Dear Sean

Sean of the South



I got a letter from a boy named Jason, in Albuquerque, who asked if I think he should adopt a puppy. He’s got his eye on a border collie mix from a shelter. Jason wants to name this dog Teddy. Or possibly Frank.

First off, Jason, thank you for the message. Fuzzy puppies are exactly what I need to be thinking about tonight. I’m grateful you brought up the subject. The world is an ever-loving mess right now, and canines are good medicine.

So to give you the short answer in case you’re pressed for time: Yes. Get the puppy.

Now here’s a longer answer:

A puppy is not a puppy. A puppy is a baby. A real, living, breathing, delicate infant. True, it’s a dog-baby, but it’s still a baby. This baby requires your whole heart. Not just half.

Now before you nod your head and agree with me, I want you to think about this for a second. You’re a 13-year-old kid. Are you ready to raise a real baby?

Having an infant in the house is not easy. Ask any saggy-eyed parent of a newborn. Being a parent is a full-time, round-the-clock, lifetime gig. You do not get time off. There is going to be a lot of pee involved.

Border collies can live 17 years. This means you could be a dog daddy until you are 30 years old. By then you might be married and have a big fat adjustable-rate mortgage.

If you decide you are ready, are you prepared to say goodbye to things like free time, peace and quiet, and regular sleep?

Because your dog will sleep on your bed. Always. End of story. There is nothing you can do to stop a dog from claiming your bed. All night he will constantly be readjusting himself, engaging in acts of personal hygiene, keeping you awake, and nudging you off your mattress. And if you’d prefer for your dog to sleep on a doggie bed, please read this paragraph again.

Secondly, a dog will ruin your stuff. I currently have two dogs named Thelma Lou and Otis Campbell. If you were to visit my house in the middle of the day you’d find it very tranquil and serene, with floppy-eared dogs snoring all day.

Why are they sleeping in the middle of the afternoon? How are they so tired when all they do is eat and poop? I will tell you why. Because at bedtime their bodies become inhabited by nocturnal demons.

At night my dogs go slap crazy and try to destroy our house. They conduct professional wrestling matches in the living room. We often hear furniture getting rearranged and 90-pound bodies slamming into walls.

Many times I have gotten out of bed to find broken lamps, gas stoves on fire, vomit-soaked shoes, chewed eyeglasses, and wee wee on books I authored.

Even so, having a dog is pure joy. Namely, because dogs see this world differently than we do. Mankind views this world as something to conquer; to fight over; to gripe about; to own. A dog sees this world as a multi-sensory fiesta of experiences.

To a dog, Earth is smells, tastes, sounds, good friends, squirrels, and endless opportunities to beg for food.

A dog “gets it,” Jason. Far better than we do. Dogs aren’t as simple-minded as some make them out to be.

Recently, some neuroscientists in Loránd University in Budapest scanned the brains of 13 dogs with MRI machines and discovered that dogs actually understand our words.

During this study, dog trainers spoke common phrases to their dogs, using no particular intonation. And do you know how the dogs responded? That’s right. The dogs peed on the MRI machines.

No. I’m only kidding! Kind of!

What really happened was that the dogs’ brains lit up like aircraft landing lights. Especially in the left hemisphere regions.

What does this mean? It means that your dog understands what’s being said in much the same way a human does. It means that having a dog is not merely owning a pet. You are dealing with a creature that feels, thinks, and is capable of feeling rejection, neglect, disappointment, sadness, and the sting of harsh words.

It’s going to take a lot of kindness, patience, and plenty of plain old love to raise this puppy. Come to think of it, this whole world could use those virtues right now.

That said, there is nothing better than having a dog. I have had the pleasure of loving several. And every dog I ever knew burrowed its way into my soul and taught me to be a nicer person.

A few days ago, for instance, I went through a very rough personal moment that upset me. It doesn’t matter what happened, but something put me in a crummy mood. I went into our backyard to pout for a little bit. But I was followed by a 90-pound animal who refused to let me be in a funk.

This creature leapt into my lap, cut off my circulation, and licked my face until I was laughing so hard my abdominal muscles burned. And when my sadness had dissipated, I looked this dog in her eyes and realized that this creature is a true gift.

So do I think you should do it? Yes.

Anything that brings more love into this tired and lonely world is highly needed right now.

Sean Dietrich is a columnist, novelist, and podcast host, known for his commentary on life in the American South. His work has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines, he has authored 13 books, and he is creator of the Sean of the South Podcast.