The email came from someone named Paxton.
“Dear Sean,” the message began, “my dog died today and I feel like I can’t go on. I know you‘ve lost a dog before. How do you go on without them?”
As it happens, I have lost 12 dogs in my life. Twelve sounds like large number and makes me wonder whether it’s time to sign up for AARP. But I’m not very old. The truth is, I am just crazy about dogs. Always have been.
At one time in my life, we had four dogs living in our 900-square-foot house. My shoes all had teeth marks. And all my reading glasses had been semi-digested.
Owning four dogs at once, I must point out, is unwise. Of course, I didn’t set out to own four dogs simultaneously. No sane person would. It all started with one dog.
His name was Squirt. My wife and I adopted Squirt from a local animal shelter long ago. He was part of a litter born at the shelter. The employees named the puppies after characters from the Disney movie “Finding Nemo.”
I’ll never forget our first meeting. My wife and I were seated on the complimentary sofa in the meet-and-greet room, we were both a little nervous.
The sofa resembled something that had survived an atomic weapons detonation test. The cushions were soaked with drool, the nylon stuffing was removed, and there were fleas on the upholstery roughly the size of Danny Devito.
Squirt entered the room, leapt on my lap, and ruined my shirt with the Weewee of Joy, thereby living up to his name.
And I had to have him.
But here’s the thing. The canine shelter did not make adopting easy. Shelters often require adoptive owners to jump through several bureaucratic hoops before adopting. This is to discourage non-serious pet buyers, which I am in favor of—sort of. Except that some preliminary criteria seemed ridiculous.
For starters, you had to show past tax records. Also, you had to bring proof of auto insurance, get fingerprinted, get a blood test, have a complete physical, run a mile in under 10 minutes, pass an eye exam, then fight a giant snake.
All in all, Squirt cost me around $400. But, hey, I was in love. I would have gladly paid 50 grand.
So I took my new buddy home. That same afternoon we were in the backyard when my phone rang. It was the shelter.
The woman on the phone explained that Squirt’s brother, Marlin, was miserable after we had adopted his brother. The woman asked—no, she pleaded—for me to take Marlin, too.
Well, being a mature adult, I told the shelter I had to seriously think about this proposal for a few days, inasmuch as adopting an animal is a momentous commitment.
And if you believe that, then you are adorable. Because what actually happened was, I leapt into my truck barefoot and sped to the shelter to welcome Marlin into our family. They charged me another $400.
So I was in for $800 bucks, not counting the Science Diet food ($129.99), and all the Pet Smart® approved canine paraphernalia ($2,120,239.99).
A few days later—this just gets better and better—I received ANOTHER call from the shelter. The volunteer explained that there was a THIRD brother (Gurgle) who had been heartbroken ever since losing his two biological brothers.
In under five minutes I was at the shelter. I drained my savings account and slapped another $400 onto the counter.
After that, I thought I was done adopting dogs forever. But anyone familiar with situational comedies knows that a few weeks later, we got a fourth and much heavier dog named Zabar.
So I was up to $1600 bucks in dogs.
For the next decade, our house was owned by animals. Our rugs were stained with urine. Our walls were covered with dried saliva. Whenever our mail carrier knocked on the door, God love him, four screaming dogs skidded toward the door and collided into each other like a Marx Brothers routine.
But here’s the sad part. We lost all four dogs within a few months.
The first to go was Marlin. He was the victim of a hit and run. We carried him home; he died in our living room.
Next was Squirt. He quit eating, and cancer demolished him. The vet injected something into his veins, and during his final moments I stared into Squirt’s eyes and something passed between us. I cried for three months thereafter.
Then Gurgle. He was lying in my wife’s arms. I’ve never heard a woman weep like that.
And our fourth dog, Zabar, died of pancreatitis with two crying adults surrounding her.
Currently, there are four well-worn graves in my backyard. Often, late at night, I stand beside these plots and talk to my dogs. Yes, I know it’s ridiculous to speak to ghosts, especially canine ones. But you never quit loving someone. And believe me, a dog is someone.
So anyway, Paxton, I’m not qualified to give advice. But to answer your question about how I eventually got over my grief. The answer is: I didn’t. I didn’t have enough time. Because the very next morning I did what I do best. I drove into town and adopted another puppy.
And I’d be willing to bet $1600 bucks you will too.
Shannon - February 10, 2022 6:57 am
We lost our almost 13 year old terrier on January 11th. This weekend we will meet a 4 year old terrier that recently lost her owner to an illness. We need her and she needs us. Thank you for your story!
Cheryl Andrews - February 10, 2022 3:04 pm
This describes my husband and me. Can’t be without a dog.
Phil & Mary - February 14, 2022 10:37 pm
We lost Max, Cosmo and Champ in less than 6 months last year. We miss our sweet boys everyday and are heartbroken without them.
CHARALEEN WRIGHT - February 10, 2022 7:00 am
Lisa - February 10, 2022 7:06 am
Joseph B Mizereck - February 10, 2022 11:06 am
Well done Paxton.
Tina - February 10, 2022 7:08 am
Go Paxton, you are in great need!😇😇
Leigh Amiot - February 10, 2022 8:48 am
The “weewee of Joy”—never had a name for that until now. Maggie the Aussie would do that when we picked her up from boarding after a trip. I taught her to bark scarily at the command, “Get ‘em!” Mainly used that on scam telephone callers, but one day when a man tried to enter my home through the back door, that scary bark came in handy. If he’d gotten inside, she’d have licked him to death, but he thought better of burglary and left, thank God and Maggie. I’ve spent a few moments basking in good memories, trying not to think of when we had to tell her goodbye at the vet’s office when she was 10 1/2. My heart goes out to Paxton. I bet he follows your good example, Sean.
Eric Colby - February 10, 2022 10:42 am
Sean, Marlin was not a victim of a hit and run. He was a victim of being off leash. A lose dog is a dead dog. You are responsible for your dog. Dog’s can’t think the way humans can think. Accept your responsibility.
Christine - February 10, 2022 1:36 pm
Eric, you’re a perfect jerk.
Anthony - February 10, 2022 1:37 pm
Leigh Amiot - February 10, 2022 2:14 pm
Eric, if you’ve never had a dog escape from a fenced area or a leash, you must be a cat owner. My Aussie escaped and crossed two highways before we were able to catch her. That was cruel to speak such harsh judgment on someone who clearly loved their dog. Your smug self-righteousness reeks.
Susan - February 14, 2022 4:50 am
Beth - February 14, 2022 6:19 pm
Seems Eric knows something about the hit and run…
Debi Moseley Matlack - February 14, 2022 9:15 pm
Eric, you don’t know the circumstances of the incident, so kindly mind your own business. I worked in veterinary medicine for decades and saw many animals hit by cars. Some of them were on leash when it happened. Accept your rudeness.
Patricia Wiley - February 10, 2022 11:07 am
Made me laugh and cry at the same time!
Jean - February 10, 2022 12:18 pm
I am crying right now after reading this. Love dogs and cats. I still cry over my dobie that has been gone a long time. I now have cats….had t put one down not long ago….and whatever it takes to keep them…it’s all worth it.
Diane Clayton - February 10, 2022 12:30 pm
Thank you f or sharing this. It’s beautiful.
Connie - February 10, 2022 12:53 pm
I love your big heart for your babies. Both of our fur babies are rescues. Like you said, we jumped through hoops to get the first one and even more for the second one, because our shelter is wonderful and they don’t care about anything but seeing those rescues in good homes. The first one, he’s part chihuahua and part who knows what, but we didn’t choose him. He chose me. My granddaughter and I walked through the shelter and he was all alone in a corner. Dumb me squatted down and stuck my hand through the wire to pet a puppy and he came over and just laid his head in my hand. They figure he was about 3 years old. He had heart worms and a shaved place where a bigger dog bit him and he still has a piece of a bullet in his side where some low life shot him. But he picked me and I had to have him. He’s been with me 8 years and I don’t know if my heart could stand losing him. My granddaughter was searching the shelter’s FB page about a year later and there were two babies, no bigger than my hand, that someone had thrown in a ditch. She brought one of those home and she’s a territorial, barking little chihuahua, dachshund mix and we love her like crazy. I wish everyone had room and money to rescue a pet. They always love us, even when we may not be lovable.
Cathy M - February 10, 2022 12:57 pm
Hey Eric, be kind. You will feel better.
Paul McCutchen - February 10, 2022 1:10 pm
I couldn’t do it. I had two English Bulldogs, Peaches and Cleatus. Peaches died of cancer in her mouth and I think Cleatus just mourned himself. I went out into the back yard one morning and he was laying near Peachess grave. I sat on the ground and put his head in my lap, he closed his eyes and passed away. I know it sounds like something out of a story book and it has been years since we have had another animal. My daughter brought us a older little dog that was left in the yard by a neighbor. She gets loved too much and fed too much but since she identifies as a Rottweiler she is very protective.
Sharon Hand - February 10, 2022 1:30 pm
Sean, while reading this and afterwards, I am crying.. I had to put my furbabies baby down last March after being her Momma for 18 years. It still hurts and I still cry almost every day. You are right when you say you never get over the loss.
Susan Fitch - February 10, 2022 1:39 pm
I’ve had many pets in my life and they were loved through the very end. It’s so hard to let them go and I’m not sure that I have ever “gotten over “ saying good bye.
SC - February 10, 2022 1:45 pm
“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.”
― Will Rogers
Deacon Nick Nichols - February 10, 2022 1:52 pm
For my Catholic brothers and sisters, I realize our dogs do not have souls so Christ did not die for them. That does not mean that our Loving Father cannot or would not bring back our beloved pets in a better mode, e.g. able to talk with us!!!
Dianne Henry - February 10, 2022 1:54 pm
Adopt, don’t shop!! Bless you , Sean.
BRENDA DAVIS - February 10, 2022 1:57 pm
SO LOVE !
Molly - February 10, 2022 6:58 pm
Loved it! Please Google “Rainbow Bridge.” It is a sweet poem that goes right along with this.
Charlotte Virginia McCraw - February 10, 2022 2:19 pm
As I read, I could feel, first, the joy . . then, the pain with each loss . . and the resurgence of joy with a new puppy to love.
dapeek43 - February 10, 2022 2:24 pm
Lknight - February 10, 2022 2:32 pm
I have never in my 54 years of life been without a furry companion. Until now, this last one broke something inside of me. She was diabetic and i spent all my time trying to figure out how to fix this. I kept her alive for 15 years (she was a true rescue- her mother died and before her eyes were good and open and her ears were unstuck from her head, she had to be bottle fed to live, so she really was my child). I bought her a house in New Orleans and one in Florida because i refused to vacation without her and her siblings. Her brother and sister went before her and i was left with only her. The pandemic was the best thing for us because i worked from home and got to spend all my time with her….but when it was time to put her down….something in me broke….I can’t get over it and now several months later I can’t bring myself to get another one. All my dogs have been rescues…i just am at a point in my puppy life that i can’t be rescued. I still have her bed where she laid looking out the window all day…i just can’t move it. (She truly was my protector, she saved me from getting mugged in new orleans (Molly was a 65lb jindo husky mix with a bad attitude). She was fearless…he came at us in the middle of the night on a peepee walk and he didn’t notice her…she got between us and let him know she would die for me. He ran – we were thankful.
AlaRedClayGirl - February 10, 2022 2:38 pm
We have a pet cemetery on our farm where numerous cats, dogs, chickens, etc. are buried. Nearby we placed a statue of St. Francis – Catholics call him the patron saint of animals because of his love for God’s creatures. Heaven will have to be vast to accommodate all these animals, with someone to clean up all the Weewee of Joy when their masters arrive at the pearly gates.
Josiane Fayard - February 15, 2022 10:19 pm
This is so lovely! Thank you so much. I also live on a kind of farm (six dogs two old old horses one cow) and we have many dogs buried from over the years. And I love St. Francis! In our case we keep on adopting and rescuing dogs from many different situations and we love them so very much and they love us. Many times we adopted “one more” make room, get an extra house, this is the best reading I have had in a long time, even though I’m still crying. Thank you all, well, except Eric. And yes, please, adopt!
Gayle Dodds - February 10, 2022 2:48 pm
I have buried dogs cats birds and horses loved all of them kept them their entire lives. It hurts to lose them it gets harder every time but I would be lost without one of God’s creatures to keep me company. You had me crying on this one.
Jan Averett - February 10, 2022 2:54 pm
Beautiful story of true love for dogs. I too have lost many. Yes it breaks your heart and you grieve, cry and go get another to love. It never stops the pain of the lost loved one however it rekindles your heart to keep on loving and giving and most of all receiving their unconditional love.
Shelton A. - February 10, 2022 3:06 pm
Sean, I do know how it is with dogs. I love them like you do and they are as much a part of my life as breathing. You have had your share of dogs (and someone else’s lol j/k). I’d have a second dog now but mine was abused before I got her at age 5 and she really could not take sharing me. Plus, she’d eat both dog’s food and still want more. Whoever had her before me deprived her of the amount of food she needed. Heaven will be beautiful and amazing and I pray we make it there. But I think we agree to truly be heaven, we have to have our dogs. God bless you and Jamie (and all the four-footed family you have had, especially the two you have now!). Don’t forget to fence in your backyard in B’ham.
Ann Bradford - February 10, 2022 3:53 pm
I had 4 dogs at on time until 3 weeks ago one went to heaven due to congestive heart failure in my arms. He was bathed with tears as he left me. I love senior dogs who are in need of a home–searching for Bandit’s replacement as that is the only way to fill the space they leave in your heart. Sean you always make my morning GREAT! Thanks, Ann
Sean of the South: All Dogs Go To Heaven | The Trussville Tribune - February 10, 2022 3:59 pm
[…] By Sean Dietrich, Sean of the South […]
Stacey Patton - February 10, 2022 4:00 pm
Thanks, Sean. You are such a sweetie.
Sy ONeill - February 10, 2022 4:20 pm
I had to say goodbye to my 15 1/2-year-old black lab, and it was so hard. I had a vet from Laps of Love come to the house, and I was able to lie beside my sweet girl until she passed.
After she was gone, I saw her everywhere from the corner or my eye. Her presence was so strong.
A few weeks later I adopted another rescue, a 4-year-old hound mix. She helped heal my heart.
Beautiful column that had me in tears while I laughed.
Margaret Jackson - February 10, 2022 5:02 pm
I so associate with your dog story, except mine is cats!
At our old house, we had a little cemetery down in the woods for our special kitties. I hated to leave it when we moved, but about a year ago, we had to start another here.
My mother’s cat (I inherited her) had been with us since 2013. Last March, I found her passed away in the laundry room, right outside her box. I cried so, mostly because it was Mom’s last cat and I lost that connection.
I know it will be difficult to leave your little dog cemetery when you and Jamie move, but maybe the people who buy your old home will look after it for you.
Helen De Prima - February 10, 2022 5:15 pm
My husband, a vet, always cautioned clients against acquiring multiple pets the same age — in spite of knowing that, we adopted two strays about the same age and lost them both within a few months of each other.
David P B Feder - February 10, 2022 5:18 pm
What a bittersweet story. My wife and I lost our two dogs within a month and a half of each other, both prematurely. My dachshund Sadie suffered heart disease and during the half a year we kept her going (including some $4,000+ in emergency vet bills and meds) my wife’s pub went into respiratory arrest and had to be put down at only 8-3/4. We lost Sadie 6 weeks later as her heart finally gave out. Both pups died in my arms, and both were buried in our back yard. And we recently moved 1200 miles away and had to pray that whoever buys the house we left behind has the compassion to leave those graves undisturbed. It’s hard as anything and only gets worse as one gets older, but the only other option is to not have a dog and that’s no life at all. My wife adopted a truly obnoxious and irresistible dachshund puppy within a few weeks. I was used to spending a much longer time mourning but, Paxton — and this is the best advice I ever got about pet adoption — as my wife pointed out, every day delayed was a day some poor pup had to spend unloved in some cold shelter cell. Sean’s absolutely correct: You won’t stop loving or missing the dogs who we survive, but hey, there’s plenty of room in your heart to save another dog and love him or her as well and as much.
Susie Flick - February 10, 2022 6:46 pm
I want to adopt a new dog – hopefully in the spring. Having had pets most of my life – I miss having all that unconditional love. There were a lot of dogs in my life, Ginger, Pepper, Willie, Max, Dusty, Gus, Mollie aka “Good Golly Miss Mollie”. All were loved and cared for and some lost to unforeseen circumstances. Willie, was shot by a neighbor when I lived in Powder Springs, GA – broke my heart – went into work the next day and cried my eyes out to my caring boss. My last dog, Mollie, a Mother’s day gift from my daughter in 1989. Mollie, a yellow lab, lived to be almost 14! I cried my eyes out at the vet’s and used up all his tissues. I have had granddogs, friends dogs and neighbor dogs to appease my love for dogs. Hoping the one I pick to adopt isn’t everyone’s favorite like the last time I took a chance. She was surrendered by hfor er first family and I wasn’t lucky enough to be the one to get her. Hoping for a sweet match in the future.
Linda Moon - February 10, 2022 6:47 pm
I held my breath here as I read the title of this new post before opening it…wondering if it might be about one of your dogs. I opened it, then read about dogs you’ve loved and lost. Twelve is a large number of dogs…..and siblings, of which there were six boys and six girls in our family. We’ve lost nine of them. I hope Paxton adds another puppy to his family!
Linda Crawford - February 10, 2022 6:50 pm
We just lost Jaxx, our beloved German Shepherd. This is week 4; we’re still crying. We can’t bear to think about another dog, but we will. That’s all that will heal our hearts.
Karen - February 10, 2022 7:36 pm
We have always had dogs. Usually 2-4. Right now we have 4 rescues. I can’t imagine a life with out a pup as a family member.
Ann Syfert - February 10, 2022 7:57 pm
Sean, please ignore ignorant comments. I can’t stand it when someone just has to be ugly. Has he not read about how you love your dogs? I don’t understand some ugly people. The commenters that matter love you to the moon and back!!!!
Lisa Heileman - February 10, 2022 8:41 pm
We are off to adopt a 13 year old blind 6 poind fur biall on Valentine’s Day. Yep, similar tugs to out hearts. Thank you for sharing this nugget. :).
Dixie - February 10, 2022 9:10 pm
Good advise in this great column!
Karen - February 10, 2022 11:29 pm
That’s right. When I lose one of my dogs I have to have another right away. It’s the only thing that takes the edge off of the pain in my heart.
Estelle - February 11, 2022 9:25 am
I’m 80 years old and my shih tzu is 12 years old. That’s 84 years in people age. When she dies I have said I would not get another dog. After my last dog died I tried to live without a dog. I was so miserable that my best friend got her granddaughter to give me a puppy from their dogs litter which is my shih tzu. If I can’t stand not have a dog I’m going to get an old dog. One that takes long naps and loves to have her head scratched and her belly rubbed. A dog is the only animal that loves you more than she cares for herself. ( male dogs also ). 🐶
Joan Vibert - February 11, 2022 10:17 pm
We had to put down our only dog last Saturday and I miss her all the time. But I have to admit that I am already looking at dogs on the shelter website’s and will go look at all the dogs next week. I bet we bring one home.
chris cook - February 12, 2022 4:15 pm
Thank you Sean for bringing out the best in folks and dogs. Thank you also for sharing about rescuing, like you I currently have two rescues(chocolate labbish types) , one is a Bama boy and the other from TN, got them sight unseen- and they are the best, they make us all happy and are our “kids”.
Vince - February 14, 2022 8:35 pm
Got our first dog for the youngsters.. and it turns out she’s my dog. Probably should have named her shadow since she follows me everywhere. Its been a great few years but I see the white coming on her face already and noticed she doesn’t have the bounce of a puppy anymore. Knowing I’m likely to outlive her I spend every moment possible with her about. Never walk by without a pet or belly rub for her. A good dog is one of God’s great gifts to us.
Melissa Mikkelsen - February 15, 2022 12:43 pm
Last year was so hard for me. Between my youngest daughter moving out and leaving me with this empty nest and losing two of my three fur babies its a whole new sadder world. Thank Goodness I still have Nahlah to love and snuggle with. I agree with Will, if Doggies don’t go to heaven I don’t want to go either. Which is silly, because anyone who has ever had a dog, especially a coonhound or a potty, knows that dogs DO have souls. Sorry Catholics, you got that one way wrong.
Melissa Mikkelsen - February 15, 2022 12:43 pm
Elizabeth Ann Novak - February 15, 2022 11:16 pm
Been there; done that.
Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - March 4, 2022 5:03 am
Getting another dog is really the best thing to do when a cherished dog dies. The new one doesn’t replace the old one. They have their own personalities but, it helps us to dead with our grief.