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.
Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - April 30, 2019 7:01 am
Life does pass by fast! Doesn’t seem like a year since you got Thelma Lou. Thanks for writing. You are special.
Gale Smith - April 30, 2019 8:42 am
Years and decades do not divide my past: dog years do……from the age of 2 if you ask where I was or what I had been doing, I could tell you which dog or dogs were part of my life. The best part after my daughter and her family.
Cathi - April 30, 2019 10:29 am
My dogs are my children too! I was blessed with parents who encouraged us to have dogs and I’ve grown up with them. I entered my Basset Hound phase about 20 years ago…and they’re just squatty Bloodhounds. And Lordy, I feel about them like you do Thel. Overgrown ears, noisy, complete love bugs…and ABSOLUTELY PRICELESS. And my male Basset is named Barney. Give Thel a kiss for him!
Meredith Smith - April 30, 2019 10:59 am
Happy Birthday Thelma Lou! I remember when you came home to heal everyone’s hearts. ❤️
Deborah L Blount - April 30, 2019 11:19 am
I start my day reading your posts. It always makes me smile, even when you make me cry. Thank you. You make me proud to be a Southern woman because you make me remember my life as a child of the south. Thelma Lou is lucky to have you.
Kat - April 30, 2019 12:09 pm
Happy Birthday Sweet Girl!! Hope there’s extra cookies for you today.
Joe Patterson - April 30, 2019 12:20 pm
Karen - April 30, 2019 12:24 pm
“The best and worst thing about life is that it goes by too fast.” Amen.
Your writing takes every one of us back to relive the moment we first held our puppies. Happy Birthday to Thelma Lou. Thank you, Sean.
Jo Ann - April 30, 2019 12:36 pm
Thelma Lou- Happy Welcome-to-your-forever-home Day!!! Love to you & all our animal family members.
Susan Kennedy - April 30, 2019 12:40 pm
We love you Thelma Lou and you too Sean!! ?
Patti Cross - April 30, 2019 1:00 pm
I love Thelma Lou.
Teresa Tindle - April 30, 2019 1:13 pm
Love her always Sean! After she’s still your little girl.
Connie Havard Ryland - April 30, 2019 1:13 pm
I remember your column the day you got her. It makes my heart smile to read how much you love her. I had someone tell me the other day that I spoil my fur babies and treat them like my children. Well, yeah, I do. I take care of my kids, and I take care of my pets. That’s a responsibility and a pleasure. They give me back much more love than anybody deserves. The first time I saw my baby, he was in a kennel with half a dozen other rescues. He walked up, laid his head in my hand, and stole my heart. I cannot imagine a life without him or his little “sister” that we rescued a year later. They are pure love on four legs. Thank you for the smile this morning.
MermaidGrammy - April 30, 2019 1:30 pm
Sean, are you saying Thelma Lou only lived a year? No matter – she has crossed the rainbow bridge and is safe and sound in Gods arms where there are no runts
Tim House - April 30, 2019 2:04 pm
Awww… As a dog lover myself, you filled my heart to where it almost broke. 🙂
Shelton A. - April 30, 2019 2:21 pm
God bless our dogs. They do so much to make our lives (and us) better. I have to keep believing that if God lets me into heaven, my dogs will be waiting for me.
Carol - April 30, 2019 2:38 pm
I miss seeing Thelma Lou on Facebook, I don’t do Instagram. So I wish you’d post more picture on a Facebook page, us old folks would love that!!
Linda Moon - April 30, 2019 2:49 pm
We need more Barney Fifes and Thelma Lous in this fast-moving world. Glad you and your dog are filling that gap!
Alice - April 30, 2019 2:52 pm
Happy Birthday Thelma Lou yes time goes by too fast!thank you for writing I look forward to reading your stories even when you make me cry!love you Sean God Bless you❤️
Dianne - April 30, 2019 2:54 pm
Thelma Lou is lucky she “found” you!!
Charaleen Wright - April 30, 2019 5:13 pm
Judy Broussard - May 1, 2019 2:56 am
Rest In Peace Thelma Lou
jnearen2013 - May 1, 2019 8:35 pm
Debbie - May 2, 2019 1:33 am
Awww….thank you for the update on Thelma Lou!
Janet Mary Lee - May 2, 2019 10:19 pm
Your dog stories are always one of my favorites! A late Happy Birthday Thelma Lou!!
Mary Ellen Hall - May 7, 2019 5:43 am
LOVE THIS post about your PRECIOUS THELMA LOU!!?
NOTHING AS SWEET AS A PUPPY, & YOU R SO RIGHT-they do grow up WAY TOO FAST!! ?Our Chocolate Lab; Nestle’, is 6 years old. ?It seems just like yesterday that she was sleeping in between my husband & my head; in bed, on her own pillow. ?She now weighs 90 lbs.?
LOVE your stories about your dogs-GREAT READS!!
PLEASE GIVE YOUR THELMA LOU A PAT FOR ME, ?❤
Ronnie - May 10, 2019 7:33 am
I miss having a dog, just don’t have time for one right now, and it wouldn’t be fair to him. But I will again some day. Because I miss Zeus, a Rottweiler I had in the 1980s. Some folks try to give Rotties a bad rep, but it’s all in how they’re raised. Zeus was the sweetest dog I ever had and he loved everybody. For now I just have to enjoy our three spoiled rotten kittys, but some day……
Nell Thomas - May 30, 2019 2:11 pm
Enjoy hearing about Thelma Lou.
I enjoy writing and taking photos of all my fur babies. They appear on facebook quite often- especially my black lab- rescue Jessie.
Steve W. - May 31, 2019 2:36 pm
Doo whut??? I had to go back & re-read, twice, trying to figure out how anyone thought she died. THEL IS NOT DEAD! She just had her first birthday.
Love you Sean. You make my days so often. Many times your readers comments do too.
Alice Roose - January 7, 2021 1:11 pm
What a sweet sort Sean❤️You are so right life goes by too fast!!love you and all your stories especially about your fur babies!God bless you