By Doug Thompson
Sydney Jean was an Australian shepherd. She was our first good friend in a strange new place.
We moved to Northwest Arkansas in September 1998 and later bought a house here. Sydney was born in May 1999 and came to live in our new home. She was black with a white underbelly and a white stripe that reached from the front of her nose almost all the way over her head to a white patch on her neck.
If you ever saw the movie “Babe” about the pig in Australia, Sydney was one of those dogs who raised the pig.
She loved us, but hated men. I appreciated this trait more and more as my daughters grew into teenagers. Any girl could walk in the house and pass muster rather quickly after the initial bark. Any new man would get a hissy fit. We had to lock her in a room when a repairman came. She’d get used to a guy after a while, but lost that quickly. Trust would have to be re-established.
So much for “man’s best friend.”
She’d bark like a maniac at me every time I came home after a week-long bout at the legislative session in Little Rock. I was annoyed at first. Then I realized what an alarm system she was while I wasn’t there. I didn’t mind much after that. Uncles and grown male cousins had a harder time. Then there was the good family friend who made the mistake of walking into our den when one of my daughters was still asleep on the sofa couch. Sydney didn’t bark. That would have awakened the girl. She bit our friend on the rear.
She was a smart dog.
She needed a bigger space than a back yard in midtown Fayetteville, but never complained. She was a shepherd, a working dog. She was never happier than in some wide-open space, running for all she was worth.
She was beautiful when she ran.
She’d get so excited when somebody mentioned “walk,” the word almost dropped out of the family vocabulary. We would “run” to the bank or “cross” the street or, when the downtown Razorback Theater was open, “not take the car” to the movies.
She never snapped at a child of mine, not even the boy.
I’m a night owl. Many a night it was just Sydney and me. The whole rest of the house would be asleep and she’d come over, set her head on my knee and get her head scratched behind the ears. We’d play tug-of-war with some old ripped up towel.
She rarely was anywhere besides home unless she was with the rest of us. The few times we left her at a kennel while on some out-of-town trip, she’d be so glad to see us. She’d pull the leash all the way to the car. She’d clamber from front to back seat, unable to sit still. She’d jump over you when you opened the car door and pull you along to get back home. She was so happy to be there, and so carefree about who knew.
She slept on the bed of my oldest girl who was still living at home — every night.
I loved that dog. I would have paid thousands to keep her alive if it would have done any good. The tumor was inoperable. We all loved her too much to keep her alive just so she could postpone our grief at the cost of leaving her blind and in pain.
So here I sit, writing this column. I’m not asking anybody to be sorry for us. I’m not sorry for myself. She was a great dog and I’m glad she was part of my family. I wouldn’t go back and do anything different.
I’m writing this because I’m fortunate enough to get space where I can give tributes in a paper. It’s a privilege everybody should have but too few of us do. So I’ll be fair and dedicate this to everybody who’s lost a good dog.
Sydney wasn’t man’s best friend, but she was one of mine.