Thelma Lou, How Are You?

Dear Thelma Lou,

Right now I am five hundred miles away from you in Mississippi, out of town for work. And right now you’re probably in the backyard, trying to dismember a squirrel carcass. Or maybe you’re howling at the neighbors. Perhaps you’re digging a hole to Beijing, chewing our porch, or eating cat poop. There are so many options.

I miss you. Please mind your aunt Michelle while we are away. I have given her complete authority to spank you.

You might not remember the day we brought you home, but I do. Your loose skin hung over your eyes. You were chubby, with oversized paws, and a cute hindsection that wobbled when you walked. Your ears hung to the floor so that you tripped over them. You were all bloodhound.

For your first year, whenever you’d fall asleep on me you would pee. Every single time. One moment, I’d be reading a book, and you’d be cradled on my chest. The next minute, warm liquid would be soaking my shirt. I would scream, “THELMA LOU!” But you wouldn’t even bother waking up.

So I’d carry you out of the bedroom, careful not to disturb your sleep. Because even though I was covered in puppy urine, I liked to watch you sleep. I still love to watch you sleep, even though you aren’t a puppy anymore.

And believe me, you’re DEFINITELY not a puppy anymore. For crying out loud, the scale over at Pet We-Take-All-Your-Money Mart said that you weighed almost ninety pounds. Ninety. That’s heavy enough to be one of the Budweiser Clydesdales.

But you’ll always be a puppy to me. You came into our lives when we were a mess. We had just lost a thirteen-year-old dog named Ellie Mae. I wish you could have known her. You would have liked Ellie Mae. Everyone did.

When she left us, I was out of town for work, sort of like I am now. I still can’t seem to forgive myself for that. When I got the call, I curled on the floor of my room and cried until my head ached. Ellie Mae was one of my best friends.

See, some folks don’t understand guys like me, who love dogs this much. But I don’t have children. Heaven wasn’t gracious enough to give us babies, so we have had to get creative.

Thus, my best friends have always been the sort who take heartworm medication. My entire life can be measured by the dogs I’ve loved. I’ve loved some good ones, too. Great dogs who deserve to have bronze statues erected in their honor up in Heaven’s Hall of Fame. Dogs like Boone, Hurley, Gurgle, Hannah, Lady, Cody, and Moses.

But none were like Ellie Mae. She was in a class by herself. The old girl understood me better than most humans. There was a special kind of intelligence in her eyes. It was otherworldly.

When I was younger, I traveled all over to play music with various barroom bands, trying to pay the rent. She traveled with me. We would tow my tiny camper behind my truck and live in it for weeks.

In some ways, Ellie was my life’s mascot. She would wait in my truck during every gig. On breaktime, I would wander out to the parking lot only to find bartenders, dishwashers, and waitresses gathered around my tailgate. They were all smoking cigarettes, cooing at Ellie Mae, feeding her onion rings. Everyone wanted to take her home.

But Ellie would have never gone with them. Because she was sent to earth to watch over me. And she did her job well. She went everywhere I went. We shared every meal. She rode in my passenger seat. She slept between me and my wife. She watched ball games with me. She was everything to me. Just like you are.

Today, Ellie’s ashes sit on our nightstand. Along with her framed picture. But of course you already know that, Thelma. I often catch you staring at Ellie’s urn.

In some ways, it seems like you know her. Like all dogs sort of know each other. Maybe you do.

Anyway, the day I brought you home was only days after Ellie Mae died. The universe must have known that I needed you. When I found you, you were bounding through the tall grass on a small farm in Molino, Florida. My chest swelled ten sizes. I knew you were the one.

Sometimes I think I was born with your little face imprinted upon my heart. Maybe God did this so that there was no possible way I could miss you.

When I held you, you bit my ear with razor sharp puppy teeth and made me bleed. And the sadness that old dogs left behind became less bitter. You taught me that life keeps going, even after death. I don’t know how you did that. But you did. Just by being born.

I didn’t mean to get so mushy, but I can’t help it. I will love you until they lay me down. The same way I loved your brothers and sisters. The same way I would have loved my own child. Because that’s what you are. Mine.

I’ll be home soon. So drop that squirrel carcass right this instant.

Happy birthday, Thelma Lou.


  1. Sandi. - March 2, 2020 7:28 am

    Happy birthday to Thelma Lou! Is she two this year?

  2. Karen - March 2, 2020 7:50 am

    Happy Birthday Thelma Lou! You bring us happiness reading about you.

  3. Nell Thomas - March 2, 2020 10:29 am

    Let me tell you. I certainly do understand guys like you. God bless you and Thelma Lou. Happy Birthday sweet girl. I know Jamie loves you too.

  4. Cathi Russell - March 2, 2020 10:47 am

    Thelma Lou, are you now two? Happy Birthday! Us dog people are a specially blessed bunch, even tho our children don’t speak with words. They speak with eyes & heart, a language we’re privileged to learn.

  5. Harriet White - Atlanta - March 2, 2020 11:06 am

    Happy Birthday Thelma Lou! That was so much fun to read Sean.

  6. Dee Cullen - March 2, 2020 11:32 am

    Sean, love it!

  7. Lita - March 2, 2020 11:34 am

    Thank you, Sean. A loving Monday gift.

  8. Peggy Savage - March 2, 2020 12:22 pm

    I understand…..completely

  9. Amy - March 2, 2020 12:36 pm

    Happy birthday Thelma Lou!

    What a wonderful story and yes I completely understand!

  10. Melanie - March 2, 2020 12:58 pm

    All my kids have 4 legs ❤️ Happy Birthday girl !!

  11. Jean - March 2, 2020 1:03 pm

    Any man who loves fur babies is number 1 in my book!! Happy Birthday Thelma Lou!!

  12. Ralph Bryson - March 2, 2020 1:24 pm

    Know your feeling well! Lost my lab of 15 years two weeks ago today! They are indeed special!

  13. Jess - March 2, 2020 1:46 pm

    Sean, I’m one of those dog guys you wrote about. I know exactly how you feel and have felt about your four-legged kids. Even though my wife and I have three grown kids I have my dog Belle beside me now as I write this comment. She came to live with us after my 14-year old Bailey had to be put down by a vet due to incurable cancer. That was a difficult day, but it was the correct and proper thing to do. I talked to her during the procedure and told her over and over how much I loved her and I meant every word. Some of her ashes and photo are in a nice container that my daughter bought for me. I miss Bailey to this day. However, my darling wife got me Belle and she’s quite a dog in her own right. So everything is back on an even kneel, but I still miss Bailey…always will.

  14. Jo Ann - March 2, 2020 2:07 pm

    Happy Birthday, Thelma Lou, & many, many more!!

  15. Deborah (Debbie) Gillespie - March 2, 2020 2:14 pm

    Happy Birthday, Thelma Lou! Thank you, Sean, for yet another “winner” of a post. Millions of us understand what you’re talking about and it’s just one more reason you are so loved.

  16. Cheryl Hatter - March 2, 2020 2:15 pm

    Oh how this story touches my heart. We have just lost Bear, our 13 year old Lab, when Boulah Belle, our Bloodhound came along. She is my heart. Last month she turned four years old. I smiled as I read how Thelma Lou peed on you. Boulah Belle did the same, over and over. The two dogs sound like twin sisters. There is nothing like a Bloodhound, beautiful, funny, SMART, and family❤️.
    Our girl was diagnosed with lymphoma 6 months ago. She goes for chemo weekly and seems to be doing okay. I cook every mean for her. She is our world🙏🏻

  17. Carolyn - March 2, 2020 2:28 pm

    I love you Thelma Lou

  18. Debra Laslie - March 2, 2020 2:57 pm

    Sean, if you’ve not visited the Coon Dog Cemetery in North Alabama (google it….) it is worth a trip, especially in the fall when the leaves are at their best. Ain’t no poodles there, only registered bone fido coon hunters with grave markers and a few collars attached. It is inspiring. BTW, LOVED Stars of Alabama and have recommended to everyone who can breath and who has ever loved. Thanks for all you do, you are a treasure.

  19. Shelton A. - March 2, 2020 3:06 pm

    I’ve had some great dogs and my rescue seems like she was born for me. I do know how you feel and I’m very glad I do.

  20. Susan Kennedy - March 2, 2020 3:17 pm

    Happy Birthday Thelma Lou! I just dropped my girl off at the kennel for a week and now I may have to go back and get her!

  21. Allyson - March 2, 2020 3:18 pm

    Oh Sean! This is so sweet! It’s a special bond between dogs and their people. We have a 2 year old puppy named Pounce. He’s about 85 pounds and a mastiff/pit bull mix but mostly he’s all love. At night he has to crawl into my husband’s lap to be put to sleep like a baby. We love that boy something fierce. He helped fill the hole our son left when he went to college. We love that boy something fiercer.

  22. Tammy S. - March 2, 2020 3:27 pm

    Happy Birthday to your Thelma Lou. Our Moses was 10 in January. Cannot imagine life without him. They may be furr-babies, but they are no less our babies. Hope y’all are enjoying the road trip and meeting lots of interesting people. 🙂

  23. Steve Winfield - March 2, 2020 4:18 pm

    I’ve talked about Jack lots. Lived to be 20. Has a shrine in my back yard. Coon hound mix, runt of the litter. Best friend ever. Period.

  24. Linda Moon - March 2, 2020 5:12 pm

    I understand guys like you. Babies grow up and take on independent lives of their own. Sometimes creative love for pets can be just as good as baby-love. The mushy comes out in me when I think of my own two 15-year old cats, my deceased dog who lived to be 18, and my cat who demised at age 19 while on a beach trip with the two humans and the other three pets. Those memories are filling my eyes, right now. Enjoy Thelma Lou’s birthday from a distance!!

  25. Jakki Stephenson - March 2, 2020 5:49 pm

    Happy Birthday Thelma-Lou! You’re doing a great job there!

  26. muthahun - March 2, 2020 6:06 pm

    Amen, honey. Buster, Ariadne, Khanzi, Meka, Tara, Heidi, Erin, Tara Too, Maggie & Woodrow. Last two still on this side of the daisies. Safe travels.

  27. Janet Mary Lee - March 2, 2020 6:16 pm

    Bless you and this column. That is why we love you!! A big Happy Birthday, Thelma Lou! Daddy’s going to owe you when he gets back! Your dog columns are really some of my favorites…I treasure Ellie Mae’s paw print you drew in my book!! Our dogs… special beyond belief and always in our hearts!!

  28. Tim House - March 2, 2020 6:47 pm

    It was hard to finish reading this… Darned leaky eyes. I know exactly what you mean, as kindred spirits. We lost one of the best dogs ever, Vash, a bit over three years ago. And now, as I’m responding, I have my sweet old girl Ariel lying between my knees on the recliner footrest. She’s sixteen now, almost fully deaf, losing her sight, and pretty well into doggy dementia… Yet she still holds on strong for me. It will be a sad day when she passes. I was expecting to lose her months ago, but she’s not ready. <3 And our Spunky we recently found out has a tumor, and we are still awaiting the biopsy results. These fur babies are our world. And yet, just as you did, we will bring another into our lives after they're gone, because there's always a place in our hearts for them. And we will know it will be the right, perfect fit when we meet. 🙂

  29. Edna B. - March 2, 2020 7:12 pm

    Happy Birthday Thelma Lou. I am a doggy person too. My little dog is my baby, and I love him to pieces. I spoil him rotten. He goes just about everywhere with me. When he’s not with me, I just can’t get comfortable. It’s okay to be mushy about our babies. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

  30. Patricia D Gibson - March 2, 2020 8:14 pm

    I feel exactly the same way about my furry kids! Love ❤️ completely

  31. Alice Roose - March 2, 2020 8:23 pm

    oh my goodness Sean! you made me cry again!this is so sweet and i know how you feel i am a dog lover myself and think your life is so much better with a dog or two!!i know all our furbabies have an absolute wonderful life i don’t think anyone could love them better than you!! God bless you Happy Birthday Thelma Lou!! love you Sean!!

  32. Linda Moon - March 2, 2020 10:00 pm

    Tim, my cat SPUNKY, passed away on a beach trip when he was 19. He was a GOOD cat….no trouble at all. The two fur babies we have now are very spoiled, unlike good ol’ Spunk! My best to you and your SPUNKY!

  33. catladymac - March 2, 2020 10:34 pm

    Happy Birthday Thelma Lou – and many more. Our old beagle died of congestive heart failure back in November, and this is the first time in 43 years I haven’t had a dog.

  34. Karen - March 2, 2020 11:05 pm

    The only way to get the heart to quit breaking is to let another dog find you quickly!! Love my Lila.

  35. Chasity Davis Ritter - March 2, 2020 11:38 pm

    “Sometimes I think I was born with your little face imprinted upon my heart. Maybe God did this so that there was no possible way I could miss you“

    Some of the most beautiful words I think I’ve ever read… happy Birthday Thelma Lou!! You are loved

  36. Kathy Daum - March 3, 2020 1:28 am

    I have two beautiful daughters, but when I lost my Sophie, I cried and cried. I understand.

  37. Sandy Jenkins - March 3, 2020 2:08 am

    I’m glad you have had wonderful doggies and glad that you found Thelma Lou right after Ellie Mae went to her Heavenly home. My husband and I couldn’t have children so our dogs have been our children. I think God knew we shouldn’t be responsible for another human being. We couldn’t control the most beautiful blond, loving, sweet, crazy cocker spaniel (our first dog). But she sure kept us on our toes and made us laugh all the time. Then 2 years after Taffy went home to aggravate God we were given a tiny Yorkie by our niece. My husband said she was all fur and teeth, thus the biting on the ear and nose. She never ran off (unlike the cocker), never got into anything (Taffy was always into something, mostly trash or food). Libby was quite and loving and picked only a few people besides us as her friends. She didn’t like other dogs for sure. I thought I was going to die the day the vet called and said she died within 20 seconds of sedation. She was getting her teeth cleaned. We were visiting friends out of town and Libby yelped when I picked up all 7 lbs of her so we took her to my friend’s vet. He thought her teeth needed cleaning and they did and so I took my beautiful baby to him and 2 hours later I got the phone call that she was dead. I went to his office. I held her and cried hysterically. I went back to my friend’s house and cried until I thought my head would burst. My husband was out of town and I had to call him and tell him. He got home that night at midnight and we cried together all night. Then the vet had to freeze her and we put her in a cooler and drove 5 hours back home to bury her, crying all the way. Of course, all of our dogs sleep with us. For at least 2 years I was afraid to turn over in the night. I could feel her soft fur and I didn’t want to hurt her. Then came Hanna, a King Charles Spaniel. Red and white coloring. We drove from Memphis to the south east corner of Missouri to pick her up. She was 8 weeks old and so beautiful. She slept on my chest all the way back to Memphis (no pee pee problem). We have spent a fortune on her because Cavalier King Charles Spaniels have a malformed cranium and develop syringomelia (a neurological condition). We thought we were going to lose her at about 3 years old. She would have screaming and running pain. Thankfully our vet has owned KCS and knows about this. He sent us to Mississippi State University to the vet who is a specialist of this disease. She had surgery. We had to leave her for 3 days. We cried. At first the procedure didn’t seem to help but with medication 3 times every day, she is doing great. She is now 8 years old and is beautiful, prettiest little face in the world, loving, sweet, extremely smart and attached to us as much as we are her. She doesn’t run off, get into the trash, or people food either. Only Taffy had those habits. We always say if we had had children, they would be in a juvenile delinquent facility. We don’t, spank or yell. We just go along with the flow. I think you are a fine writer and also a fine man. Thanks for the many hours of enjoying your work.

  38. Teresa McCleskey - March 3, 2020 3:26 am

    Sean, I read you everyday, but this one may be my favorite. I was blessed with two children, but they both decided to grow up and make their own lives. Imagine that.

    I too had a fur baby that was the center of my universe. She lived to almost 15 and died in my lap. She too is sitting on a shelf to be scattered with me one day.

    I made the plunge again and got another dog, even though it took me 3 years to do so. Long story short, this new knuckle head has taken a place in my heart that I didn’t even know was there. Goodness I get it, I so get it. So on that day that i am scattered, I’ll have Jazz and Cash with me one more time. Thanks for making my day today . T

  39. gordo57 - March 3, 2020 2:02 pm

    Thelma Lou may be wondering if she will end up in a jar someday. See you soon.

  40. Sue Bryant - March 5, 2020 6:15 pm

    my heart breaks because I fully understand and relate to how deeply a human can love a dog. I loved my little dachshund “Peanut”, he died Dec.3, 2019. We had two dogs, Peanut and Odie , Odie is still with us.
    Odie has always shadowed my husband, he is as devoted to him as a dog can be. Peanut was that way about me.
    We didn’t plan any of that, I think dogs in pairs draw straws for the humans. I was blessed that Peanut drew me.
    I miss him so I hurt, I don’t know when or if I will get over this. I have children and grandchildren, love them all.
    I didn’t transfer any love to Peanut, I loved him, he loved me.
    If you had children Sean, your love for Ellie Mae would not have lessened one iota. That’s just the way it is with us special gifted people, you know, the humans that loose their heart to a dog.
    Excuse me, I need a box of Kleenex. love your writing, love you and Jamie. God bless you!

  41. Cindy - March 10, 2020 11:11 pm

    “And the sadness that old dogs left behind became less bitter. You taught me that life keeps going, even after death. I don’t know how you did that. But you did. Just by being born.”

    Wow! This was a huge God tap on my shoulder! We put our 9&1/2 year golden retriever, Murphy, down last Monday, March 2, the day you wrote this. Murphy battled a fierce, aggressive cancer for 6 weeks and he was so worn out that we could not watch him suffer anymore. Needless to say, I did not read my emails that day or the rest of the week, and I’ve shed many tears on and off for the last week. Reading this today was yet again, another reminder from God that He is with us, around us, and always holding us in the palm of His hand. I’ve been reading your column for years, including when sweet Ellie Mae passed on. Our other golden retriever is named Ellie, so that was especially meaningful to me. I felt your heartache then and can completely appreciate your feelings now, being away from Thelma Lou. We had to leave Ellie behind for 5 days, only 2 days after Murphy’s passing. While we were out of town, I ached for her furry snuggles and missed her greatly and was thrilled to finally return home to her. Keep these columns coming. I am one of many who very much appreciate your God-given talents, especially your empathy towards others. Have a great day.

  42. Alice - April 7, 2020 11:20 am

    Happy Bithday Thelma Lou what a sweet sweet letter Sean!i too am a dog lover although I have never had a dog like that!but I could not imagine my life without a dog they are so precious and they give us so much love!God bless you Sean love you ❤️❤️

  43. Mary Hicks - April 8, 2020 5:51 pm

    Happy birthday to your sweet Thelma Lou! I always love hearing about her. Thanks again, Sean. God bless you and Jamie and Thelma Lou!


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