Ellie Mae

Her name is Ellie Mae, and she has ruined the passenger seat of my pickup. Which is why I don’t take many guests in my vehicle—least of all my wife.

There is something sleeping on my feet while I write this. A she-something. Her snoring sounds like a diesel engine.

She has paws bigger than skillets, a bladder the size of a teacup.

Every morning, at approximately 5:13 A.M., she wakes me. And every morning, I walk the yard with her, saying, “Go tee-tee, dammit,” in my morning voice.

No dice. Instead, she digs holes, eats unidentified stinky objects, and trees various housecats.

Her name is Ellie Mae, and she has ruined the passenger seat of my pickup. Which is why I don’t take many guests in my vehicle—least of all my wife.

Not many appreciate black coonhound-hair on American-made Ford upholstery, and wet-nose marks on windows.

Today, Ellie sat in the passenger seat. We went into town.

I started my busy day by ordering breakfast at the Chick-Fil-A drive-thru. The servers at the window made a fuss over Ellie.

We parked outside Winn Dixie to eat. I ate. She ate.

I keep cans of dog food (beef tips with brown gravy, rice, and snap peas) in my glovebox. There’s a dog bowl on the seat between us.

I talk to her about things over breakfast. She listens. I read the paper. She watches people.

Then, I wipe her face with baby wipes. She licks my forehead. Her breath often smells like a substance plentiful in most barnyards and hog pens.

After our meal, I ran errands while she slept in the truck with the AC blasting, listening to the radio.

Ellie and I have the same taste in music. She likes Willie Nelson just as much as me—maybe more.

Funny. I’ve had many dogs in my life. Almost too many to count. But I have only had two who liked music.

One rests six feet below my backyard—whose name I cannot say without feeling hollow inside.

The other is Ellie Mae.

So, after a full and moderately boring day in town, I drove Ellie Mae to a secluded spot on the Choctawhatchee Bay.

I tossed her plastic duck as far as I could. She jumped off a dock into the water. I sat on my bumper, watching her swim.

She could do this for hours. So could I. But forty-five minutes will have to suffice today.

Anyway, last night I met with an old friend. He had photos of a baby on his cellphone. They were stunning pictures of a child with fair skin, curly locks, fat legs, and eyes just like her mother’s.

I’ve never seen my friend so proud about anything in his life.


I have no child. My wife and I tried once, but God decided against it. I don’t blame him, I’m not exactly what you’d call father-material.

Either way, I have no sadness. Because I have a cellphone full of photos, too—just like my pal. Though I may not have a child who bears my red hair and my wife’s brown eyes, I’m not doing without.

I have a photogenic ten-year-old girl who shares my life. She is my truck passenger. My breakfast companion. My swimmer. My friend.

And she is my daughter.


  1. Sharon - June 27, 2017 12:30 pm


  2. Connie - June 27, 2017 12:30 pm

    I really have to stop reading your column at work, while I’m having my coffee. People come by and see me with tears in my eyes and wonder what’s wrong. Nothing is wrong. You just write in a way that touches my heart. You really do need to write a novel.

  3. Sandi - June 27, 2017 12:31 pm

    Sean, will you please post a photo of Ellie Mae so we, your readers, can have a face to connect to her Southern name? Like the NIKE ad says, “Just do it!”. Sounds like you have spoiled that girl so rotten that it’s what makes her breath stink!

    • Kathy Grey - February 21, 2018 7:51 pm

      Yes, a photo, please!!

  4. Tracy - June 27, 2017 12:36 pm

    This may be my most favorite thing you have ever written… ! Thank you for starting my day with a smile–as usual.

  5. Becky Overton - June 27, 2017 12:39 pm

    You speak the words that we all hold in our hearts and minds. Somehow you know how to articulate, what we all have felt. You have a God given gift. Thank you for writing!

  6. Joann Wilson - June 27, 2017 12:42 pm

    Anyone who has ever loved a dog knows how you feel. Really loved a dog!

  7. Antoinette Smalley - June 27, 2017 12:57 pm

    Possibly my new favorite post. Ill need to share it with my Facebook pals. Thanks….

  8. Elizabeth Pickens - June 27, 2017 1:03 pm

    Lovely! These creatures are indeed our children–or maybe we are theirs?! I often look at my beloved Jake and think that he, as well as his furry siblings that have moved on, have been the least troublesome of my children including human offspring and spouse!

  9. Richard Bowman - June 27, 2017 1:07 pm

    I’ve had one dog that was actually my own. Birinçi, pronounced beer-in-gee, means first in Turkish. He was the first AKC registered Tibetan Terrier in Alabama. How I loved that dog and he me. We shared our lives for 14 years. My wife, Jane, and I have been through a lot of cats in our 40 years together and I’ve loved every one of them but, not like Birinçi. He died in 1982, in my arms on our kitchen floor at one o’clock in the morning. Still miss him immensely.

  10. Marty from Alabama - June 27, 2017 1:12 pm

    I just knew it! You are a dog lover. Hallelujah. What is not to love about people that love dogs – big ones, little ones, old, young, hyper, quiet. Love them all. We have three house dogs and one yard dog. None were by choice; chance is a good provider. My first lap dog, that had house privileges, crossed the bridge about nine years ago and it still hurts. You know that feeling.
    Anyway, you have made my day.

  11. Art Merkle - June 27, 2017 1:13 pm

    My wife sent me this this morning. She and you made my day! Hugs to both of you.

  12. Janne Swearengen - June 27, 2017 1:15 pm


  13. Laura Young - June 27, 2017 1:17 pm

    Sean, You should not say you are not “father material”, You have love, provide food and shelter, teach, learn from, communicate with, and play with your “daughter”. If only more parents did that, we would have a better world. Love you, Sean !

    • Julia Reagan - February 22, 2018 1:19 am

      I agree. Sean would be the best father material there is.

  14. Gayle Dawkins - June 27, 2017 1:23 pm

    Love this Sean. Fur babies are the best.

  15. Jill Shaver - June 27, 2017 1:29 pm

    Loved your story about Ellie Mae! I had a beautiful shepherd named Daisy Mae. She was a once in a lifetime dog. Don’t think I will ever find a replacement. I sometimes look out my window in hopes of seeing her resting under our big oak, her favorite place to view our land making sure no critters stepped foot on her territory. Sure miss her!
    You have to take Ellie Mae to the Key Underwood Coon Dog Memorial Graveyard, in Florence, Ala. Only coon dogs are allowed to be buried there. Interesting story about how the cemetery began, with the dog, Troop, who was first buried at his beloved camp site. A must see for you.
    I love your dog stories and please tell more.
    Jill Shaver

  16. Marisa Franca @ All Our Way - June 27, 2017 1:44 pm

    You are underestimating yourself!! Of course, you’re father material. Look at how well you care for Ellie Mae! You have a loving heart — a person who cares about others sees their faults and loves them anyway.

  17. Cathi Russell - June 27, 2017 1:53 pm

    My dogs are my children too…Barney & the Peach. They’re Basset Hounds & the loves of my life. I tried for human kids but things didn’t work out, probably for the best, as the marriage mercifully didn’t last I’ve had many dogs over my life and still miss them all. My opinion is that God is a giant dog, probably a hound of some kind. ?

  18. Sam Hunneman - June 27, 2017 2:04 pm

    Aroo to Ellie Mae from Maggie and Woodrow.
    (and re: the rubber ducky… be aware about water toxicity…

  19. Judy Miller - June 27, 2017 2:16 pm

    My Daddy had a coon hound–Wheeler was it’s name. When old Wheeler died, my Daddy dug the hole and lined it with straw, then covered Wheeler with a grain sack. I’d never seen my Daddy cry, but he sure did when he buried that dog. 15 years later when my Mother died, Daddy didn’t cry at all–at least not that I saw.

  20. The Jackson Press – Ellie Mae - June 27, 2017 2:32 pm

    […] by Sean Dietrich  /  Sean of the South […]

  21. Sherry - June 27, 2017 2:34 pm

    My three grown children say that my fur baby “Tuff” (who is a min pin) will probably
    inherit everything that me and my husband have (which is not much, but enough in this
    old world)! I tell them that he (Tuff) never talks back, never ask for money and is
    always happy to see me! My husband tells the joke- lock your wife and your dog in
    the trunk of your car and come back in an hour- See who is happier to see you! Ha Ha
    Love my fur baby and I bet Ellie Mae is loved just as much, maybe more! Keep up the
    great work that you do!

  22. Kathy Lane - June 27, 2017 2:48 pm

    We have a fur-baby too named Duke! He is the most beautiful beagle/spaniel/ mutt mix and I love his singing voice. He gets so excited when I come home in the afternoon. He follows me all over the house and if I am eating anything, he is starving and I have to share otherwise his beautiful deep brown eyes will give me such a look as to melt my heart! Love my baby-beagle! Sure wish I could share his photo here – you would swoon- in a manly sort of way

  23. Charlene Davis - June 27, 2017 2:52 pm

    I love the story about Ellie Mae. I can relate, the stains on my passenger seat are questionable. But the point is, Sampson is my son. I couldn’t love him more. I too am childless but by choice. It is a responsibility I felt I couldn’t measure up to. Your article validates that it is okay that I still think of myself as a Mom! Thank you.

  24. Susan Barber - June 27, 2017 3:11 pm

    Sean, I love when you write about your coondog. We had a black and tan once. My husband found her at a job site. He fed her a few days, and brought her home on the first rain. We kept her in the garage overnight, to get used to her surroundings. The next morning we let her out, and didn’t see her for a month. Turns out, our neighbor delighted at finding a coondog in his yard that morning. Took her to the vet and named her Bailey. After a good laugh, we shared her for 10 years. She would sleep in my dining room and escourt me out of the driveway every morning. She had crooked lower teeth and a hoopy bark that I can still hear. She had gnarly feet and a split ear from a truck incident. A year after she died, my husband and I found a starved, skin and bones redbone mix on the side of the road in Gurley, Alabama, on our return from the Smokies. We took her with us. Our two dogs were less than thrilled, so we tried to find her a home. She was so malnourished her system couldn’t take dog food. My husband fed her chicken soup and scrambled eggs for 2 weeks. Still looking for her a home. She once ate a whole pan of chocolate chip cookies she knocked off the counter in the time it took me to turn on the washer. She was a bit territorial. We tried to find her a home. She picked up weight and gave sloppy kisses. She loved the kids next door (same neighbor). 6 years later Gurley sleeps in our bedroom and is the protector to our 3 grandsons. She piles up in my lap, and I can’t see the TV or breathe. And yes, we share her next door. She sleeps inside when are gone and they give her dogs treats. She is a fat girl now. We realize that Gurley found us, not the other way around. We think she may have been sent by Bailey. ❤️❤️❤️

  25. Esteban Rudman - June 27, 2017 4:49 pm

    Children are great. Usually. You dream about them, educate them, you work for them. You worry about them. You try to do fun stuff with them. Then they grow up and leave home. Which is what you wanted. For them to be happy and independent. Love with no strings attached. They are busy. Maybe that’s why they don’t call more than a few times a year. It’s complicated.

    God gave us dogs to love, and gave us to love our dogs. In return for the little we give them, they give us everything. Not complicated. They eat without complaining. They are happy to see us coming, sad when we leave. They want to go with us everywhere, anywhere. They laugh at our jokes, even when they are not funny. They love us close and silently when we are sad. They are family to us. We are pack to them. Close enough to cover a big hole in our lives.

  26. Jeannie - June 27, 2017 4:53 pm

    No love better than that of a good dog. I have one now, whom I love so much, it makes me want to cry to even think about the day she want be with me anymore. She certainly stepped in to help fill the huge hole left by my dog before her. How people can abuse these precious animals is beyond me. And how these dogs that are rescued can learn to trust again is so amazing . God certainly made our lives fuller by giving us dogs and I am sure I will reunite with my furbabies at the Pearly Gates! Love you to the moon and back Annalue!

  27. Janet Mary Lee - June 27, 2017 5:47 pm

    I read these beautiful comments with love at my feet and side. My border collie is 19. He may be blind and deaf, but he may outlast me and still patrols! My hound is two and does many things your Ellie May does, you know. I have had wonderful dogs all my life , sometimes four at a time. All rescues, or dogs that miraculously found my home that no one ever claimed. They are all special and unforgettable.. And I have cried harder for all of them than probably anyone in my life. There is a reason dog is God backwards! And you would make the best of fathers; you actually already do. (for dogs, and by example to those humans you touchingly help.)

  28. Teresa - June 27, 2017 6:59 pm

    I was introduced to “Sean of the South” when a member of my Coonhound Rescue group posted this column on Facebook this morning. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. It brought tears to my eyes, because it seems mirror the life of my husband and I. We currently find ourselves at what appears to be the end of our time with our beloved Hound, Oscar Madison. He too filled the hole left by the loss of our previous boy, Sidney. Oscar also introduced us to the wonderful world of hound dogs. In the end, we’ll know that he loved us and we loved him, as much as anyone could love a dog.

  29. Debbie Galladora - June 27, 2017 7:11 pm


  30. Miriam - June 27, 2017 7:45 pm

    Lord have mercy, yes! Life without a dog just ain’t living…

  31. Joby - June 27, 2017 9:43 pm

    Amen brother nothing like unconditional love our dogs give us!

  32. Lisbeth Garecht - June 27, 2017 10:28 pm


  33. April - June 27, 2017 11:30 pm

    I too have a 10-year-old furry, music loving daughter named Lily. Your post has encouraged me to go home early today. I NEVER go home early, but I’m going to dance with my daughter tonight.

  34. Marianne Burbach - June 28, 2017 1:20 am

    Sean – loved it as always – your band played at Christ the King last Sunday – I raved about you all to the “Bayfest” Festival committee in Freeport – would you be interested in playing at the Festival on September 16th? Do you do Country and how much for an hour??? Would love to hear from you…………………..Marianne Burbach

  35. Michael Hawke - June 28, 2017 2:46 am

    And I hope to meet her someday.

  36. Jack Quanstrum - June 28, 2017 8:34 pm

    Wonderful story! There is alot around us that can bring us joy and your writings always point that out. And they are all simple things that are part of life here on earth. Nothing fancy is needed. Thank you Sean.

  37. Rose - June 28, 2017 8:46 pm

    Yes, you spoke to this dog lover’s heart also! Thanks!!

  38. Marilyn - June 29, 2017 1:39 am

    Ok, I now have a lump in my throats the size of a baseball. Sean, I know you and your wife probably have some crazy reason for not adopting, but don’t sell yourself short on being parent material. Anyone who reads your stories knows that you have a heart as big as Texas. My opinion, someone like you that lost your dad at a young age would be a be the perfect parent to a child in need of loving, tender guidance. Please reconsider. But, if not, please keep the stories coming.

  39. Mary Ellen Hall - July 1, 2017 3:13 am

    I ABSOLUTELY LOVE this story!! I like you have a daughter that has 4 legs, & 1 long tail. My husband & I were not BLESSED with kiddos, so our “Best Friend” is our child. She- Nestle’ is the light of our lives!!
    We are VERY BLESSED!!!

  40. Linda - August 16, 2017 12:11 pm

    We just lost our Bo, our Great Pyranees. He was our Gentle Giant with a heart as big as Texas. His mission on this Earth was to keep the evil squirrels from entering the yard. Most Great Pyrs are goat dogs in this area who live outside with the goats. Not our beautiful boy! He loved his air conditioning and sleeping at the foot of our bed.

  41. Jeff Mohon - August 16, 2017 12:25 pm

    I, too, have no children but I do have an Ellie Mae. She is a Rat Terrier. I also have a Sunflower, a 7 year old Bloodahoula named for a chain of grocery stores in Mississippi (long story). I once took her to Tupelo to see Elvis’s birthplace. I sang “Hound Dog” to her all the way there.
    Another great piece, Sean. Keep up the good work.

  42. Deanna J - August 16, 2017 12:45 pm

    My husbands coon dog, was Queen! She was his dog and followed him always! We have a tiny Molly now!
    Thank you!

  43. Steve - August 16, 2017 12:48 pm

    I buried my Jack in the back yard last summer. Also a coon hound, lived to be 20. Best friend you could ever ask for.

  44. Sherrie - August 16, 2017 1:38 pm

    I wouldn’t say you’re not exactly father material. Not at all. 🙂 But it’s true that God often has other things than parenthood in store for many of us. My husband and I are middle aged and childless, and our dog completes our little family. We love her so much. She is very old now, practically blind and deaf – but her nose still works very well, and she keeps me on track when it’s dinner time.

  45. Mrs. Carte - December 22, 2017 3:38 am

    Dogs are truly one of God’s gifts to us. Worth all the hair, drool, snoring, farts, and false potty alarms just to go chase squirrels and hunt bugs.

  46. unkle - February 21, 2018 4:43 pm

    A good story deserves to be told again and again untill it is folklore . Well that there dog story sure qualifies .uk

  47. Gale Smith - January 25, 2019 12:12 pm

    I have measured my life span in the dogs who have been part of it….some of the best parts of it. And when they left, some of the worst parts of it. I have loved them all, and I still do….I always will.

  48. Janice - January 25, 2019 1:17 pm

    I have a sweet heart buried in the back yard also. Her name is Tia, passed 4 yrs ago. As I wash dishes I can see her spot. Lord I loved that dog. My dog. Period. She didn’t care for other people too much. Or other dogs. We have another now, Tenny. Exact opposite of Tia. Loves EVERYBODY. Jumping, making notices, running, does not matter who you are, she loves you. Kinda glad they are as different as can be. I still listen for my Tia, Lord I miss her so much.

  49. Alice - January 25, 2019 1:22 pm

    Such a sweet story that brings tears to my eyes love you Sean and God bless you

  50. turtlekid - January 25, 2019 5:51 pm

    We lived in spitting distance of Choctahatchee Bay, in Okaloosa County. We have also lived in Port St. Joe, in Gulf County, and have been around many places you mention. It tickles me to see these references to a well loved stomping ground. Frequent evacuations from threatening hurricanes made us decide to move. Strangely, we moved into Tornado Alley…but we didn’t realize it until established. Your writings fill an empty spot in my psyche, and I thank you!!

  51. Larry Conley - January 25, 2019 8:58 pm

    I know exactly how you feel, but could have never put it into words. Thank you and God bless you and Ellie Mae.

  52. Carolyn Kelley - January 25, 2019 11:05 pm

    Nothing like fur children for us who can’t have people children. ❤️❤️❤️❤️


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