FAYETTEVILLE, N.C.—Earl’s dog died Saturday afternoon. It was a dark day. Nobody wants to make the decision to put their dog down.

Blue was his name. He was a Lab mix. Earl found Blue with his wife 14 years ago. Their kids had left home to find careers and make families. Empty Nest Syndrome set in. The retirees were lonely, a little aimless, and bored.

Blue was a welcome member of the family. In some ways, he was a four-legged child. They took him to obedience school. They cleaned up his accidents. They let him sleep in their bed.

When Blue was seven, Earl’s wife, Mary, died of breast cancer. That’s when Earl’s world changed.

A man who loses a wife is a ship in a storm with a busted hull. There are some things a man needs in life, and a partner is one of those things. Mary was his compass, she could guide him through rough seas with her eyes closed. She took care of him. She fed him. Now all he had was Blue.

So Earl and Blue did everything together. They rode in the car, went on walks, ate supper, and went through a coronavirus quarantine together.

Earl has been staying indoors following quarantine orders to the letter. North Carolina has been hit hard by COVID-19, and Earl hasn’t taken any chances.

It’s been difficult. Earl used to socialize a lot. He would visit the grocery store and chat with clerks. In the evenings, Earl used to hang out at different restaurants for supper. Waitresses would talk sweet to him and he would tip them well. Being a widower is lonely.

But when the world shut down and everyone began wearing masks, his social life came to a stop, and there was nothing left to do but sit inside and watch TV with Blue.

“We ate a lotta frozen food, and I read a lot of books,” said Earl.

But, hey, at least he had Blue. The dog faithfully did what all dogs do, it gave Earl a reason to get up at 2 a.m. in the morning for no apparent reason and stand in his backyard, half asleep, whispering, “For crying out loud, go PEE!”

The two had become like twins. The white on Blue’s snout matched the cotton on Earl’s head. The arthritis in Blue’s back legs matched Earl’s stiff knees.

A few days ago, the vet came over to Earl’s house. She wore a surgical mask and gloves. It was pancreatitis, and it was killing Blue. There was no choice. The doc injected a solution into Blue’s veins. Earl held Blue in his arms. He watched Blue’s eyes roll backward.

The memories got so thick that Earl could hardly see without squinting. He remembered everything about old Blue. The animal’s whole life.

Blue was born on a small farm outside Columbus, Ohio. The farmer didn’t know that Blue’s mother was even pregnant until one day (boom) there were a bunch of puppies in her barn.

They were marbled brown and gold, and some of them were black, almost midnight-bluish colored.

Earl and his wife were visiting Columbus. They’d just flown in and were on their way to see their daughter when they spotted the cardboard sign on the side of the road. “Free Puppies.”

So the two North Carolinian retirees followed a series of dirt roads to a house in the middle of nowhere. Soon they were holding puppies on a bright autumn day and had forgotten all about visiting their daughter.

“My wife fell in love immediately. There was no way we were leaving without him.”

They had to rent a car just to get back to North Carolina because flying with dogs on a commercial airliner is not easy, nor is it cheap.

The years that followed were typical puppy years. Dog pees, dog chews, dog vomits, dog poops. That’s about all there is to it. All dog ownership entails is watching a dog ruin your house, then trying hard not to gag when you discover the dog has made diarrhea in your shoes.

When Earl’s wife got sick, Blue became the routine that held daily life together.

“I would go home to let Blue outside to play, or take him on walks and stuff. If it hadn’t been for him, I woulda died in that hospital with her.”

Yesterday, in a small backyard in Fayetteville, two people gathered beneath an oak in Earl’s backyard. Earl’s old friend, Dean, a retired minister wore a surgical mask, and Earl stood with him.

They laid Blue to rest in a large hole that Earl dug himself. The maple cross that marks Blue’s grave is nondescript and simple, bought from a local woodworker.

Earl cried when the preacher read the 23rd Psalm, it was a flood of saltwater and snot. Not just for Blue, but for life itself, which is far too short.

But Earl wants you to know that he’s not unhappy, and he’s no longer sad. I ask him how this can be.

Because, Earl says, “Blue is with Mary now. And she needs him.”

But there’s another reason why he’s not sad. Because this morning, even as I am writing this, four tiny paws have entered Earl’s house for the first time. The new puppy is a mutt, pure black, almost blueish.

“I’m gonna call him Red,” says Earl. “Because there will never be another Blue.”

34 comments

  1. Dave Parre - May 18, 2020 6:28 am

    Sean, you sure know how to make an old man who loves critters, cry. After all, every man with a heart for life and others, needs a good cry from time to time. Reminds him that he’s human and that he’s still alive and still cares. And son, I thank you for it.

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  2. Christina - May 18, 2020 6:30 am

    Sean, I just finished reading the chapter about Ellie Mae in your book and cried through it. Now Earl’s story almost broke me down again. 😭thank God for all the Thelma Lous and Reds.

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  3. Fred Rosser - May 18, 2020 6:32 am

    Sean, my family is from Fayetteville. I’m in Mississippi myself. But a lot of good dogs have come and gone through our lives. All have great memories that go with them. Thanks for being the person you are and your love of animals. Just remember cats are great too. Fred

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  4. Sandi. - May 18, 2020 7:48 am

    I was hoping so hard that this story would have a happy ending. Red the puppy will give Earl a reason to keep going now that Blue is gone. Please give us readers an update on how they are getting along in the months to come.

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  5. Toni - May 18, 2020 8:26 am

    Thank you, love your dog and cat stories. May Red live a long and very happy life with Earl as his friend.

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  6. Christopher Smith - May 18, 2020 10:35 am

    Shame on you Sean Dietrich. I really didn’t need a hard cry this early in the morning. Blue brings back memories of my many lost four legged friends over the years. We miss them so and know we will see them again when we go over the rainbow bridge.

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  7. Curtis Lee Zeitelhack - May 18, 2020 11:34 am

    Earl’s right. There never will be another Blue – and not for any of us lucky enough to have shared life with our own “Blue”.

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  8. Alan Clearman - May 18, 2020 11:43 am

    As a dog person, this is spot on. We are on our sixth one now and not done yet

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  9. Catherine - May 18, 2020 11:58 am

    I almost didn’t finish reading because I was getting too emotional, but I’m glad I stayed for the duration because Earl’s attitude has inspired me…so happy Red and Earl have found a life together~I’m sure Mary and Blue are smiling…

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  10. Bobby Roberts - May 18, 2020 12:10 pm

    You never seize to amaze me with your stories my friend and this one is right up there at the top. Continue doing Gods work by blessing us everyday with your gift. 🙏

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  11. Dianne - May 18, 2020 12:34 pm

    My husband and I have put three of our “children” (dogs) down over the years. Each of these special little furry people had long lives, by dog standards, of 15, 15 1/2, and 15 years. They were our children and one of these finished raising our sons after we got her and then went on to raise some of our grandchildren. Each of these fur babies was special in their own way, and they leave an indelible mark on your life….a mark that you never forget. We now just dog sit for friends and neighbors, because neither of us can bear the thought of having to put another one down. In my heart, I know they are waiting for us on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge. Thank you for your story today, tears and all.

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  12. Melanie - May 18, 2020 12:40 pm

    Earl just made a lot of friends. ❤️

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  13. Dean - May 18, 2020 1:01 pm

    After having to have our last one put down it hurt so bad that we said no more. It has been over 3 years ago and we still talk about Ezzie weekly.
    We got talked into taking in a cat for a few nights that is 3 years ago and now he is part of the family.
    Love cats they are not as much trouble as a dog but they are not as loving

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  14. Bobbie - May 18, 2020 1:27 pm

    Almost didn’t read this, knowing how it would end. But it’s not the end that makes up a life….it’s all that in between, the messes..the laughs..the teaching and learning..the tears..that’s what a life is. So glad Earl has Red now. Dogs are such a blessing. Praying my Lucy has many more years. God bless you Sean for sharing with us each and every day. Long live our furry companions‼️🐶❤️

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  15. Jess Rawls - May 18, 2020 1:49 pm

    Sean, I love this column because I’m a dog person through and through. One of the best dogs I ever shared my life with I got from a Walmart employee one Saturday morning. She had a cardboard box with a “Free Puppies” sign on it, and I got the last one she had. Turned out to be a wonderful dog. I gave her to my daughter and about three years later she gave her back to me because my daughter could see that Bailey loved me a whole lot. We had about eleven years together then cancer struck and I had her put down. That’s was difficult on so many levels, but I couldn’t bear to see her in pain, knowing there was no cure and it was only going to get worse. Bailey was a great dog, and I loved her sooooo much. Maybe we’ll be together again one of these days. I sure hope so.

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  16. Margaret Angell - May 18, 2020 1:50 pm

    Made my eyes leak….

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  17. Robert M Brenner - May 18, 2020 1:57 pm

    Awesome story! Thanks, dogs really are special animals. RIP Blue

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  18. Alice Roose - May 18, 2020 2:01 pm

    Dear Sean again you managed to make me cry! what a sweet story it tears my heart out!God Bless you ! love your stories and love you Sean!

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  19. Karen Good - May 18, 2020 2:52 pm

    Tears so early this mirning😢. Losing a pet is so painful, and yet we repeat and repeat and repeat- because they are our hearts and souls as long as we get to have them. RIP Blue. You were loved ♥️

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  20. Marlo Kirkpatrick - May 18, 2020 3:01 pm

    Sean, I was thinking of asking you to write about dogs soon. I lost my precious dog, Batman, on Friday. This column came at a time when I needed it. Thank you. (You might remember meeting me at Thacker Mountain in Oxford, right before the shutdown. I bought several books and I told you I especially loved your dog columns.)

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  21. Cheryl Andrews - May 18, 2020 3:04 pm

    You made me cry. Again. In a good way.
    A Widow

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  22. James Payne - May 18, 2020 3:07 pm

    My wife has been crying since Ellie Mae and now you give us ole Blue. You need to have a state license to peddle this stuff! 😎

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  23. Linda Moon - May 18, 2020 4:14 pm

    “A Reason For No Apparent Reason”. That’s a good Mantra for all of us now while quarantining together. Pets can do that for us….give us reasons to help us forget about daughters, hospitals, and breast cancer. Just because. My family dog of 18 years is buried in my backyard underneath a sign that reads “LIVE”. Pyper’s leash of many walks hangs there on the sign. Live on with our memories….Mary, Blue, and Pyper. And, Sean, live on with Life Itself, because there will never be another Sean!

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  24. John Graf - May 18, 2020 4:25 pm

    well. A dog’s best friend his master. Or, is it the other way around. There are a lot of places to go to to get a new best friends. You can still name them Blue or ‘Ol Yeller.”

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  25. Patricia D Gibson - May 18, 2020 5:28 pm

    Just lost my Callie of 13 years and there is no love like a furry kid❤️So glad he has another one.

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  26. Patricia D Gibson - May 18, 2020 5:29 pm

    You will see her again❤️

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  27. Tim House - May 18, 2020 5:57 pm

    Damn, I’m crying. We had to help our little girl Ariel, at most of 16 years old across as well Saturday. She was my love in life. We will be looking for new paws, too, Not to replace her, because nothing can, but the pup left behind has never been alone, and he needs a companion (and so do we). Our solace is that she has gone on to be with her older “brother” Vash, who passed three and a half years ago.

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  28. Diane H. Toney - May 18, 2020 8:19 pm

    Sweet, sweet story……

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  29. Diane H. Toney - May 18, 2020 8:20 pm

    Sweet, sweet story…

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  30. Jeanne Butler - May 19, 2020 12:02 am

    So sad. Still crying. I hate losing our furbabies. Have to put one of my kitties down tomorrow. I hate it

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  31. Janice - May 19, 2020 6:30 pm

    I love your stories. You have such a way of touching my life. Thank you.

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  32. Dave Parre - May 19, 2020 6:34 pm

    Ain’t that the truth.

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  33. Brenda - May 19, 2020 10:31 pm

    What a sweet ending story. Yes keep us updated on Earl and Reds new life!

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  34. JAKKI STEPHENSON - May 27, 2020 6:56 pm

    Oh my word – what a story! I’m so happy for Earl that he’s got Red now. Stay safe the two of you!

    Reply

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