The Power of Dog

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.”

“Me neither..”

“I don’t want her to suffer.”

“Me neither.”

“I love her so much.”

(Sniff, sniff.)

“So does that mean we should put her out of her misery, then?”

“I can’t do it.”

“Me neither.”

“But she’s in pain.”

“I know.”

“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?”

She panted.

“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?”

She panted.

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.


  1. Steve McCaleb - June 13, 2022 8:33 am

    Owning a dog is a double edged sword…you have to decide if the love, loyalty, companionship and unconditional caring you get and share is worth the gut wrenching emptiness and sadness when you lose them. That being said, the more I’m around people…the better I like dogs. Woof…..

  2. j. t - June 13, 2022 11:11 am


  3. janet - June 13, 2022 11:16 am

    Guess my eyes needed a good cleansing this morning! Thank you for stirring memories of the dogs who have given me life.

  4. Nancy Canter - June 13, 2022 11:23 am

    Such a powerful story for us who have lost wonderful, loving dogs! Thank you!!

  5. William E Bryant - June 13, 2022 11:23 am

    I wish I had been given that advice a couple months ago when we had to make the same decision with our Momma Dog. I’ve had a dog for 72 of my 75 years and loved everyone of them. Momma Dog was the best, I can’t get over missing her.. Maybe one day she’ll be waiting for me, on the other side. For now I’ll wait to find another best friend.

  6. Jean - June 13, 2022 11:24 am

    All of us who have loved and lost our fur babies are here with tears in our eyes because we have been there.

  7. Beth Crane - June 13, 2022 11:34 am

    Love expands exponentially. Because you loved Ellie Mae you were able to love that new puppy. And you *will* see Ellie Mae again.

  8. Kathy Painter - June 13, 2022 11:44 am

    Thank you again for tears. You definitely are an amazing storyteller. Can’t wait for the next. Hope you’re feeling better

  9. Susan - June 13, 2022 12:00 pm

    We just put our wonderful Standard Poodle, Louie, to sleep. My husband and I had the same conversation: I don’t want him to suffer, oh, but, we’ll miss him so much, oh, but I don’t want him to suffer…as he was panting. We had him put to sleep that afternoon. We came home to Jake, our Standard Poodle puppy who is still naughty, occasionally nipping, getting in the way, and eating Kleenex. And, we love him. I am so thankful we didn’t come home to an empty house. Who would I have talked during the day as I got about my chores?/

    • Sylvia Zenteno-Booker - June 13, 2022 4:09 pm

      Yes! We got Voodoo when our senior was 15 because I knew I’d hurt too much to get a new dog anytime soon. She was a huge comfort after we lost Midnight.

    • Becky - June 25, 2022 2:31 pm

      Best advice I’ve ever heard. It works! The only bad thing about dogs is that they don’t live long enough. But that means that we get to love more of them. Thank you for a beautiful story.

  10. Te - June 13, 2022 12:02 pm

    I’ve probably told you this before, but you know old folks – we repeat ourselves – but the first story I read was about Ellie Mae – and I was hooked.

  11. Joann - June 13, 2022 12:05 pm

    Sending Princess Margaret of Farmington, or Maggie as she let us call her, to heaven to wait for us was probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. I still cry about it, 6 years later. We miss her so much. That unconditional love is irreplaceable. We take comfort that she is sitting right next to Grandpa, her Alpha, who occasionally throws sticks for her to fetch. Can’t wait to snuggle with her again one day. ❤️

  12. Susan - June 13, 2022 12:38 pm

    Whew! All of us that have loved a dog are crying this morning.

  13. gwenthinks - June 13, 2022 12:46 pm

    Our bloodhound was our baby, “Louise”. Losing her was tough, over 20 years ago. She holds a special place in our hearts. On a side note, your title reminds me of the movie that we watched this weekend “The Power of the Dog.” A warning– this movie, while an award winner, has NOTHING to do with dogs. It is an artsy-fartsy western with hidden meanings and symbolism, and when it’s over you say “well that was weird.” Dog lovers beware, don’t be fooled by the title, lol. Hugs and cuddles to all the pooches out there.

  14. Ted Hinson - June 13, 2022 12:54 pm

    Made this old man shed a tear. My white lab Maley has miraculously lived to 16! She still smiles and gives butterfly kisses as she moves around me. I know her days are short and my heart will break when she leaves this world. I will cry rivers and then find me a puppy to hug. I’ve been down this rocky road many times and that lady with the perfume was correct, it’s the only cure.

  15. Holly L - June 13, 2022 12:59 pm

    Big tears here.

  16. Cathy M - June 13, 2022 1:17 pm

    As I read this my dog sits beside me on the sofa. He is eleven and I rescued him from the saddest shelter in B’ham. I was watching the news one morning and a man from the shelter had a dog in his lap . He looked like Benji and was 9 months old. I drove straight to the shelter even though my husband had said we did not need a dog. Oh yes, we did need a dog. He fell into a tub of butter and has brought so much happiness into our lives. Rocket is a traveling man. He loves the car and road trips. Last November after watching him paw at his snout too often we were told that he has a brain tumor between his right eye and his ear. I did not know that I could possibly cry that many tears. The kind folks at Vet. Specialist told us that with pain medication, he had some quality time left. It is now the middle of June and our friends call him the miracle dog! Rocket is not quite ready to go. I hope I can have the courage to be with him when it’s time to let go. I want him to see my face when he closes his eyes. Then I will find a grief support group. These animals steal your heart. 💙

  17. Patricia Gibson - June 13, 2022 1:39 pm

    Amen is all I can see between tears❤️

  18. BEX - June 13, 2022 1:55 pm

    Sean, I am sorry about Ellie Mae. But that woman was wise! As far as ‘Daddy’, I am Mawmaw to my 4 granddaughters, most of their friends, 1/2 the people I work with and my 3 furry babies-Tango, Fig, and Kiki, beautiful 😻 cats 🐈 🐈 🐈‍⬛! Love makes you a parent whether your children are furry with floppy ears or sneaky with cat whiskers! God bless!

  19. suzi - June 13, 2022 2:26 pm

    I believe you are a keeper Sean, snotty nose, huge heart and a sharer of what really matters~

  20. Lynn B - June 13, 2022 2:38 pm

    I think your dogs definitely call you “Daddy.” It would be weird for them to address you by your first name! We just brought home a new puppy this week. Pippa burst into our lives with snuggles and nibbles and happiness galore. She doesn’t exactly fill the hole our precious black Lab left, but our hearts have grown larger with a new love for this doll baby.

  21. Texas Oma - June 13, 2022 3:08 pm

    Still crying here in Texas. Thank you once again, Sean. You are one of the best writers on this planet, I swear. And I teach writing, so I should know. My son and his wife had a little chihuahua they named Precious, and she lived for 18 years. I kept her quite often after they divorced because he travels a lot and it would be hard on her to go with him. She died almost two years ago while in my care. Of all the dogs we had over the years, Precious was The One. We are still grieving. God bless you and all people who have loved a pet and lost her.

  22. Linda Wynn - June 13, 2022 3:14 pm

    Sean, I know how busy your life must be, but if you get a chance, check out two books by Neil Abramson, “Undone” and “Just Life.” They are dog books by a very wise lawyer—they will make you laugh and cry and will leave you comforted. I’m 83 and can safely say, my dogs have been my best, most loyal, friends!

  23. jachanin - June 13, 2022 3:21 pm

    Wise lady. We still suffer and mourn over our passed fur babies. We find comfort in the furbaby by our side.

  24. Linda Wynn - June 13, 2022 3:26 pm

    Sean, if you get a chance, check out two books by a very wise lawyer, Neil Abramson—“Undone” and “Just Life.” You’ll laugh and cry and be comforted. I’m 83 and memories of all my “best friends” are precious. Even as we speak, my six year old rescue mutt is in my lap letting me know he’s ready for a walk in this 92 degree weather—good times!

  25. Evelyn Foreman - June 13, 2022 3:44 pm

    Thank you for sharing your heart and emotions 🥰

  26. LIN ARNOLD - June 13, 2022 3:53 pm

    We have rescued Siberian Huskies since 1992. As many as 11 once, but we lived on 10 acres of woods and they were trained to the electronic fence. So we have lost many precious fur babies over the years. Currently we only have 2 … Roxie is 15 and Alex is almost 13! For a Husky, the normal “old age” is 10, so you can imagine our awe of these 2. We had a scare with Roxie a couple of months ago. The vet diagnosed her with bone cancer and wanted to put her down right then & there. I said no, I needed time to wrap my head around it and make arrangements. To make a long story short, a month later she was off all meds and back to her normal self. I don’t know what that vet thought he saw in that x-ray, but I’m so thankful that I listened to my gut and said NO to putting her down right away. When it really is time for my Fur Babies to go to heaven and keep my Mom & Dad company, I’m going to be a basket case. But I’m 69 years old. I doubt I’ll get another dog. Maybe a cat. We’ll see.

  27. Sylvia Zenteno-Booker - June 13, 2022 4:07 pm

    We had to send our darling 16 year old Midnight over the Rainbow Bridge in December of 2019. Took us 2 weeks to work up the fortitude to do it, and I cried so much it felt like my whole head was swollen for days. Two months later I got a tattoo of her, just a simple outline of her face, but it brings me comfort every time I see if. It’s right by my heart so she knows she will always be there.

  28. Alice Grimes - June 13, 2022 4:17 pm

    I faced this over 11 years ago and will be facin it again soon as my precious Emmett’s cancer has returned and he has lost his hearing and most of his eyesight. I have 2 other rescues and have had many dogs I loved but this one is my soul dog. I don’t want him to suffer but I don’t know how I will get through it when the time comes.

  29. Peggy M. Windham - June 13, 2022 5:02 pm

    I cried reading this because I know that pain all too well! My husband and I have no human children either but we couldn’t love all the fur babies we’ve had over the years any more! We were and are their mama and daddy! I’ve also learned like the lady said that the only way to fill that hole in your heart is to touch a puppy!🐾💜🐾

  30. Susan - June 13, 2022 5:51 pm

    anyone who has lost a dog, feels the same way you do!!

  31. Barbara - June 13, 2022 6:49 pm

    Understand that feeling of not being able to take a long breath of your chest hurting so bad it feels as if it will burst. Best friend, soul mate, lover and companion rolled up in one.

  32. Suellen - June 13, 2022 7:25 pm

    We lost our little wiener dog, Johan, two weeks ago. He was diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure in Nov 2021 and they told us he had 6 months to a year. With medication you wouldn’t know anything was wrong with him. We spent thousands between tests and medication but he was only 9. The Vet did an echocardiogram in April and I think that phone call was harder on him than it was on me. “Nothing’s going to fix this. Nothing we can do.” We never got to the quality of life decision. Johan died in his sleep. The sad thing is we have a 12 year old formerly active beagle who only wants to sleep now that her buddy is gone. We’re so afraid we’re going to lose her too.

  33. Fred Moldenhauer - June 13, 2022 9:48 pm


  34. Linda Moon - June 13, 2022 10:05 pm

    I can’t imagine telling stories and jokes after my dog Pyper was put down. You’re a real trooper. I cried just now while reading Elle’s story and remembering Pyper. It took two kittens to cure my broken heart who are now two furry old cats who still like to be held in my lap, thank God.

  35. Louise Johnson - June 13, 2022 10:45 pm

    My dog just turned eleven yesterday, two months ago he got the dreaded diagnosis, giant tumor in his abdomen, I prayed he would make it to his birthday and he has, I’m just trying to make everyday special for my boy, Arnie.

  36. Kelly - June 14, 2022 4:25 pm

    Oh my goodness … Youth dew in the blue bottle. The smell of my grandmother’s love. She’s been gone over 20 years, but I still keep a bottle tucked way back in my closet for those days when I just need a hug.

  37. Joanne Lay - June 14, 2022 5:41 pm


  38. Diana Mason - June 14, 2022 6:02 pm

    Oh my, brings back memories of all the babies(family dogs) we’ve had to let go of. Never easy to do but the love they’ve given us over the years outweighs the “hurt” of losing them.

  39. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - June 18, 2022 5:56 am


  40. Teri Pittman - June 20, 2022 12:08 am

    It’s been almost a month since I had my old dog, Loretta, put down. She was 14.5. She had been having seizures for a year. I suspect cancer too. The vet said it made no sense to do tests as she was not a good candidate for surgery. I would take her and my young dog up to the woods every Sunday, because she grew up in that area. She was so happy to be there. She got to where she could do less and less as her back legs got week. I took her to the vets to see if she could manage a mve cross country this year. He said no. The last time I took her to the woods, I took a video with my phone, so I would be reminded that it was the right thing to do. She had to rest halfway on her walk. I had her put down the next day.

    Her ashes came home last week. Me and the young dog went to the woods today but I couldn’t bring myself to stsy that long. I am old now and I suspect Loretta will be the last puppy I have. House feels empty without her.


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