spends her days stealing the family’s socks, teasing the Burpees’ other dog and cats and generally basking in any attention she can get.

“I’ve never had a dog that actually purrs. Well, she tries to. It’s like someone trying to start a lawnmower, she just does this vrrr, vrrr, vrrr, vrr, over and over again when you scratch her ear,” Burpee said. “She spent a lot of time with the cats.”

Burpee looks forward to the day she goes back to work with him. He can tell Sophie feels the same way.

“She can’t wait to start her job back up,” he said.

Animal Tales is a recurring Sun Journal feature about animals and their people. Have an idea for Animal Tales? Call Lindsay Tice at 689-2854 or email her at [email protected].

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