I have here a letter from a friend which reads, “My beagle of fourteen years has died. I don’t know what I should do. Tell me what I should do. I know you love dogs, so I thought you’d understand.”
Well, I can’t tell you what to do. What I can tell you is that the day my bloodhound died I was away in Birmingham for work. Ellie Mae was thirteen, she’d been sick the morning before I left town.
We‘d taken her to the ER. They gave her meds, stabilized her, and it looked like she would make a full recovery.
The next morning, I kissed Ellie’s long face and left for Birmingham to tell stories and jokes to a roomful of a few hundred folks.
It was a nice day. I remember it well. I drove along the highway, humming with the radio. The sun was shining. By the time I reached Camden, I got a call from my wife.
“Ellie’s not right,” she said. “Something’s wrong.”
I almost turned the truck around, and maybe I should’ve. But I didn’t.
By the time I reached Selma, the vet was on the phone delivering bad news. When I reached Maplesville, my wife and I were already discussing sending her to Heaven, and my gut churned.
“I don’t want her to suffer,” said my wife.
“I don’t either,” I said.
“You think we should… I can’t bring myself to say it.”
“I don’t want her to suffer.”
“I love her so much.”
“So does that mean we should put her out of her misery, then?”
“I can’t do it.”
“But she’s in pain.”
“What do we do?”
“I don’t know, but I don’t want her to suffer.”
A few minutes later, my wife video-called me. I pulled onto the shoulder of Highway 82, outside Centreville. On the cellphone screen, was Ellie Mae. She was panting.
“Hi, Ellie,” I said, through a pathetic cellphone. “Can you hear me, girl?”
“It’s me, Daddy. Can you see me?”
I don’t know why I call myself “Daddy.” I have no children. I guess you do strange things when you don’t have kids.
“Ellie,” I said. “I’m so sorry I’m not there. I’m so sorry, honey. Can you see me?”
And that was it.
I cried so hard I lost my voice.
That lanky dog, who had more skin and heart than any animal I’d ever loved, was gone. My camping partner, my truck passenger, my fishing buddy. My girl.
That night in Birmingham, I stood before a microphone and a roomful of people who waited for me to tell funny stories and a few jokes. I felt like I was going to puke.
I cried in front of a lot of people. It was not my finest hour.
After the show, an old woman came to me and touched my face and said, “Oh, Sweetie.” She kissed my cheeks and I was embarrassed.
She smelled like Estee Lauder’s Youth Dew, a smell I’d recognize from a mile away.
“You need to hold a puppy, Sweetie,” she said. “That’s how you cure a broken heart. Just touch one. Promise me you’ll do it.”
I crossed my heart.
The next day, I woke up feeling sick. My head hurt from crying. I hadn’t eaten in twenty-four hours. I searched Craigslist for a bloodhound puppy. I wasn’t planning on buying one, I was only following the advice of a stranger who smelled like Granny.
I found a litter. A few days later, I drove to Molino, Florida. I arrived at a farm in the sticks. A team of black-and-tan bloodhounds ran through the grass to greet me. They tripped over their ears and oversized paws.
I held a puppy that had teeth like double-edged razor blades, and eyes like basketballs. I pressed the dog’s forehead against my own.
Her breath smelled like heaven. She bit me and drew blood. She rode home in my lap.
And she’s been riding in my truck ever since.
Anyway friend, I can’t tell you how to feel better. The truth is, I cried at least five times while writing what you just read.
All I can tell you is what a wise old woman told me—a woman who never gave me her name, but left me with her fragrance.
“Hold a puppy. Just touch one.”
Promise me you’ll do it.