No Dogs, No Heaven


Being happy’s hard as hell.

There’s the excrement gushing from your screen — the inane crap, an anti-LGBTQ buffoon in a sequin tiger suit rewarded for her antics with a championship ring, and the insane shit, nine-year-olds ripped apart by bullets from a gun that stands erect in half the country’s kinky dreams.

And when you put your phone down, there’s shutting up the voice in your head — the one whispering your worries on a loop.

If you find your way through the existential dread, what’s next? Who knows what makes them happy? Not happy in the general sense, like “sunshine is nice.” Or, “time with my family,” but the thing that lifts your heart out of the mire, what reaches into your guts and drags your soul into the light.

No Googling. What makes you that kind of happy?

Those with a quick answer get a sticker. The rest of us are over here wading through our pond of ambivalence, mucky step by mucky step, fishing for something good.

For me, ‘happy’ means something different day-to-day which can make it hard to find. To wit, here’s my ‘happy’ list from the past week or so:

  • Watching a car race on TV with my father-in-law
  • A message from a former student full of gratitude for work I’ve long forgotten doing
  • Two ducks perched on the roof of my neighbor’s house
  • Breaking into a sweat eating Indian pickles at diner
  • Rubbing my grandma’s feet
  • Blasting a country song on a Sunday afternoon


I’m not sure there’s much rhyme or reason to happiness. Maybe it’s always walking with you, wagging its tail across the miles? Or maybe you get lucky and stumble into it? Maybe it’s forever a long ways down the tracks?

It was Tyler Childers’ song, “Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven,” I was blasting in the car. A double dose of happy — a happy song about finding happiness — but no simple sugar rush like you might expect from one about dogs.

Six seconds into it and I’m nodding along, happy. Above the funky backbeat, there’s a swirl of Hammond organ and two riffs, one that makes you go, “Aw yeah,” and the other, “Damn, son.” Go listen to the first twenty seconds of ‘Hounds.’ If you’re not moved, check your pulse. You might not be with us anymore.

Speaking of the ever-after, Tyler gets to the point with the lyrics. In his gorgeous high rasp, he sings…

You tell me there are streets of gold and angels in the air
While all that’s fine and dandy and I’m sure it’s nice up there
There’s just one thing that I need to know before I settle down
Can I take my hounds to Heaven? Can I hunt on God’s ground?

The audacity of asking for what makes you happy with eternity on the line? God, I love it. Plus, I love dogs in the way that we all love the things that inch us closer to the divine, and for no good reason at all. Apparently, Tyler feels the same way.

Heaven? No hounds, no thanks. Amen, brother.

Tyler’s ‘happy’ sounds like it’s “runnin’ hounds and treein’ coons.” For Big Dan and Little Ann fans like me, this checks out. That he’s willing to trade a nebulous forever ‘happy’ for one in the here-and-now with furry friends? I’m here for it.

He says it true again in the chorus.

If I can’t take my hounds to Heaven, if I can’t hunt on God’s land
I’d rather load my dog box up and go to Hell with all my friends
I will wake up in the mornin’ and I’ll follow you to town
If I can take my hounds to Heaven, if I can hunt on God’s ground

After the chorus, two guitar solos. The first comes pouring out of a ’68 Fender amp in a roadside spot. The second one’s a talk box special that makes me wince my mouth and shake my head side-to-side. Happiness, indeed.

But then a twist!

The third stanza is like the second in that Tyler’s asked to quit being so rowdy as to save his soul. But he’s not having it.

But the only way I could stand it now, and I hate to say it’s true
When you give me a hard time, I can do what I wanna do

Ah-ha! ‘Hounds’ isn’t really about coon dogs running across a Kentucky hillside. Nope. It’s about demanding that the world honor who we are and, for a goddamn minute, leave us alone and let us be happy.

It’s a funky little reminder not to escrow the embers of our wonderment, but to blow on them, to let them burn, to live right now. To not wait. To run our hounds tonight under the moon. To laugh our fool heads off. To love our fool hearts out.

And to hell with the rest of it.

I don’t have much use for heaven.

Instead, I want an angel band to find me decomposing in the dirt after a great many more happy days. I hope I’ll get to go home, back to the earth and the water and the sky. No more than that. No less.

But don’t leave me there alone when we say goodbye. Sprinkle the ashes of my dogs into the hole when you cover me up so them and me can run the stars up on that forever trail — together and happy.

Being happy might be hard as hell, but heaven can wait I think.

At least for four minutes while I listen to Tyler belt his song. For four happy minutes, I’m not going anywhere. Not with George asleep on my feet and a smile on my face.

Not sure heaven could be any better than this anyway.

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