by Judy Alter
Every night when I’m ready to go to bed, I ask Sophie if she’s ready for bed. She trots to the dog bed next to my bed. We visit and she gets tummy rubs; sometimes I talk over the day with her, sometimes I just tell her what a sweet girl she is. When I say, “Okay, time to go to sleep,” she jumps up and goes to her crate (she’s housebroken but occasionally unreliable). In the morning the first thing I do is let her out of the crate, and we have another little love session, which me scratching her ears. I begin and end my day with my dog.
Sophie is a deliberate, kennel-bred cross of a border collie and a miniature poodle. I badly wanted a Labradoodle but my physician-brother convinced me that a woman of my age with mobility problems does not need a dog that would be eighty lbs. at a minimum. So I opted for a mini-labradoodle and, along with three children and three grandchildren, went to the kennel. The Labradoodle puppies were sweet but sleepy and passive—still only six weeks old. The breeder mentioned she had one Bordoodle and brought out Sophie. She was lively, mischievous, playful and irresistible. We all fell in love.
Sophie is not a perfect dog. In addition to occasional housebreaking mishaps, her unbounded enthusiasm and independent spirit gets us both in trouble. If anybody leaves a door a crack open, she is gone—headed for Canada. The only way to catch her is to drive by and open the car door—she loves cars. Even at thirty-two lbs., she is too strong for me to walk, although a younger neighbor occasionally walks her. She gets her exercise in the yard chasing squirrels. She is stubborn beyond belief—sometimes when I call her to come inside, she looks at me with an expression that says, “Really?” And doesn’t move. But she can be bribed with a treat.
She loves people and dogs but is sometimes wild in her greetings, bad about jumping on guests, until she calms down—which, now four, she eventually does. She has her favorites—my daughter and my grandson, a neighbor, the neighbor who tends my yard, almost anyone who gives her attention. Her fans, besides me, are legion.
Because I work at home, Sophie and I spend a lot of time alone together. She’s fierce about protecting me from unseen enemies—about half the time I can’t figure out what sets her off. In her crate, she is silent—off duty, as one neighbor says. If nothing alarms her, she’ll sleep in the easy chair in my office while I work. If I go to the kitchen, she follows, watching from a respectful distance in the dining room. If I nap, she goes to the dog bed. She is my shadow, giving me a much-needed sense of companionship by following me, staying wherever I am. Sometimes I talk over my problems with her—she’s an attentive listener.
She’s also the most vocal dog I’ve ever known. Many intonations and tones, from deep growls to almost a howling, that make us all wish we could speak “dog.” She so earnest about what she says to us. I answer conversationally and that sometimes satisfies her.
I cannot imagine life without a dog. Through a lifetime filled with dogs, I’ve loved them all—but Sophie is special.
An award-winning novelist, Judy Alter is the author of six books in the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries series: Skeleton in a Dead Space, No Neighborhood for Old Women, Trouble in a Big Box, Danger Comes Home, Deception in Strange Places, and Desperate for Death. She also writes the Blue Plate Café Mysteries—Murder at the Blue Plate Café, Murder at the Tremont House and the current Murder at Peacock Mansion. Finally, with the 2014 The Perfect Coed, she introduced the Oak Grove Mysteries.
Her work has been recognized with awards from the Western Writers of America, the Texas Institute of Letters, and the National Cowboy Museum and Hall of Fame. She has been honored with the Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement by WWA and inducted into the Texas Literary Hall of Fame and the WWA Hall of Fame.
Judy is retired as director of TCU Press, the mother of four grown children and the grandmother of seven. She and her dog, Sophie, live in Fort Worth, Texas.