One of the first things you learn when you become a dog-person is that normal people look at you funny when you talk about your dog too much.

This is usually because these people have normal healthy lives, with real kids, real jobs, and retirement plans.

Well, I never had any of those things. I spent adulthood working crummy jobs. I don’t have kids. And retirement is a three-syllable word used in Charles Schwab commercials during baseball games.

The highlight of my workdays was coming home to find the silhouette of a bloodhound in our front window. Her name was Ellie Mae.

In her heyday, Ellie was obsessed with a cat in our neighborhood named Dexter. Dexter was born of Satan and had eyes like the kid from the movie Poltergeist.

Dexter would torment Ellie by visiting our backyard and sitting right in Ellie’s food bowl as if to say, “Look! My butt is on your food! How do you like that?”

And thus, Ellie became transfixed with Dexter and his feline butt. Ellie would sometimes spend entire days at our window, keeping track of all the illegal activities Dexter committed in our yard. She would turn circles, whimpering.

Dexter would make eye-contact with Ellie through the glass. He would stare her down until she hurled herself against our window hard enough to shatter it.

Dexter was a professional competitor when it came to games between canines and felines.

There was the time, for instance, when I drove to the bank. Ellie came with me. She waited in my truck with the engine running. I ran inside. I was writing a deposit slip when the teller pointed out the window and shrieked.

“Your truck!” she hollered.

My vehicle was rolling into a flower bed.

I sprinted through the parking lot and when I reached the truck, I realized that my crazed bloodhound had knocked the gearshift out of park. She was having a real fit.

That’s when I saw Dexter crouched in the backseat, hissing.

Of course, Ellie Mae was interested in more than just cats. Her other interests included: pork, remote controls, scented candles, snotty rags, eyeglasses, Masterpiece Theater, and squirrels.

She was also interested in me.

Maybe that’s why we were so close. I never had a dog who wanted to be near me that often. I couldn’t leave the house without her, or go to the bathroom for that matter. I never slept without her beside me.

When Ellie Mae started to develop white fur around her snout, I took to calling her my old lady.

My wife used to say that if God had made Ellie human instead of dog, Ellie would have tried to kill my wife and elope with me to Las Vegas. Her words, not mine.

During Ellie’s last years, her joints started bothering her, and her hip went bad. It was difficult to watch the old girl moan when she walked up stairs. My once athletic dog was now sleeping all day, and she didn’t have the energy to go fishing with me anymore.

Ellie lived for thirteen years, but I can’t help feeling that my dog’s short life was only half lived. I wish I could have given her more belly rubs. I wish she could have eaten more table scraps.

And at least once, I wish she could have known the pleasure of catching a squirrel.

When a doctor injected colored solution into her veins, Ellie closed her eyes forever, and she took a piece of me with her.

In some ways I grieved for Ellie harder than I grieved my own father. Probably because it’s safer to grieve a dog than a human sometimes.

When you grieve for a human, there can be landmines beneath the surface of your memories, waiting to explode. Step on one, and you bring back all sorts of painful stuff.

But when you mourn for a dog, there are no landmines. There are only memories of a loyal animal who would have walked in front of traffic for you.

You mourn in unusual ways. You find yourself sitting in your truck alone, staring out a windshield. Your truck engine is off. You’re parked in your driveway. You just got home from the bank and you’re thinking of her.

Your upholstery bears her remnants. Hair. Dirt. Nose marks on the windows. There is a tiny cedar box of her ashes on your dashboard.

You place your hand on that box sometimes and say, “We sure had fun, didn’t we old girl?”

And you see something on your truck hood. It’s Dexter. He’s sleeping. That poor cat misses her as much as you do.

Some people might look at you funny when you talk about your dog too much.

Let them.

And just keep on talking.


  1. jstephenw - May 12, 2020 7:01 am

    Sean! You have finally hit a nerve I cannot avoid. My wife and I helped raise German Shepherds for Dogs for Autism (solid black) to help kids with Autism. Neiman Marcus (I did not name him- named at a charity auction) had an issue with the X-rays on his back legs (shows possible hip dysplaciia issues.) I was glad when they asked me if I wanted him. I said yes. He put 100,000 miles on the back seat of my Ford F-150 Crew Cab. He lost the use of his back legs in early July of last year. The vet recommended I put him down, which I did on July 15, 2019 at 4:47 pm. I had to take the next day off. I hope to see him at the Rainbow Bridge. I am sure Ellie Mae will be waiting there for you. Thank you.

  2. Cathi Russell - May 12, 2020 9:27 am

    Oh Sean, I lost my BFF of 17 years in 2018 & I still cry about her at least once a month. The Peach was a Basset Hound & a force of nature. We were not friends for the first 6 months she lived here but then I fell in love, hard & forever. And she ran my life, indeed the whole neighborhood’s life for 17 years. And I’m quite sure she’s 2nd in command at the Rainbow Bridge. Bless you for these tears…Ellie & the Peach are running things together, I’m sure.

  3. Mary Beth - May 12, 2020 10:22 am

    As the time gets closer for my boy, Bosco, I feel this post deep in my soul. Thank you, Sean.

  4. Pat - May 12, 2020 10:54 am

    I loved my dog Molly just like that. I still miss her. She was one of my very best friends.

  5. Curtis Lee Zeitelhack - May 12, 2020 11:07 am

    That reminds me. I need to give my dog a belly rub.

  6. Sylvia from Florida - May 12, 2020 11:30 am

    Where are these comments coming from? It’s 7:15 a.m. here in Florida.
    Sean, I feel your pain as many others do. We’ve all been there and it’s heartbreaking. So sorry for
    your loss. In time, may you find another Ellie Mae but until then you have Dexter….😊. God bless

  7. Naomi - May 12, 2020 11:53 am

    My daughter and I were just talking about the pets we lost over the years and why I will not get anymore pets. I can’t handle getting that attached and having them die. My daughter and her husband currently have two dogs. One of them had just had a litter of puppies when she got hit by a car and killed. They have 10 acres of land where she could roam but she preferred the middle of a major highway. They kept a female from the litter and named her Margo. Margo’s mother was attached to my daughter but Margo is attached to my son-in-law. When he leaves the house, she starts pacing the floor and looking at the front door if he doesn’t come home when she thinks he should. If he’s going to be really late, my daughter has to call him and he has to talk to Margo on the phone. One time, he was with some of his buddies who overheard him talking to Margo. They said, “We know you don’t cheat on your wife, but who is the Margo chick?” He had to explain that this was his dog. My son-in-law and his buddies are all “macho” men–hunters and fishers, not the typical men who talk to their dogs on the telephone.

  8. Lisa Perkins - May 12, 2020 11:55 am

    I can totally relate. I’ve had many dogs over the years and loved them all, but my last baby was my doggy soulmate. I had to send him to the rainbow bridge three years ago at 14.5 yrs old. I’m finally at the point where I’m ready to get another dog. As I scour all the rescue sites, I realized that I keep looking for my baby, even though I know I’ll never find his exact twin. ☹️

  9. Reneezydaizy - May 12, 2020 12:05 pm

    I started reading today drawn in by the title “Ellie”—my mother’s name and the name of my new grandniece. As you can imagine, I was surprised that it was about a dog, yet I was delighted because I have that new kind of relationship with my roving kitten turned Princess Cat, Josephina. Yep, she is as elegant as her name. I have had the unexpected joy of her for over 9 months now, after finding her with a hurt leg at a summer camp. I paid not attention to her but my friend couldn’t leave her. After holding her down at the vet for the x-ray and seeing her pain, I relented in taking her home for her one-month treatment. Broken leg. She can find a way to use it as it heals (not perfectly) on its own, they said—just like me when I broke my elbow playing basketball at 13; I still have the two bones instead of one to show for it. I knew she’d be just fine. One month is now turning into our lifetime, and I am so blessed by her antics and affection. She has settled me in so many ways, giving me a contentment in a quiet life. There is just something so sweet and divine about these creatures that God gives us. Thank you so much for sharing about Ellie! I hope for many more years of adventures (or couch-potatoing) with Josephina.

  10. Kristi Springer - May 12, 2020 12:22 pm

    Thanks for writing this for me today. You don’t know me. But you wrote this just for me anyway. My sweet baby girl Maddie is at this moment wandering around weak likely in her last days. I love that another human understands this love. And the hurt that is ahead. But it’s worth it. I wouldn’t trade a day with her for the tears that will be shed. Just like you wouldn’t with Ellie. Thank you for pouring your heart out in words for us humans. You make a difference in someone’s life everyday.

  11. James Payne - May 12, 2020 12:30 pm

    Sean you need to put “tear ratings” on your posts . My wife reads me your posts every morning and half the time she can’t finish reading without tearing up and blabbering incoherently . I’ll admit she is a crier. She could hire herself out to some middle eastern country as a professional mourner; walking in funeral processions, beating her chest, tearing her hair and wailing away.
    To protect us from these outbursts I would suggest these ratings: NT (no tears), MT( maybe tears) , TJ( tear jerker),and TWF(tears will flow).
    The ultimate rating should be EM(Ellie Mae). A post with this rating should only be read alone behind closed doors with a box of Kleenex .
    Come on Sean. Give us a warning .

    James Payne
    Rome, Ga

  12. Terr - May 12, 2020 12:55 pm

    Sean, I lost my sweet baby dog in November and my heart is still broken. Hunter was a beautiful black lab, 12 years old, 100 pounds with a big ole head. He thought people were put on this earth just to pet and love him. I have never felt this way about a dog before, crying just writing about it. So, yeah, I get it. Love you much.

  13. Melanie - May 12, 2020 1:05 pm

    My dogs are my children as I never had the 2 legged kind. I love these stories Sean. ❤️

  14. Don Helton - May 12, 2020 1:06 pm

    (On April 27th, I sent the following message to the caregivers at Children’s Hospital informing them of what was happening with Ryder. Until this time, they were aware of his retirement, only. This was two years ago, and I’m still deeply emotional about it)

    To all of Ryder’s friends at Children’s;

    On Monday, April 16th, I took Ryder to the veterinarian to have him euthanized. Ryder’s health had deteriorated rapidly, and he was clearly suffering with an increasing level of pain. So, the time was right, but it was still an extremely tough, highly emotional experience.

    For weeks I’ve been telling my daughter that when this time came, there would be no way I could do it, and she would have to handle it herself. But the night before I told her I must do it, myself. There was absolutely no way I could abandon him at the one time when he really needed me. I have no words to express how difficult all of this was, but, if I hadn’t been with him right up to the very end, I never, ever, would have forgiven myself. Ryder, of course, was a real trooper through all of it. Still, the unwanted image of those last few moments will stay with me forever.

    In order to bring at least a small degree of dignity to this sad time and one worthy of Ryder, I had his remains cremated, and as a symbolic act of honoring him, I requested approval from Children’s to spread his ashes on the grounds in the general area of the 7th Avenue entrance. It was at Children’s where Ryder was at his best and also had his happiest moments.

    After a week of serious consideration of this unusual request Kim Crane sent me the following gracious response: “We feel honored that you want to have Children’s as Ryder’s place of rest. Feel free to come when it is convenient for you. Just let me know so I can make Security aware of it.”

    This will be an extremely emotional experience, and I’ve got to do it alone…probably sometime next week. After that, I suggest to those of you who loved Ryder so very much that you may want to give him a symbolic belly-rub as you pass by that area. As you know, after I had announced the need to retire Ryder from his visits, the caregivers at Clinic 8 appealed for “…one last visit” which we did on March 22nd. I’ll always be grateful that they did. It was an incredible experience for both Ryder and me as well as the other people from Hand in Paw who were with us.

    Ryder’s first visit at Children’s was May 9, 2013 and the last one was on March 22, 2018. Of the the approximate 236 weeks from September 19, 2013 (the Hand in Paw numbers prior to September 2013 are missing seventeen visits) through March 22, 2018, Ryder was there for 207 of them, a follow-through rate of nearly ninety per cent. Of the days we did miss, many were for holidays.

    Hand in Paw requires us to submit a report on the number of people (including caregivers) we have met after each visit (you may have noticed the counter I held in my left hand, along with the leash). Although our primary duty was to serve Clinic 8, we also had permission to include lobby visiting and several other clinics (waiting areas only) as we passed by them. With this, during the four years and seven months of Hand in Paw recorded visits to Children’s Ryder’s total people count was 16,543, an average of eighty-three per visit.

    Clearly, I believe Ryder was worthy of this honor.

    I entered into this program with Hand in Paw at Children’s (my target from the very beginning) as a way of paying back my debt for having so many blessings in my life, but this purpose proved to be a complete failure. I got so much more out of our visits than what I put into them, and by this measure I got deeper into debt with every visit.

    I dearly loved that pup, and I’m truly hurting, but I’ll get past this with time. However, I’ll never stop missing Ryder as well as the wonderful people at Children’s.

    My sincere thanks to all of you,


    Note: Early on the morning of May 3rd, Ryder and I made our last “Thursday Visit” to Children’s, and then I went home alone.

    “The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That’s the deal.” – C.S. Lewis

  15. Diane Fort - May 12, 2020 1:21 pm

    Sean, when your dog Ellie Mae passed I mourned her loss. I decided to go out and get me a cat and name her Ellie Mae. Turns out my Ellie Mae sure lived up to the name and has been full speed every second of the day. She’s a wild thing. But her favorite thing of all was my dog Maggie. She loved to follow her everywhere and bop her on the butt. My Maggie slept on or beside my bed every day of her 14 years. And Ellie Mae was always nearby. Maggie left us two days ago…and I can’t sleep not hearing her breathing. She gave the purest love. Ellie Mae cries when people leave the house….she’s been looking for Mags…she’s been crying too.

  16. Alice Roose - May 12, 2020 1:27 pm

    Dear Sean again you have made me cry!! but i love all your stories about your fur babies i know how you feel they are our kids and we love them so!God bless you i love your stories and i love you!!

  17. Norman Purdue - May 12, 2020 1:54 pm

    This one made me cry…My “Ellie May” was named Nellie May. A black mouth cur Who was my faithful friend for 12 years. I miss her so.

  18. Teresa Tindle - May 12, 2020 2:02 pm

    Tears flow for Ellie Mae and for my babies Sophie and Sassy. They both lived to be 14 years old. I read somewhere that the question was asked why don’t dogs live as long as people? A wise child answered that was easy, people don’t know how to love. We have to learn. That dogs already know how, so that don’t stay as long as we do. Simple truth. Love them, let them know how much. They want be here long.

  19. Kathy Daum - May 12, 2020 2:04 pm

    I agree. My Sophie and Mulphey were like that for me.

  20. Allison Gilmore - May 12, 2020 2:11 pm

    At the age of 70, I have finally figured out that there are special people in my life who truly make me want to me a better person — my family, of course, and some of my very dear friends. And I feel safe in admitting that my sweet little mutt named Lizzie also makes me want to be a better person. And I think that most people who share their lives with a dog would probably agree with me.

  21. Rebecca J Cotney - May 12, 2020 2:21 pm

    We lost our sweet George on April 21st to cancer. He was a Newfoundland mix & at 13 he was elderly but still our goofy pup. We are still trying to learn to live without him in our lives but he will always be in our hearts. He & his sister Bella, a terrier mix, were champions at catching squirrels . He brought a nice dead dried up one to me for Mother’s Day one year. He is in his cedar box on our coffee table for now. Soon be will reside in the dining room, his favorite place.

  22. muthahun - May 12, 2020 2:59 pm

    Amen, brother.

  23. Marge - May 12, 2020 3:14 pm

    Thank you, Sean, for my morning tears, followed by a smile! I have had dogs in my life for all of 80 years. As an only child, they were my sisters and brothers. I lost my Barney (rescued him at 18 months and had him for 15 + years) and thought at 78, I probably should not get another. I waited 4 months! I now have Tillie Mae, a 2 year old bundle of energy and love! As a widow of over 3 years, she gives me reason to get up each morning and when I am sad (and, who isn’t during this “stay in place” season) she comes to snuggle and gives me permission to hug and hold her tight against me. I have loved mutts (Muffin and Butch), 2 basset hounds (Pokie and Samantha, cocker spaniel, 2 golden’s (Mandy and Gabby), Barney was a Havanese, and now I have Tillie. My life would not be complete without dirty windows showing doggie smudges all over them and even an occasional puddle somewhere it shouldn’t be…but so worth the furry bundle of warmth up against my back at night!!! I love your stories…please keep writing!

  24. Patricia D Gibson - May 12, 2020 3:17 pm

    I lost my sweet girl, Callie on Friday and the grief is overwhelming ! I so get this❤️❤️

  25. Patricia D Gibson - May 12, 2020 3:18 pm

    You are so right❤️

  26. Bobbie - May 12, 2020 3:38 pm

    One of your best and I have found that your readers comments are almost, almost, as good as your stories. This story has touched so many in a special way. I love the way you expressed the difference in mourning for pets and humans. I finally understand why I have grieved far more for my beloved dog friends than I did even for my mother. What you said made so much sense…no bad memories to pop up, bringing additional pain to their passing. Thank you Sean. I have felt much guilt about this, and seems I have way more compassion toward animals than people. I love the quote from your reader from CS Lewis. I just watched “Shadowlands” for the third or fourth time. I can picture Debra Winger saying those words, knowing what was coming. In my own words, the pain is worth all the happiness that has been.
    God bless all the animal people out there. Give them an extra hug today. There are no restrictions against that!!
    Be safe and
    God bless. ❤️🐶

  27. Bob Brenner - May 12, 2020 3:49 pm

    I’ve put two dogs to sleep and it was very peaceful but I cried like a baby trying to say goodbye to them. It’s a hard thing to do! Buster, a Basset Hound and Sugar, a 98.9 % Lab who lived to be 18 years old. Like you I have their ashes. We have six kids and at Thanksgiving and Christmas we’ll have the two urns on our table so they can have dinner with us. I thought the kids would think I’d lost it but they loved every second of those meals! What great memories we shared about our beloved dogs. Truly a mans best friend!

  28. Piper's mom - May 12, 2020 4:08 pm

    This one got me today. I have this same dog only she is an Australian Shepard named Piper. She has an appt on friday for what I suspect is arthritis in our hips or dip dyplasia. She will be 9 in a few weeks. She is my kindred spirit. She looks me in the eye when I am about to give her and command and does it before I can say it…a mind reader. She used to be such a frisbee athlete, swimmer, chicken babysitter and could jump 6ft straight up in the air from a sit position but now she sleeps all day and I can see she’s in pain. I just hope she can at least live as long as Ellie Mae did and that the vet can help alleviate some of her pain for her upcoming years. I know when she goes that she will take a piece of my heart and soul with her. I always talk about her and will never stop. I am a dog person, I am this dog’s person.

  29. Christina - May 12, 2020 4:11 pm

    I’m not a dog or cat person(don’t crucify me!), but this moves me to tears

  30. Linda Moon - May 12, 2020 4:12 pm

    You can talk to me about your dog any time. I’m not normal. I love the visualization and story of Ellie Mae, since we’re not actually talking right now. I’ve had a “Dexter” and an “Ellie”. Our “Ellie” howled Good-bye as he closed his eyes forever, and I’ll forever remember it. Our family still talks about him and looks at pictures a lot and visits his gravesite in the back yard. And I’ll always remember the loved one who was like your Father; he named our dog “Pyper”. I won’t look at you funny when you talk about your dog, Sean. Ever. Not even when quarantine ends and you can come see us while we are actually talking! And hugging!!

  31. Jane Henderson - May 12, 2020 4:13 pm

    Couldn’t agree more. We literally have a pet cemetery in the back of our land that is inhabited by the remains of 20 dogs and a cat, complete with flowers, slabs and a memorial marker on each. Crazy?, well, yes, but what they have left behind has earned that bit of recognition. Thank God for dogs like Ellie.

  32. Jane Henderson - May 12, 2020 4:20 pm

    Sean, I do a bit of writing myself-how many times have you heard that?-and Ive written many articles recalling what our dogs, especially our white boxer Champ, taught me about abundant living. I would gladly share them with you, but I know you get so many comments like that, it Is comical. Just know that you and I share the absolute truth that our dogs teach us more about life than most of the people we know. (by the way, Paws Crossed has two bloodhounds you should check out.)

  33. champ1031 - May 12, 2020 4:22 pm

    Autocorrect is killing me. Sorry for the typos.

  34. Charlu Kent - May 12, 2020 5:46 pm

    This beautiful missive about sweet Ellie Mae is well timed. I lost my handsome Boyo, Major on Cinco de Mayo. He was nearly 14 years old. His girlfriend Mosul Pup went for a walk with me the next day. Our first one with out him. She’s mourning. His Raqi Cat goes thru the house calling for him. They, like me me, are grieving for our Major…..💙🐭❤️🐕‍🦺❤️❤️❤️❤️

  35. Jenny Young - May 12, 2020 6:14 pm

    I walked out of the bank once in our little podunk rural town in Arkansas & an old farmer was locked out of his truck. He’d left his dog inside with the engine running & the dog had locked the door. He was chuckling to himself trying to figure out how to get inside.

  36. Karen Fluharty - May 12, 2020 6:33 pm

    That’s it!!! I have mourned two of my dogs more than my loved ones but never would dare breath a word of it. I couldn’t explain but you did perfectly! They are all the best memories, memories of pure love. Thanks, Sean!!

  37. Jess Rawls - May 12, 2020 6:41 pm

    Sean, that was one of your best “column” I’ve read….maybe part of the reason is I’m also a dog person. Dogs have always been a part of my life. When I was a young man I had coon hounds and I did love night hunting with those dogs of mine. Later in life I’ve had “house dogs.” I won’t keep a dog outside, either the dog is a family member and lives inside with us. or I won’t have a dog. I felt the same way about Bailey as you felt toward Thelma. It broke my heart when she developed cancer. It reached a point where I had to say goodbye to her…that was painful, but it was the correct thing to do for her. My wife and I were with Bailey as the vet technician gave her those two life-ending injections. We told Bailey over and over how much we loved her as she slipped away forever. I sure do miss her. After four months or so my wife, at my daughter’s urging, got me a rescue dog. Belle is such a sweetheart, and I love her to pieces. She’s my buddy, my pal, my four-legged sweetheart. Guess I’ll always be a dog person. Oh, yeah, we’ve also have two puppies that are approaching one-year old. Man, they’re a handful, but that’s okay because one day they’ll be more settled……..I hope.

  38. Ann Gramlich - May 12, 2020 7:34 pm

    That was so touching.! Thank you. I lost my sweet little Yorkie/Chichuahua mix recently. It really hurts.

  39. Raydene - May 12, 2020 8:27 pm

    Dear Sean, we just put our beloved “Bear” down last month, he too was 13. I lost my aunt on Valentine’s Day. I had flown from Chicago to San Jose to be with her during hospice for 2 months before she passed but she got to die in her own home. Then I tested positive for covid in the last few weeks, retested and still positive, then gave the virus to my husband who has Parkinson’s. Of all these things, I almost feel like losing Bear was hardest.

  40. Beth Reinert - May 12, 2020 9:22 pm

    Buried my sweet little Soda Pop on Saturday morning. I visit her grave several times a day and talk to her like she’s still here and to myself, reassuring myself that I did everything I could to give her a good life. Thanks for the timely story.

  41. Vicki McDaniel - May 13, 2020 1:34 am

    I had to say goodbye to my 12 year old Scottish Terrier, Mac, today. How appropriate was your timing with this writing. Thank you.

  42. Toni - May 13, 2020 7:49 am

    Thank you Sean for sharing these precious memories with your readers and for your readers’ precious memories in return.

    Nearly a year ago, I lost my two beautiful rescue cats, one dark brown girl, Mrs Brown, aka Puss, and one adorable, funny white longhaired cat called Casper. Within three months of Casper departing to the rainbow bridge, I also said goodbye to Mrs B. Photos of these two are precious memories in my smart phone. For decades, there have been wonderful dogs and cats and at one time two pet goats in my life. My husband was very helpful and accepting, while we were together. Wonderful how animals helped me learn to love more.

  43. Lynn - May 18, 2020 7:55 pm

    It is both a joy and a pain that never goes away.


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