Tough Guy

John emailed me. He told me a story. John was a wayward young man, with a criminal record, and a knack for falling in with the wrong crowd.

Thelma Lou sleeps on my lap. She is seventy pounds of bloodhound. She is wearing a handkerchief around her neck.

Tomorrow is a special day for her.

The handkerchief is red. We call this her “blanky” because she carries it wherever she goes. It used to be my everyday handkerchief. Now it’s hers.

I know what you’re thinking: “Oh, boy. Here we go again. Not another sentimental dog story.”

No. That’s not what this is. The last thing I would ever write is a sentimental dog story. Those are dumb.

I’m writing an adventure. It’s about a tough guy named John.

John emailed me. He told me a story. John was a wayward young man, with a criminal record, and a knack for falling in with the wrong crowd.

John worked at the liquor store. Late one night, after closing shop, he was taking out the trash. He heard noise. He saw someone digging in the dumpster next door.

“Who’s there?” he hollered.

John heard quick footsteps. He saw silhouettes leap into a vehicle. He heard the engine roar. He saw a car drive away.

Then, whimpering came from the dumpster behind the supermarket.

He peeked inside.

A trash bag. It was covered in stale bread, rotting vegetables, and shredded paper.

John removed the bag. It was lumpy. And squirming. He opened it with a pocket knife. And, as John puts it: “Those puppies were no bigger than your hand.”

Newborns. Nine. Only eight were living. One puppy was not. They were black and white. They had pig-like faces. They made squeaking noises.

“Those guys left them to die,” says John. “I mean, the puppies were living, and those guys WILLINGLY wanted to change that.”

John took the puppies home. He washed the deceased puppy with dish soap—she was covered in stink and urine. He gave her the name “Mary,” then buried her behind his apartment.

John wasn’t allowed to have animals in his building, so he told nobody about the puppies. He covered his closet floor in plastic. He bought heat lamps. He fed them canine milk replacement liquid.

“I didn’t think they’d survive,” he says. “I didn’t know what I was doing, I’d never owned a dog, and there was no YouTube back then, you know?”

So, he held them.

He read somewhere that holding orphan newborn puppies was important. The sounds of human lungs, body warmth, a thumping. These remind newborns of their mother. So, he held them.

“It sounds ridiculous,” he says. “But they were my kids. You know, sometimes instinct just takes over.”

They looked more like hamsters than puppies. But in only seven days, they doubled in size. In another seven days, their eyes opened and they were walking. And making noise.

The landlord threatened to kick him out if he didn’t get rid of the animals.

“I couldn’t,” John says. “They weren’t ready. I was the only mom they knew.”

So. The tough guy moved in with his sister, in Columbus. He raised them until they were a few months old, he vaccinated them, he sang to them. He loved them.

He took out an ad in the classifieds. He even turned down a few applicants who didn’t seem like good fits.

It took a week to find eight owners for the puppies. And the animals disappeared from John’s life.

A few weeks ago, a young woman messaged John. The young woman told him she had been six years old when she got a puppy from him. She’s twenty-one now.

The girl was calling to tell John the last of the litter had died. The dog was fifteen years old when he passed. The girl thought John would want to know.

John says, “I started crying, ‘cause I still remember those little guys running around my apartment, and how much they meant to me. I guess I’m not such a tough guy anymore.”

I guess not.

Anyway, I told you I wasn’t going to write another sentimental dog story.

Oh, well. You can’t win them all.

Happy six-month birthday, Thelma Lou.


  1. Diane - August 31, 2018 6:31 am

    We need more of your sentimental dog stories!

  2. Nancy Thomaston Rogers - August 31, 2018 9:58 am

    Dang it Sean Dietrich, why are you going and msking me cry first thing in the morning when I have to go to work?

  3. Kelly - August 31, 2018 10:00 am

    Happy 6 Month Birthday, Thelma Lou?. Those puppies most likely saved John’s life too. Great story, as always. Keep ‘em coming! ?

  4. Glenda the good witch. - August 31, 2018 10:32 am

    Yep, you can make grown girls cry, Sean. Happy tears, however at the outcome. I rescued a puppy this summer, his Mom was hanging around my house (job site) and my contractor said “She’s going to drop a litter”. Must have been Memorial day weekend, I was away. At any rate, several weeks later I found him peeking out of a vacant house next door, up on blocks and he was starving. Skin, bones and a scraped up grey coat. He’s now been through a formal dog training session, didn’t keep him from biting, scratching all the while furiously wagging his tail. Bottom line, the contractor took him home, he ate the toes off a stuffed bear, uh oh. But, he’s now docile and sweet, understands where to go potty ~ not on my rugs and to bark when he’s finished his business outdoors. He melts my heart and is coming home today, Happy six months Thelma Lou!

  5. Connie Havard Ryland - August 31, 2018 10:51 am

    Sweet. Share all the sentimental dog stories you want. They make us smile. Happy 6 months Thelma Lou. And God bless John for saving those babies.

  6. Marilyn - August 31, 2018 11:06 am

    Love your stories. They start my morning off on a positive note and we sure do need that! Thank you for each and every word of inspiration. And Happy six month birthday, Thelma Lou. You are one lucky pup!

  7. Cathi - August 31, 2018 11:58 am

    Awwww…they grab our hearts & never, ever let them go. How blessed are we that we have them? Happy 6 months, Thel!

  8. Jo Ann - August 31, 2018 12:21 pm

    Please keep telling dog stories, Sean. ( and cat stories, too, occasionally,if you don’t mind.) We love our 4-legged family members & love to hear other people’s stories about theirs.

  9. Joy - August 31, 2018 12:22 pm

    Love this story as I do ALL of them! Since I only had one as a child your dog stories always touch my heart. Maybe one day I will have another puppy to love and love me. I am so happy to be on your mailing list!

    Happy Birthday Thelma Lou and God bless you Sean!

  10. Minnie Tate Bourque - August 31, 2018 12:28 pm

    Thank you, John, for your love and care for those precious living little bodies. Warms my heart. Thank you, Sean, for sharing this tender story.There is goodness in this world.
    Happy 6 months, Thelma Lou!

  11. MaryBurns - August 31, 2018 12:39 pm


  12. MermaidGrammy - August 31, 2018 1:04 pm

    I’m not a “pet person”. I’d love a little puppy that will grow up to be a little dog. That tells me how selfish I am. Your stories make me wish I loved big loping dogs. I love yours. Thank you for all the ways you share love

  13. Jack Darnell - August 31, 2018 1:19 pm

    I’m glad at least it weren’t one of ’em dog stories. I ain’t got time to comment. Gotta get out and feed my feral cat who just lost her puppies to some mysterious source. She is sad and lets me pet her now, so I gotta go. She is still a little skiddish but likes to talk.

  14. Edna B. - August 31, 2018 4:00 pm

    God bless John for saving those babies. I’m sure they saved him as much as he saved them. Funny how it works that way. You keep right on telling those doggie (and kitty) stories. I love all of them. God bless you too Sean for all the joy you bring us every day with your writings. You and Thelma Lou have an awesome day. Hugs, Edna B.

  15. Linda Chipman - August 31, 2018 4:49 pm

    John is a special person for rescuing those puppies. And Sean you can write sentimental dog stories every day as far as I am concerned.

  16. Robert - August 31, 2018 5:14 pm

    I love your sentimental dog stories. plz don’t stop writing them. bob

  17. Pamela McEachern - August 31, 2018 5:56 pm

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY THEL! I am so glad those puppies were saved,I wish there were more people like John.

    Peace and Love from Birmingham

  18. Dianne Correll - August 31, 2018 10:49 pm

    Great story again!! Happy Birthday Thel!

  19. perry5360 - August 31, 2018 11:57 pm

    Happy birthday to you ?happy birthday to you ?Happy birthday Thelma Lou???

  20. Anita Ryan - September 1, 2018 1:49 am

    Another of your sweet stories, Sean. Love your dog stories, although I’m really a cat girl! Thanks for this sweet story!

  21. Sandra Smith - September 1, 2018 3:02 pm

    What a nice place the whole world would be if we all had puppies… MmmmmmmmWAH (Birthday hug for Thelma Lou ) ❤

  22. Steve Winfield - September 4, 2018 1:41 pm


  23. Mary Ellen Hall - September 6, 2018 10:05 pm


  24. Beckie - October 27, 2018 8:24 am

    I love your dog stories. I never get enough if them. My dogs (all rescues) have my heart.

  25. Melissa Mikkelsen - October 27, 2018 1:12 pm

    Every dog deserves a loving home. So glad Thelma Lou has one where her Daddy lets her lay her bony butt on his lap. I dont like many people but those that rescue animals or love them like you do Thelma? Those are the keepers, the ones blessed by the true meaning of love.


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