I’ll never forget it. One year ago, we pulled into a long dirt driveway in Molino, Florida. The grass was long. The sky was blue. A farmhouse sat in the distance.
I opened my truck door and saw a litter of bloodhound puppies running in all directions. One puppy in particular caught my attention. A girl.
She ran slower than the rest. She had paws that were ten sizes too big for her body. Her ears were long enough to be featured in a Disney animated film. Her clumsy gait was more bounce than run.
“She’s the runt,” said the man. “Can’t quite keep up with the others, bless her heart. She tries so hard.”
The puppy’s brothers and sisters had left her in the dust. They were chasing something together in a pack, but their runt sister was too far away to catch up. So she stopped and caught her breath, watching them play without her.
“See?” said the man. “She’s sorta slow, they always leave her out, but she sure is sweet.”
I wandered toward her, talking to her in a high-pitched voice.
I come from rural people. Something within my DNA makes me use a high-pitched voice around babies, animals, and during arguments with my wife.
The dog looked at me. And because she descended from generations of rural dogs, something inside her said “attack him.”
The puppy bounded toward me like a floppy piglet. I dropped to my knees. She tackled me. She ate my hat. Then she chewed on my earlobe.
And I knew that Heaven had made her just for me.
I wanted to call her “Thelma Lou” after Barney Fife’s girl on the Andy Griffith Show. Because in the great sitcom of life I am a lot like Barney Fife. I would love to be heroic like Andy, but I’m not. If you ever gave me the keys to the jail, I’d manage to lock myself in.
“Hi, Thelma Lou,” I said, trying the name on for size.
The dog didn’t smile. At least it didn’t look like it. She had too much wrinkled skin to do anything but frown.
“Do you like that name?”
She must have liked it because she sank her teeth into my nose and made it squirt blood.
We took her home. That night she slept in bed between me and my wife. She peed on me. Twice.
The next morning, I woke early. I made coffee, I took her outside to make water. The sun wasn’t up yet, the paper carrier was delivering the morning news. Thelma was doing her business.
“You stay here,” I said. “I’ll be right back, I’m gonna get the paper.”
I walked down the driveway and she followed close behind my heels, still doing her business at the same time.
“No,” I said. “Stay put, girl.”
Not a chance. She followed me, keeping her nose against my pant leg, peeing. She tripped over her ears a few times, but she held my pace.
She kept up with me for as long as she could until she collapsed. I carried her the rest of the way. She was limp in my arms like Raggedy Ann, panting.
“You little runt,” I said. “You’re all tuckered out.”
She slept with her head on my shoulder. I could hear her breathing in my ear. It was a quick rhythm. And just when it couldn’t get any better, she peed on me again.
That was three hundred and sixty-five days ago.
Today, Thelma Lou is a seventy-pound bloodhound who resembles a Clydesdale. She is still slower than her peers, and she will still chew on your earlobe if you’re not careful.
But you should see her. What she lacks in grace, she makes up for in heart. And when her muscles catch the sunlight, her fur looks almost red.
Her jowls fall clear down to her chest. Her long ears are mud flaps. Her paws are skillets. When she bays, I get so proud I try to video her with my phone.
When she is hungry, she lets the whole world know. And when something disagrees with her stomach, she can produce smells that are strong enough to wake Jimmy Hoffa.
She doesn’t pee on me anymore. She has fully grown into her legs. And she doesn’t get tired when she accompanies me to get the morning paper. It all happened so quickly I almost missed it. One day I woke up and found that my dog was not a runt anymore.
I will forever miss the days when she was.
The best and worst thing about life is that it goes by too fast.