Four Feet and a Cold Nose

The supermarket cereal aisle. I love this aisle. There are hundreds of boxes of cereal lining the shelves. Sugary confections that will rot your teeth, pump you full of vitamins, or liquify your colon.

But when I am in the cereal aisle, I don’t think about roughage. I think of somebody I once knew.

Her name was Ellie Mae. She was a black-and-tan bloodhound. Lanky. Long-eared. Her face had a perpetually ancient look. It was as though she’d been alive long before the invention of the chew toy.

She ate meals with me, showered with me, watched professional sports alongside me. She slept in my bed, head resting upon my chest until my arm went numb. We were fishing buddies.

Whenever I went into town, she rode shotgun. And in the supermarket parking lot, I would leave her in the parked car, windows rolled down, so she could sniff the breeze and greet anyone fortunate enough to fall into her houndish gaze.

One day—I will never forget it—I was browsing in the grocery cereal aisle, and I saw something traipse past me. Something furry and familiar. I turned to see a 90-pound black hound prancing through the sterile white linoleum supermarket aisles.

The dog was wholly oblivious to the cashiers, the bag boys, and the manager who chased her.

Then I realized that this was my dog. She had leapt from my truck’s open windows and come into the store after me. I felt like an irresponsible pet owner and a horrible person. Ellie Mae could have been hit in the parking lot, or wandered off. What a young fool I was.

But I was overtaken by the beauty of the scene. It was almost an ethereal experience, watching Ellie in that store. She was looking for me. And I can’t explain why, but I’ve never felt more loved by a dog than I did in that cereal aisle.

“Stop that dog!” yelled a frantic employee.

But I was too engrossed in the moment. It was so bizarre, and yet so special. No creature had ever felt so tormented by my absence that they broke all the rules to find me.

The employees went on to tell me that Ellie Mae had traipsed through the entire store on a hellbent mission. In her search for me, she’d managed to annoy one pharmacist, five butchers, ten bagboys, two turtle doves, three french hens, and a free-sample guy in a kiosk who threatened to press charges for what she did to his smoked tuna samples.

That animal left her mark on me as a human being. My life was changed by her. Losing her almost ended me.

But then, I’ve been fortunate enough to love a lot of dogs in my day. In fact, the hours I have spent with canines are among my finest.

I am a mediocre man with a hawk nose and Bugs Bunny teeth. But put a dog next to me and I feel like George Reeves. It’s just what they do.

I once had a rescue dog who was frightened of everything. Fear crippled him, like many abused animals. To him the sound of a doorbell was nuclear war. A soft scolding would have killed him.

His name was Hurley Joe, but we just called him Joe. The fear got so bad that he often slept in the bathtub. Late at night you could hear his claws clacking on the porcelain.

Sometimes I would sit with him in the tub until we both fell asleep. In the mornings I would awake with a dog in my lap and a lower back that needed an emergency laminectomy.

Joe got hit by a car one winter afternoon. It was a hit and run. I still don’t know how he escaped. And I still don’t know what kind of person can carreen into a living thing and leave it to suffer in the median.

Joe didn’t die right away. A college girl found him on the highway shoulder, convulsing and unconscious. His back was shattered and his head was contorted. The merciful Samaritan lifted the 80-pound dog, by herself, and rushed Joe to the vet where they did surgery.

Joe lasted two days after that. Those were a hard few days. My wife and I lived at the veterinary clinic. We carried him into a grassy area to do his business. We fed him by hand. We cried 40 billion tears into his black fur. We told him not to be afraid. We kissed him. He died in my wife’s arms.

You never get over something like that. And you wouldn’t want to, either.

The truth is, sometimes I wish I were part dog. I wish I had their unflinching sincerity, and their never ending need for affection. I wish I were more believing; less skeptical. More adventurous; less hesitant. More spontaneous; less careful.

I wish I got excited like they do about good food, warm sofas, or the possibility of meeting nice-smelling friends.

My best friends have always had four feet, and they’ve helped me grow up. Before them I was lost. After them, I knew who I wanted to be, and who I didn’t.

I hope to honor their memory from time to time by writing about them, but it never feels like my words do them justice. There’s just no way to put the canine into sentence form.

Even so, sometimes I catch myself thumbing through a mental photo album filled with pictures of one of God’s greatest ideas. A creature named Ellie Mae.

This, I guess, is why I love to visit the cereal aisle.

34 comments

  1. Nell Thomas - October 21, 2020 8:04 am

    Great tribute to Ellie Mae and all the sweet angels we love so much.

    Reply
  2. Gary - October 21, 2020 8:44 am

    I had a dog once who was more than a dog. She was family. After she died I said I would get another after I got over losing her. That was over four years ago. I still don’t have another dog.

    Reply
  3. Martha Owens - October 21, 2020 11:01 am

    Looking back over the years, there have been many dogs in my life, each special in his/her own way. And parting with each one has been a traumatic event for me. Now I have a loving, playful three year old mixed terrier female who has filled the void left by my previous special friend of 15 years. I debated for several weeks before I rescued her from the local shelter. I have had her for two years now, and I am thankful every day when she gleefully welcomes me home after work.

    Reply
  4. Susan Kennedy - October 21, 2020 11:36 am

    I still miss my Emmy and my Chloe. They both went so fast. But I have Bindi in my lap right now trying to eat my biscuit that was supposed to be MY breakfast, so all is well! 💙

    Reply
  5. Jan - October 21, 2020 11:48 am

    Love this tribute to your dogs and all animals who bring such joy into our lives!

    Reply
  6. Barbara - October 21, 2020 12:01 pm

    My dog died two months ago. It broke my heart. I loved her so much!! I would love to have another dog, but I am not sure I could go through that again.

    Reply
  7. Arthur Portas - October 21, 2020 12:04 pm

    For ten years I was without a dog. My job and much travel prevented me from having one. I no longer have a job. Last year my daughter hooked me up with a German Shepherd/Lab mix, he name is Nibs. She has been my salvation and constant companion.
    I had a similar experience to your Grocery Store story with her a few months ago when I picked up my brother at the airport. She is a 70 lb puppy, all black with dark brown highlights. When my brother opened the door, she bolted out, he grabbed the leash, she turned and the collar slipped over her head and off she ran down the pickup area saying hello to everyone. I’m walking with her leash and collar to grab her and she is steadily walking away. She came behind a young woman in a short skirt bent over putting her luggage into the back of her car, and of course HAS to sniff her behind! The woman screams… Nibs eyes flash open and she darts away towards the doors to the airport and they open … NOW she bolts inside and I’m getting foul looks from the Policeman as she runs into the airport near the luggage pickup area and quickly darts back outside (thankfully) but she is avoiding me and enjoying meeting new friends. She REFUSES to come to me and of course that only makes me more mad. I walk back to the parked car and start to drive away, she then runs to me and I step out, open the back door and boom, she is back inside.
    Life is better with Nibs 🙂

    Reply
  8. Carmen McAnalley - October 21, 2020 12:34 pm

    I know this feeling. We lost our Max, our 11 year old Boxer, in July. My heart is still shattered. But I wouldn’t trade those years with him for anything. Thanks for sharing your heart.

    Reply
  9. Ann - October 21, 2020 12:35 pm

    Sweeeeeet!

    Reply
  10. Keloth Anne - October 21, 2020 12:36 pm

    A wonderful reading and shared it with my son that loves his dogs. He recently lost one of his sweet dogs, Harley, and it was such a time of sorrow
    A great tribute to Ellie Mae and a reminder of how much our fur babies are loved ♥️

    Reply
  11. David P B Feder - October 21, 2020 12:37 pm

    Sean, this was nice to read just three weeks after losing my dog to heart disease. every bit as enthralled by Canine Americans as you are, it’s been a hard three weeks and no matter how many dogs I outlive, it’s still a punch in the gut to do so.
    I was intrigued by your paragraph, “The truth is, sometimes I wish I were part dog. I wish I had their unflinching sincerity, and their never ending need for affection. I wish I were more believing; less skeptical. More adventurous; less hesitant. More spontaneous; less careful. I wish I got excited like they do about good food, warm sofas, or the possibility of meeting nice-smelling friends.”
    Sean, from everything I have read of your writing, that describes you to a tee. So…you got your wish. You’re a very lucky guy. Now, go let Jamie scratch you behind your ears and get back to writing!

    Reply
  12. Steve Winfield (Lifer) - October 21, 2020 12:45 pm

    Just like Ellie, my friend Jack went everywhere with me. Went to work daily for years. Even packed him a sammich for lunch.
    At the grocery store I’d leave the windows down. If he got hot he’d jump out the window & get under the truck. Never once wandered off. He knew I’d be right back.
    I’ll never be without a dog but I will never ever get over Jack.

    Reply
  13. Bobbie - October 21, 2020 12:55 pm

    Beautiful tribute not only to Ellie Mae but all our furry friends. I grew to love dogs after my divorce almost 30 years ago. You’re right…there’s no way to put a canine into words. They fill your heart and soul with a love that can’t be explained. I think God put a little of Himself in them. What a blessing! Thank you Sean❤️🐶

    Reply
  14. Patricia Gibson - October 21, 2020 1:14 pm

    My Callie died in my arms too and I cried buckets. There is no love like a dog’s ❤️

    Reply
  15. Paul - October 21, 2020 1:22 pm

    We do have their never ending need for affection, but all the rest of that stuff, you got just right😊
    Thanks,
    Paul E, Click DVM, Retired

    Reply
  16. Sarah Nash - October 21, 2020 1:38 pm

    Our “Ellie Mae” was Josie, and our grown children referred to her as “The Perfect Child”. She was.

    Reply
  17. Charlie - October 21, 2020 1:46 pm

    I have often said, we don’t deserve dogs.

    Reply
  18. Johnny Bracey - October 21, 2020 2:06 pm

    Wonderful Sean! Of all of your stories that I have read, this one touched my heart the most! I love dogs and have always had a dog. Presently Mary Ellen and I have 13 wonderful dogs, 11 of whom live in the house and 9 are Labrador Retrievers.
    Last year we started a 501 (3) (c) non profit, Animal Rescue Coalition of Georgia. We provide free dog food to under-privilidged families that may have to make the decision to feed their family or their dog. Our Community Outreach Pets program feeds between 80 and 100 dogs each week. We are helping folks and their wonderful dogs. We know the names of most of the dogs we provide for.

    Thank you for sharing this story

    Johnny Bracey
    Thomasville, Ga.

    Reply
  19. Arelene Mack - October 21, 2020 2:16 pm

    Daddy found our Watermelon Joe in the Stuart watermelon patch on the south side of a 300 acre field across from our house. A part-collie mongrel pup with no one around, not even his mother. We raised Joe and he helped raise us, protecting us from anything and anyone who threatened us. Joe was our outdoor baby sitter and we adored him. After a long and busy life, we buried him in a cool, shady spot in the pasture where he watches over the rest of God’s creatures.

    Reply
  20. Dave Conkle - October 21, 2020 3:59 pm

    Amen

    Reply
  21. Linda Moon - October 21, 2020 4:31 pm

    I’ve never gotten over the death of our beloved “Joe” who didn’t die right away. He gave the “death howl” as he was passing, and I’ll never forget that sound. Keep looking for the cereal and you’ll always find Ellie Mae there. You ARE a super man, Sean!

    Reply
  22. WILANNE - October 21, 2020 4:32 pm

    I’ll never go in the cereal aisle that I won’t smile 😊 and think of Ellie Mae. Hugs

    Reply
  23. thouse1001 - October 21, 2020 4:59 pm

    Very touching. This brought tears to my eyes, as I know from experience exactly how you feel, and why. Thank you!

    Reply
  24. Tim House - October 21, 2020 5:01 pm

    Thank you for that good work!

    Reply
  25. Sheila N Smith - October 21, 2020 5:54 pm

    Another laughter and tear-jerker lovely story. I look forward to everything you write and your dog stories are some of the best of many. Nothing better than having a dog for your best buddy. My husband agrees. Sometimes we both think our Molly-dog likes each of us the best…and that’s okay with us. Thanks for your writing.
    Sheila Smith

    Reply
  26. Lisa Dixon - October 21, 2020 6:12 pm

    That you for this essay.

    Reply
  27. Laura Edwards - October 21, 2020 6:44 pm

    That happened to me one time! The grocery store incident that is. My boxer, Petie, was left in the car with the window HALF way down. Who would have thought … I was in the produce section and heard a commotion behind me. Turned around to see my Pete rounding the corner – full-tilt and leaning in – with a crowd in pursuit! I could not have laughed harder. And he could not have been more pleased. He had a legendary tongue and was one of the best. I’ve also held a few special dogs in their last moments. You never forget. I enjoy all your stories. This one brought back some great memories. Thanks!

    Reply
  28. MAM Murphy - October 21, 2020 6:53 pm

    Your dog stories are the best. Usually a combination of out-loud laughter and copious tears. Your descriptions take us right on the experiences with you! THANKS!

    Reply
  29. TrixC - October 22, 2020 11:02 am

    I love your stories about dogs and have many of my own. Her name was Karma. And Summer, the Weimaraner that could open the oven and help herself to dinner. Amazing. Miss their wet noses. Thanks for sharing these heartfelt memories with us.

    Reply
  30. Christina - October 22, 2020 6:40 pm

    I think you are part dog, Sean. That’s what makes your writing special.

    Reply
  31. Larry Wall - October 22, 2020 9:46 pm

    Great story, Arthur Portas. Especially the nose-job on the short skirt woman. The combination of breeds make for a very smart and very mischievous puppy.

    Reply
  32. Robert M Brenner - October 22, 2020 11:17 pm

    Nothing like a dog who no matter what they love you, forgive you and that tail just wags like crazy to see you walk in the door. One of God’s best creations ever. Thanks Lord! ❤️🐕‍🦺🦮🐕🐩🐈

    Reply
  33. LINDA CHIPMAN - November 19, 2020 6:19 pm

    Always love it when you write about Ellie Mae. I am 76 years old now and remember every dog I’ve ever had with love. I agree with the comment by Charlie – we don’t deserve dogs. But what would we do without them?

    Reply
  34. Alice Roose - November 19, 2020 11:44 pm

    Dear Sean once again you have made me cried!!i know how you feel I love dogs too they are so wonderful I cannot see my life without them Gid bless you love you love your dog stories especially❤️❤️

    Reply

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