Talking About Dogs

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.

39 comments

  1. Mark D MACINTYRE - March 19, 2021 7:15 am

    It’s not fair, you making grown men have that fluidly stuff running out of their eyes. Quite a talent you have there young man. I am blessed to still have my 18 year old rescue retriever mix named Josie sleeping on her side of the bed. Acupuncture and a holistic naturopathic veterinarian have kept her going well past normal longevity.

    Reply
    • Linda Holmes - March 20, 2021 2:13 am

      Did you teach school? I knew someone with your name.

      Reply
      • Mark D MACINTYRE - March 20, 2021 5:24 am

        No, I never taught school.

        Reply
  2. Julie Patterson - March 19, 2021 9:30 am

    Ellie Mae! I have missed her stories! Thelma Lou and Otis Campbell are great dogs, but Ellie Mae is the queen. One year ago yesterday we said goodbye to Maggie, our black lab who rescued us over 15 years ago when she was only 10 months old. Every time I see a black lab my heart leaps and I have the urge to throw a tennis ball or go hiking. Dog people understand the nose prints, imperfect upholstery, and boxes of ashes. And even though we know our hearts will shatter when they leave us, we keep allowing dogs to rescue us. Thank you, Ellie Mae.

    Reply
  3. Phyllis - March 19, 2021 10:27 am

    Dog people just know

    Reply
  4. Susan - March 19, 2021 10:46 am

    A very special kind of love

    Reply
  5. NancyB. - March 19, 2021 11:06 am

    Yes. . . .

    Reply
  6. Becky Kaufman - March 19, 2021 11:15 am

    Our Golden Retriever, Champ is now 16 and 2 months old. well past the average lifespan for a Golden. He’s a rescue, had never been in a house to live in his first five years, and fell in love with all of us and we with him. He doesn’t want to go on long walks any more, but is always eager for a car ride. He does patrol our back yard several times a day to keep us safe from marauders. He’s almost totally deaf which in a way is a blessing because he doesn’t go berserk when we have a thunderstorm anymore. I am trying very hard to keep felling only joy and happiness at his presence, but anticipatory grief keeps raising its ugly head. Champ is wonderful.

    Reply
    • Cindy - March 19, 2021 12:52 pm

      Been there. Done that twice. Will do again. Have a 1 year old and 6 year old Golden @ my feet right now. A wise friend told me there’s only one bad day in the life of a dog—the day we lose them.

      Reply
  7. Lynn Schroeder - March 19, 2021 11:27 am

    I’ve got a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes over this one. I’m finding it hard to think about the day when my Patrick Henry and Hank Williams aren’t with me.
    Thank you for writing about dogs.

    Reply
  8. Jean - March 19, 2021 12:06 pm

    Those of us who love and have had to give up their fur babies are crying now as I type this.

    Reply
  9. Leigh Amiot - March 19, 2021 12:15 pm

    RIP Maggie
    2009-2020
    Best friend I ever had, a tri-color Aussie who stuck by me/on me like Velcro. She was a character—barked at the vacuum cleaner, ran crows away from the bird feeders, play-nipped at my husband’s hand if he tried to hold mine when all three of us were sitting on the couch, and she always knew just when to lay her head on me. When she was just a pup, she heard something in the nearby woods, moved from my side to in front of me and growled. Wish I could tell her again what a good girl she was.

    Reply
  10. Harriet - March 19, 2021 1:07 pm

    I had a loyal, loving one of a kind dog like Ellie Mae. He was a German Shepherd named Max. He was convinced I saved him from all kinds of hell. My husband was the one who found him on Craigslist and brought him home. Max loved going to Starbucks with me to sit outside and watch people. He was my shadow. I adored him so much. I could speak paragraphs to him and I know he understood every word. I miss him so much.
    Two years ago we had to put him to sleep on my Birthday- May 22! That was hard.
    I think about Max all the time.

    Reply
  11. Catherine - March 19, 2021 1:14 pm

    Yes. Just yes. 💓🐾

    Reply
  12. Amy - March 19, 2021 1:24 pm

    Beautiful! ❤️🦴🐾

    Reply
  13. Paul Alge Moore - March 19, 2021 2:17 pm

    I like the land mine analogy. I use a cracked door for mine. I peek inside all the time but I know if I go in I may never come out or at least not the same. Thanks Sean Take care

    Reply
  14. Bex - March 19, 2021 2:24 pm

    Sean, people who have never had a dog or a cat have no idea what joy they bring to our lives! Keep talking about these joys in our lives offsets the pains we get from people!

    Reply
  15. Heidi - March 19, 2021 2:37 pm

    Us Humans might be blessed enough to have an Ellie Mae or Gracie Lou in our lives just once. Their memories carry us through. I feel like God smiles on us through our dear dogs. ❤️

    Reply
  16. Susan J - March 19, 2021 2:53 pm

    Your dog is the only creature on earth who loves you more than he loves himself… you made me cry

    Reply
  17. Dawnie B - March 19, 2021 3:22 pm

    My heart is broken for you, as I, too, grieve for a certain little feisty companion who ruled our house. She only weighed 12 lbs, but in her mind, she was Rottweiler, instead of a poodle. She was 16 years old when her little heart gave out – gosh, she lived with me almost as long as my own daughters did! She was, truly, my 3rd daughter. 💔

    Reply
  18. Dean - March 19, 2021 3:22 pm

    I miss having a dog so much but because of physical problems I can’t have one. I have a cat which i love but it is not the same. I told my great grandson i was a dog person and he came back real fast and said why have you got a cat?
    Had to explain why. I understand loving a dog because they love you unconditionally

    Reply
  19. Jenny Young - March 19, 2021 3:57 pm

    Who says all those people without dogs are the ‘normal’ ones? Maybe they’re looking at us funny because we are the normal ones.

    We had a black lab named Daisy…after the BB gun, not the flower, named by our 10 yr old son. She was a gift for our son who’d been begging for a Labrador retriever since he was around 4 yrs old. She was the runt of the litter, no one wanted her except for our son. (Shoot…I’m gonna cry!) I won’t write a whole blog post because I’m sure Daisy’s stories are very similar to Ellie Mae’s but one day, when she was a middle aged dog I was painting my living room & she was laying as close as she could get to me. I’m sitting on the floor, trying to keep her out of the paint can. Every few minutes her tail wags & every few brushes I’m picking black dog hairs off the wet wall. Finally I give up…I decide to just paint them in. I tell her, ” Daisy, you will always be a part of this house. I’m sealing you in right now.”

    If you know anything about lab fur, they shed constantly & their fur has barbs on the end. So I was constantly getting them stuck in the bottom of my feet. No one else in the family had that problem but almost daily I had to pull out the tweezers & find those super thin hairs piercing through my skin. My son is now 28 so Daisy has been gone awhile. And we’ve taken the carpets out of the main living space since she left us. But my son’s room still has the same carpet. So occasionally I’ll go in there for something, come out & feel that familiar pain in my foot that shoots all the way to my heart. No matter how often I vacuum that carpet, the only thing that seems to pull the fur out is my bare feet. I guess I wouldn’t want it any other way.

    Reply
  20. Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - March 19, 2021 4:17 pm

    First you make me laugh then, you had to go and make me cry!

    Reply
  21. Fleming Straughan - March 19, 2021 4:36 pm

    I’m a used to be Health Educator. My “best student” Bathsheba-a liver spotted Dalmatian was my best student for 10+ years until I came home one day and laid her to rest in my favorite blue blazer close to my back door. Today Dominic is coming closer each day Dogs really are God’s gift to man….
    Thank you again for writing
    GodBless

    Reply
  22. Fred - March 19, 2021 4:40 pm

    Damn you, all my dogs just came rolling out of my eyes. 😢❤️

    Reply
  23. Linda Moon - March 19, 2021 5:21 pm

    Have I told you about my dog Pyper? I could tell you lots…but mainly that our son taught him to read ASL. Years later when Pyper lost his hearing, we communicated with him using American Sign Language. Cats are good at that eye-contact thing. One of mine GLARES at the other one for a while, and when the other has had enough he hisses like a Hellish serpent. Did I tell you too much? I won’t look at you funny when you talk too much about dogs or anything else when we’re back at one of your LIVE EVENTS. I miss those! Do you?

    Reply
  24. MAM - March 19, 2021 6:34 pm

    I agree with Jenny! I think WE are the normal ones. Loving a dog simply brings joy to our lives every day. And dog lovers give that joy back to their pets with those rides and walks and petting and feeding them. I’m happy to be allergic to cats!

    Reply
  25. Carolyn Lemanski from DeFuniak Springs - March 19, 2021 7:58 pm

    My sister Cindy loves you so I’ve subscribed to see what the fuss is.

    Reply
  26. Christina - March 19, 2021 9:00 pm

    Even non dog people would be moved by such deep bond! How lucky you are to have loved and been loved so deeply in this life.

    Reply
  27. Linda Moon - March 19, 2021 9:40 pm

    P.S. I don’t “do” Facebook, but my family folks let me use theirs to see posts and pictures. I just saw Mother Mary’s picture. She’s an older and beautiful version of her daughter! And she looks just like I would’ve imagined her, with all her spunk. Love you, Mother Mary!

    Reply
  28. Dee F. Wichman - March 19, 2021 10:17 pm

    My Sugarplum is 11 and my almost constant companion. She cares more about spending time with me than my children do. I love my girl.

    Reply
  29. johnnybracey - March 20, 2021 4:24 am

    Bravo!!!!!

    Reply
  30. Bob Brenner - March 20, 2021 11:06 am

    Dogs do that to their owners, they bring out the best in us and are always there for a tummy rub and pat on the head. Their happiness and devotion is something to see and feel. They make us better people. Thanks Lord for these wonderful companions. RIP to these lovely creatures! ❤️🐶

    Reply
  31. Patricia Gibson - March 20, 2021 2:16 pm

    Amen Sean. I lost my Callie at 13 yes. I blame myself a lot. She died in my arms with me screaming her name and telling her I was sorry. I should have gotten her to the vet sooner. My niece said it was nothing to be done and with covid she would have died by herself but I don’t know. I totally feel your grief.

    Reply
  32. Julie - March 20, 2021 4:04 pm

    Hi Sean! I’m constantly reading your stories and find lots of humor and comfort in your words. I think you nailed it about dogs in Best Friends. My beloved Lucy passed away last September. She was my shadow, my confidant. She was never judgmental. Unconditional love is what she gave me every single day. In April last year my oldest brother passed away at home all alone. Your story has been helpful in understanding my grief and why Lucy’s passing has been harder than my brothers. The land mines are there are very real to me as well. I guess I wanted to say thank you and I look forward to more stories. P.S love the stories of your Mother Mary keep them coming!

    Reply
  33. Kathy - March 20, 2021 5:07 pm

    I know what you mean. My Sophie left me 3 years ago.

    Reply
  34. Tom - March 20, 2021 11:12 pm

    It hurts to lose a dog. You brought back memories and I think it must be raining- a man ain’t supposed to cry.

    Reply
  35. Robert Respess - March 23, 2021 3:58 pm

    OK, Sean, now you’re killin me! That was so spot on that I looked around for Tory and The Taz.
    Just damn.

    Reply
  36. Linda Gray - March 24, 2021 12:21 am

    Sweet story. And I love the drawing!

    Reply

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