By Sean Dietrich
I’m watching my dog run on the beach. She’s running alongside the waves. She stops every few moments to stare.
She’s not, too sure about waves. It’s Father’s Day, and I’m a father—well, almost. I have a fifteen-week-old bloodhound named Thelma Lou. That’s almost like being a father. The only difference, of course, is that human babies don’t chew your wallet then poop inside your boot.
You read that right. My dog didn’t poop ON my boot—as in: the exterior. She did her business INSIDE my boot. The basic physics behind this acrobatic marvel are astounding. I only wish I could’ve captured it on video, it would’ve been worth millions.
So poop in a boot, that makes me a father. At least this is what I’m going with.
People without kids, like me, still have the same amount of love parents have. That love has to go somewhere. That’s where dogs come in.
My first dog was a border collie. My father bought it. We named it Pooch. Pooch was bred to herd sheep, but since there were no sheep around, he herded redheads.
When my mother yelled my name, Pooch would dart off the porch like a bullet. He’d circle me, yelping, nipping. When he died, I thought a piece of me died.
My next dog was Goldie. A retriever. Long, pretty hair, happy face. I raised her from a pup.
Goldie was Hell on Wheels. She lived beside me. She slept while I did homework, she chased baseballs. In the woods, when I was busy with little-boy things, like catching frogs, or swinging limbs, she watched over me.
Cody was next. She was my father’s dog. She was a chocolate Lab who loved my father. I can close my eyes and see him strolling from the barn to the shed, Cody trailing two feet behind him.
When he died, she laid on a pile of his clothes for a month. Nobody could get her to move.
And Hannah. She was your All-American mutt. My mother bought her after my father’s funeral. Eventually, Hannah had puppies. I kept one. I named him Rolly. He was pure white.
Pooch. Goldie. Cody. Rolly. Hannah. They were my friends. When I lost them, I swore off dogs.
Then, I found a stray walking the shoulder of the road. She was a Cocker Spaniel with no collar. Pure black. Ten-foot ears. I named her Lady.
Lady was one in a million. She slept with me. She rode in my truck. And when a rude girlfriend told me she didn’t want me anymore, Lady chased away my sadness.
When Lady passed I had to take a week off work.
Then Boone. Then Joe. Then Gurgle. Each one, a good boy who didn’t like leashes, hated doorbells, and emitted enough gas to be fire hazards.
Enter Ellie Mae.
She was a bloodhound. I’ve loved dogs before. Lots of them. But none like Ellie. A cedar box with her ashes rides on my truck dashboard. I have a gold plaque with her name mounted on my passenger seat—corny, I know. But I think of her every day. I mention her after we say grace over supper.
And… Hello Thelma Lou, goodbye heart. When I bought Thel on a farm in Molino, Florida, the man told me, “This is the sweetest dadgum dog I ever saw.”
I held baby Thel, she bit my ear hard enough to make it bleed. Then, she licked my face—which was covered in blood. I knew she was the one. He was right, she was sweet. Is sweet.
While I write this, Thel is running on the beach toward a Father’s Day sunset. Occasionally, she walks to the edge of the surf, but she’s too afraid to get in.
No, I’m not a REAL father, I know that. This holiday wasn’t meant for fellas like me. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t had “little ones.” I’ve had a few. And they’ve changed me. They made me who I am. They made me a better man, and their love ensures that my life will never be the same.
Neither will my boots.
Sean Dietrich is a columnist, and novelist, known for his commentary on life in the American South.