I pulled over for each whimper. Ellie Mae would leap from the vehicle and leave her signature on Arkansas, Mississippi, and every pasture in Alabama.

I traveled four states with a coonhound riding shotgun. She sat between me and my wife. She’s a big dog—four hundred pounds of fur, stink, slobber, and hot breath.

She gets restless.

I pulled over for each whimper. Ellie Mae would leap from the vehicle and leave her signature on Arkansas, Mississippi, and every pasture in Alabama.

We spend the night at a KOA, since Marriotts frown on hound dogs drinking from their toilets. Our small cabin is near a pond overrun with geese.

Don—KOA campground host and the man who gets to drive the golf-cart—says, “Better watch them geese, they’ll steal food off your table if you ain’t careful.”

A few kids feed the birds with white bread. Ellie notices them. She takes the opportunity to go introduce herself. Ellie reasons that any child who would feed geese, would certainly feed a malnourished canine.

I sit on the porch and let her go.

Don relaxes in his golf cart. He wears a yellow KOA T-shirt and Georgia cap. He reaches into a cooler. “You want a beer?”

You don’t get that kind of service at Marriotts.

Don is from Georgia. He and his wife travel the KOA circuit, working for peanuts and rent-free living.

He has a friendly face. And when he talks, he sounds like a trotline across the Coosa.

“Used to have a dog just like yours,” he says. “When I first seen her, brought back memories.”

Even though he’s smiling, I recognize the look he’s wearing. I’ve buried enough good dogs to know it.

His late hound’s name was Van. Her formal name was Savannah, but in this part of the world, dog-names are shortened to the fewest possible syllables.

Take me, for instance, I once had a Lab named Hurley Josiah. I called him Jo. He slept in my bathtub. A good boy. Hated thunder.

Another dog: Boone Bear. His nickname was Boo. I watched him take his final breath while he rested on my lap.

I cried for years.

“Van used to hunt with me,” Don says. “Made her happy, but she was a pitiful birddog. Never retrieved nothing.”

Still, he took her hunting. There’s something about pleasing a dog that makes men like Don feel successful.

“One day,” he goes on. “I left her in the backyard to chase the squirrels, she busted outta the fence, ran straight for the highway…”

He pinches the bridge of his nose and quits talking.

Ellie Mae prances toward his golf cart when he calls her. She drops to the ground so that Don can look at her underbelly.

When he rubs her, Ellie Mae is no longer present in body or spirit—she’s gone to be with Jesus.

“You’re a good girl,” he says to her. “I miss you every day, sweet baby.”

Every single day.

Rest in peace, Savannah.

5 comments

  1. Sam Hunneman - February 20, 2017 3:37 pm

    Well damn, Sean. You sure do know how to make a gal sweat under her eyes.
    Beautifully said. Give Ellie a scratch for me.

    Reply
  2. Carol DeLater - February 21, 2017 3:17 am

    I’m 65. I’ve had a few really special dogs. Got 2 right now. But the one I miss the most was Jack. He was a Box-a-dor. I saw him on TV when they showcase a dog that lives in Doggy Jail. He was all I could think about. My daughter made the appointment for us to go see him without asking me. I brought him home that night. His vet said his elevator didn’t go all the way up. He did the Boxer Bean Dance and looked at me like I knew him before and why didn’t I recognize him. He had a real story and I could talk about him forever. I miss my Jack. A twisted heart kind of missing.
    xx, Carol

    Reply
  3. Cherryl Shiver - February 21, 2017 4:13 pm

    Well hell,…..All I can say is, you haven’t lived until you have loved a dog.

    Reply
  4. Michael Bishop - February 21, 2017 6:17 pm

    My dad had a Labrador Retriever with the AKC handle Black Prince Michael (you had to have three names back then, maybe you still do), but, maybe because he and my mom had long since split and Dad saw me only in the summer, he called that dog Mike . . . after me, even though the Lab had a higher IQ.

    I’d start telling stories about Mike — Dad sometimes got him and me mixed up — but if I did, I’d be here until midnight. And I’m supposed to be working.

    Reply
  5. Janet Mary Lee - August 28, 2017 2:10 am

    How can you live without a dog? Kiss Ellie a slobby one from me!

    Reply

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