Beware of Dog People

We just pulled into our driveway after being on the road for weeks. I step out of the vehicle and hear a low-pitched howling coming from my house. It’s a baying sound you could hear a mile away.

The bloodhound’s voice is special. A single howl can last three or four seconds, maybe longer if there is a squirrel or a UPS employee involved. Their deep groan is rich, throaty, hoarse, and sounds like the Marlboro Man trying to sing Handel.

They’re comical dogs. A bloodhound has paws the size of baseball mitts. Their ears get caught in their mouth when they eat. Their skin is a few sizes too big for their body. In other words they’re the perfect animal.

We are dog people. And I am a bloodhound guy. It runs deep in me. I have loved hounds since boyhood, when my cousin and I first saw Ellie Mae Clampett and her bloodhound, Duke, in a TV episode of the “Beverly Hillbillies.”

My cousin had a severe crush on Ellie Mae. But I was in love with her dog.

As a young man, I had friends whose fathers were avid hunters. They used bloodhounds to track raccoons through the South Alabamian forest, usually at night. You’ve never seen anything more poetic than five hounds tearing into the midnight woods beneath a yellow moon, howling.

The hunting party would hike through groves of swampland, carrying lanterns, chewing short cigars. It was cold and damp, and I wanted to go home because I’m not a hunter.

I’m a fisherman, not a hunter. There is a big difference. A hunter is brave, tireless, he will endure hard weather, dire odds, and will sit motionless for hours without even scratching his back pocket. A fisherman has koozies that read: “She thinks my belly’s sexy.”

Often, a true fisherman will spend all day out on the water enjoying himself before he realizes he forgot his rod and reel.

But the best part about hunting with the bloodhounds was hearing them “talk.” That’s what my pal’s father called it. My friend’s father would hush everyone and point his ear toward the treeline. The dogs would be wailing.

My friend’s father would smile and say, “Listen to them babies talk.”

We’d follow the hounds all night, slogging through dark muddy terrain. The howls sounded like old men moaning, “Hoooooooo! Wooooooo!”

That night, one elderly hunter said to me, “You do this enough, you start to know which voice is your dog’s.”

I got my first bloodhound one fateful spring morning. I was so excited I could hardly stand being around myself. She was a hound’s hound, bred in Georgia, she grew to 83 pounds. She was black-and-tan, midnight face, with two cinnamon eyebrows that gave away her moods. We called her Ellie Mae.

Nobody ever warned me that bloodhounds were big old babies. I’ve always thought they were sort of tough and sturdy, but they’re not. They’re clumsy, skittish, and 90 percent saliva. They’re smart, but in their own way.

Ellie Mae, for instance, could open doors with her paws, swim faster than a teenager, and predict the weather. But she was frightened of beer.

No fooling. I don’t know why, but whenever she smelled an open longneck bottle she would lose her mind and start hopping around like a frightened fundamentalist. This made the SEC football season very complicated.

She was also a shameless thief. My wife once baked a batch of 16 blueberry muffins and left them on the counter to cool. Most dogs would have eaten the whole tray at once. But Ellie Mae worked slowly, like a Soviet spy. She stole one muffin every five minutes.

My wife never even noticed muffins were going missing until we found the furry genius asleep on our bed, covered in wax-paper muffin wrappers. She was the smartest hound I ever knew. But she was frightened of beer?

That animal rode everywhere with me. My truck belonged to her. It was filled with chew toys, expensive treats, stuffed ducks, water bowls, pig ears, rawhides, buffalo horns, and Brazilian beef femurs.

She slept at the foot of my bed, and sometimes between me and my wife. In the mornings, I’d wake up with her nine-pound head resting on my chest. Her breath was atrocious. Also, she had gas.

She went camping with me. She loved the beach. She ate what I ate. She only came to my voice. And when I was down in the dumps, it became her mission to make me un-sad.

We wrestled every evening on the living room carpet. We fished together. Showered together. Watched “Golden Girls” together. And she gave the best sugar.

She was the only real child I ever had. And when she died it almost ruined me.

But I was lucky to fall in love with another bloodhound who we named Thelma Lou. When I got her she was only nine pounds, but she filled the 83-pound hole in my heart.

Thelma is all ears and legs. She’s the color of iced tea, with a black saddle, and a coal-dust muzzle. And when she howls, it turns even the most lonely heart into clay. She’s howling right now.

I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the voice of a bloodhound excited to see you after you’ve been apart for so long, but I hope you get to hear it one day.

And some glad morning, when I pass through those abalone gates, I hope it’s the first thing I hear, too.

38 comments

  1. Mark Scott - August 8, 2020 6:33 am

    My dad took my brother and me raccoon hunting once near Eagle Lake, MS. We were around 6 or 7 years old. Spent what seemed all night chasing hound dogs with 3 or 4 other men. Finally trapped in a big oak tree, someone shot that coon. I was glad it was over cause I was ready to sleep.

    Reply
  2. Curtis Lee Zeitelhack - August 8, 2020 7:10 am

    A bloodhound would not be my first choice – or even my tenth – but, being a “dog guy”, I understand the love.

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  3. Ann - August 8, 2020 9:50 am

    This is so full of love ❤️…..

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  4. William Strawn - August 8, 2020 11:22 am

    Even if I did not like you before, I would love you now. A dog person is good people. Always lived in the city so never had a hound as didn’t want constant calls from the neighbors. But everytime I visited my grandmom, first I hugged the neighbor’s coon hound, then grandmom.

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  5. Sally Barnett - August 8, 2020 11:38 am

    A wonderful story. I have 4 dogs living on a farm in Morgan County. Most mornings there is a Howl Fest in the front yard, such music. I felt like you were a dog man when I met you in Huntsville AL. I was the short lady you said reminded you of your mother.

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  6. RCK - August 8, 2020 11:45 am

    Waves of nostalgia and longing for our deceased fur babies and their endearing eccentricities. Will not go through that unbearable wrenching loss anymore and now just get our “dog fixes” from visiting grand dogs — we have five at the moment.

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  7. RCK - August 8, 2020 12:14 pm

    Waves of nostalgia and longing for our deceased fur babies and their endearing eccentricities. Cannot go through the wrenching loss of another one so we get our “dog fixes” from visiting grand dogs. We love them and they love us but the connection is not as intense.

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  8. Phil (Brown Marlin) - August 8, 2020 12:17 pm

    Good one, Sean. Made me think of two great hunting dog movies. They are not about bloodhounds, but still heartwarming. One is The Voice of Bugle Ann, about fox hounds. The other is Where the Red Fern Grows, about coon hounds. I encourage you and all your dog-loving fans to see them.
    BTW, your story also reminded me of the Beverly Hillbillies and Duke the Bloodhound, but mostly Ellie Mae Clampett.

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  9. Kim - August 8, 2020 12:50 pm

    The sight of any hound gives me the same reaction most men get looking at a sports car. I currently have a beagle.

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  10. Melanie - August 8, 2020 1:08 pm

    Awwww…😭❤️ Glad you are home safe and back with your babies.

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  11. Jess Rawls - August 8, 2020 1:19 pm

    Sean, I’m right there with you as I’m also a dog man. When I was a young man I had three coon hounds, but nary a bloodhound have I owned. I’d go coon hunting at the drop of a hat, unless my mother clamped down on me and insist on me studying school work. Yeah, okay, Mom, whatever you say. Listening to three hounds running a coon trail was the best music in the world. I miss it, but I don’t have any hounds and I don’t have a place to hunt. Guess I’ll go coon hunting in my mind.

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  12. Teresa Tindle - August 8, 2020 1:51 pm

    I have no doubt you will Sean. Ellie Mae will be waiting for you with all the howling, slobber, and gas you can stand. What a glorious day that will be.

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  13. Kathy - August 8, 2020 1:54 pm

    Your love for your dogs shows. I struggle with people who don’t love dogs. Those who do love them are my kindred spirits.

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  14. Donald Watts - August 8, 2020 1:58 pm

    Another great story! Your writing continues to impress me daily. I don’t know how you do it or where the motivation comes from but you’re writing quality, humor, and insight continues to improve. I’m sure some days are harder than others but the quality has not diminished. Thanks for the consistency and discipline you obviously have.

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  15. Margaret - August 8, 2020 2:17 pm

    From one dog person to another, you made my day! ❤️

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  16. Robert M Brenner - August 8, 2020 2:56 pm

    What a touching ode to “Man’s Best Friend”, they will be with you during the good times and the bad times. ❤️ 🐶 🐕

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  17. Kay Keel - August 8, 2020 2:56 pm

    Awwwwww…Ellie Mae will be waiting for you! No doubt!

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  18. Beverly Wynn Bua - August 8, 2020 3:16 pm

    Loved the story, made me smile….. then the last sentence…….that’s when that tear hit my cheek… the thought of Ellie Mae waiting for you over the Rainbow bridge.💜

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  19. Patricia Gibson - August 8, 2020 5:56 pm

    I do enjoy your dog stories! I too was not blessed with children except furry ones and I understand every feeling you describe ❤️ They give unconditional love and loyalty and are a blessing from God❤️

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  20. Linda Moon - August 8, 2020 5:57 pm

    My guy and I were just talking last night, wondering where your dogs were during your travels. And, viola’, there they were in your driveway and in this post! You probably don’t want to hear this, but I have a smart cat who can open doors with his paws. Sometimes that little furry thing fills my heart-holes, too. Welcome Home, Sean and Jamie, from me, my guy, and two furball kitties!

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  21. Tammy S. - August 8, 2020 6:26 pm

    Hope you survived the slobbery kisses when you walked in the door. It’s just the best!! We are headed home from a week at the beach ourselves, and cannot wait for the greeting of our Moses!!
    ❤️🐶

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  22. MAM - August 8, 2020 7:37 pm

    I love dogs. I grew up with dogs, smallish ones, terriers mostly. I cried so hard when Skippy died that the next morning at school, my teacher could tell how distraught I was and didn’t make me take the test planned that day. She was a dog person, too. We have a 64-pound lab mix at the moment, She’s on her last legs, literally, her back legs and one front leg don’t always work well. Sometimes, she won’t eat unless I feed her from my hand first and then she digs in. We’ll be sad when she’s gone, but she may be our last dog for a while, if ever. But I pet every friendly dog I meet. I’ve written obits to my dogs in the columns I write, too. So I understand how much “family” they are and how loved they are.

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  23. jackay31032 - August 8, 2020 8:21 pm

    I really loved this precious story of Ellie Mae. What a wonderful welcome it is to come home to these happy sounds of the different barks from our 5 furbabies.

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  24. Karen Irby - August 8, 2020 11:08 pm

    Amen, Sean, Amen!

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  25. Gayle Harris - August 9, 2020 12:20 am

    My friend that loved your column, passed away two days ago. She had a Basset Hound that she loved dearly! Oh how I wish she could’ve seen this story! I know she was greeted at the Pearly Gates by many of her former dogs!

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  26. Cheryl Hatter - August 9, 2020 1:24 am

    Oh my goodness……… we just lost our four year old baby girl to lymphoma. She was a bloodhound named Boulah Belle. We have cried for three weeks now. She was a beautiful red with a wonderful personality and by far the smartest animal I have ever been around. She was a big love bug who loved to be with us. She loved to ride in my husbands truck with her big head and flappy rays hanging out. Boulah Belle loves attention and she got plenty as she howled at every one, specially big trucks and other dogs. When we would go out, she greeted us with that same excitement that you talked about. It is such a treasured memory.

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  27. Linda Broyles - August 9, 2020 1:56 am

    I loved this story. Until three years ago I don’t think that I had ever seen a bloodhound. Now we have two, Dixie Belle and Daisy Belle, plus Teddy, a beagle. You can’t imagine what goes on when someone rings the doorbell. Two big ones wailing and barking, with the addition of an airhorn. They are super cute.

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  28. Janie - August 9, 2020 5:38 am

    I hear your heart…..

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  29. Linda Broyles - August 9, 2020 3:28 pm

    Loved this column a LOT. Until three years ago I don’t believe I’d ever seen a bloodhound. Now we have two–Dixie Be!!e and Daisy Belle–plus a beagle, Teddy Bear. When the doorbell rings…or someone walks down the street…or a dog goes by, you cannot imagine the ruckus. Two big ones barking and howling, with the beagle airhorn urging them on. They are super cute.

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  30. Mary Birkholz Zieska - August 10, 2020 5:20 am

    You telling about losing Ellie Mae is what brought me here. Thelma Lou and your heart, that you give a piece of to Jamie and me and the world keep me coming back.
    Thank you.

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  31. Amy Brown - August 10, 2020 1:12 pm

    Bessie Lou – our redbone. Everything you said. She’s the sweetest girl we’ve ever had. I think the Lord knew who would replace the hole Buster left when he crossed over. He was the sweetest boy we’d ever had. Thanks for the memories!

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  32. Nancy Chance - August 10, 2020 4:31 pm

    Aw, we love our fur babies and like you I have no children. I have 4 dogs. Two old dogs, toy poodle, Rocky, the boss, & mini dachshund,Tess, the intimidator, both with health issues. Thought I was losing them when they both got very, very sick. Thinking I can’t be without a dog, my husband & I decided to get a male standard poodle pup, Baron, from my groomer since he prefers large dogs.. I couldn’t be without a dog. Well, my groomer had a female left so we rationalized he’ll need companionship. Not sure about our thinking on that. Whew, what a handful for us old folks. Add into that the hubby got Lymes disease, bullseye & all. Too many deer ticks on top of our (NC) mountain. Crazy house for a year. They are 2 now. The old dogs got better after changing vets & having the pups around. After moving back to Alabama last summer, we discovered Baron has Addison’s disease. Of course, monthly meds & vet visits are the vacation trips I had planned in retirement but their worth it.

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  33. Tami - August 11, 2020 2:39 am

    Red bloodhound parent here. His name is Frank. He’s 127 pound eight year old baby. Smartest, most calculating dog I’ve ever met. He’s terrified of bicycles and hates for you to leave a grocery bag on the counter. He cusses me out every time I correct him. Also, he stole and devoured 3 raw sweet potatoes just a few days ago. Bloodhounds are the best.

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  34. Winifred Brown - August 11, 2020 7:03 pm

    From one dog lover to another- thank you

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  35. DiAn - August 12, 2020 2:30 am

    Sean- I grew up on a big historic farm in N.VA with a LOT of dogs around (and cats too – they all had their jobs in keeping the rodent population in check). This column makes me want a bloodhound real bad! THANK YOU for bringing memories and their singing voices to our attention! We had one hunter who could ID his hound by the sound of his dog’s voice – no matter where she was in the field. Ahhhh – the sweet sound of man and beast!

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  36. jacobygt1 - August 14, 2020 11:37 pm

    Love dogs more than most humans, and as a coon hunter in my youth, loved to hear them talk… If you’ve never read it, Sean, Mackinlay Kantor’s classic is short and an absolute literary gem: The Voice of Bugle Ann. It is also a classic film, starring Lionel Barrymore. Joe-Bob sez chek it out…

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  37. Connie Vernon - September 13, 2020 8:05 pm

    My daughter had a male bloodhound who grew to 165 lbs. The UPS delivery guy would stop at her house ( even when there were no packages to deliver) and ring the doorbell just to hear that big hound howl a few times. I loved that boy with all my heart, and he loved me right back.

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  38. Ann Beaver - September 13, 2020 8:55 pm

    I love all your stories but this one is definitely a favorite. I grew up in the sticks in Alabama. Daddy was a fox/rabbit hunter…actually he just hunted most everything…but at one time we had a dozen or so fox hounds and 27 beagles. He and some of his hunting buddies would take those hounds out and could identify every one of their “barks/howls.” It was “Old Red just struck up a trail” or something. They would go back the next morning to pick up the dogs where they released them. Usually they were all there waiting. Occasionally one would get stolen but, for the most part, they were all there.

    Reply

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