For seventeen years I have had the best four legged friend in the world - without stipulating the number of appendages, only Mary is in the same cosmos. Mel - Balto of the North; little elephant eyes - is gone. Everywhere I turn I am haunted by his memory, tugged by his spirit, nuzzled by his nose.

Mel is part cocker, maybe some dachshund - it’s a guessing game to search for all the ingredients. I rescued him from the pound - the most harrowing experience of my life - just before Mary’s and my third anniversary. He tumbled over the puppies surrounding him to lick my outstretched hand - one of the few overt acts of affection I witnessed - and scampered away with my heart. When I carried him out to the car he was terrified and shaking, and crawled under my shirt for the entire drive home, his little heart a sped up drum roll next to mine. Our relationship never altered from that point onward. Mary arrived home after I did, so I introduced her: “Mary, I’d like you to meet  your new son - Mel.” We were immediately his built in fan club.

We had talked about a dog for some time, and she named him before ever we saw him, and fell under his enchantment: Mel, for Blanc, Torme, Gibson and Harris. Melsey. Melster. Melstronio.

He would bound through the yard, neck deep in the grass and seemingly swimming, his stumpy little legs lost to sight in the forest of the lawn. One of my few regrets is not teaching him to swim: he was terrified of the water - along with his big brother Nash - and would not allow himself to be dragged even hock deep in the ocean. I could have carried him out and watched carefully to be
certain his instinct to dog paddle emerged, but I was not able to be the cause of that fear. Just as he would never snap at anyone, no matter how they tortured him or how much they deserved it. To be able to take him surfing would been such a joy, because - as you will see - he is smart. But I missed my opportunity.

An anecdote that engenders the smart remark: One afternoon we were otherwise absorbed in the bedroom and forgot entirely about his dinner. Suddenly he comes waddling through the door with his metal supper dish, nearly as big as he, clasped in his jaws. In obvious disgust he dropped - no, threw - it on the floor and looked in turn at Mary, the bowl, and me. If dogs could talk - well, we know exactly what he would have said. I bet you do, too. Mel was house trained in two days. Nash took upwards of three months.

For two years we were told he would lose control of his hind legs, then bladder and bowels. We found a product designed to support his posterior, but it turned urination into an olympic themed, group participation sprinkler event. So I would hold him up by the tip of his tail, with as little pressure as possible. Dogged is the perfect term for him: he would insist on climbing laboriously up to the back deck (three inches), and until six months ago would leap triumphantly over the threshold of the back door in the grand finale of his walk, and collapse. I began to carry him outside to the grass, then the pavement just so I could monitor his output. He slept more than his usual twenty three hours a day, but would still perk up when we came close and do an update of the Mel Kiss: push his face into ours - or whatever portion of your body was convenient - and turn away at the last moment. He may have been aware humans used their lips, but never incorporated that into his repertoire. Or, we were never aware...

When Mary was away and unable to stay by him, I would race through my day, breaking every known speed law, several that are unknown, to get home. I’d figure a way to swing by around noon and walk him, and usually manage to complete my day by three. He was such a proud little guy, and it embarrassed him profoundly to be betrayed by his bladder. I always said I’d know when it was time...

Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.” (Mark Twain’s Autobiography) I don’t believe in heaven, but I understand why we invented it. I want so desperately to return home and find him sleeping on the living room floor as always, and I block the fact entirely that is not going to happen - until my conscious mind kicks in. How do I train myself not to carefully avoid his sleeping form when I get up at night to use the toilet? To not drop down, as if in worship, first thing in the morning and nuzzle him awake: “Good morning, baby boy. How’s the best dog in the world?” To not grab his morning meds and pupperoni even before I start my coffee. To not give him water and a treat, and take him out to micturate before I leave. This giant balloon filled with heartache twists and stabs inside me constantly.

He shared his life and joy with us for seventeen years, and I’d like to think we were the best humans he could ever have hoped for. I know the reciprocal is true.

If there is a heaven, he will be there, waiting for me to rub under his throat.... Pretty big assumption, thinking I’ll make it there.

Maybe he’ll put in a good word for me.

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