Mellie, our little terrier, died yesterday. She was nearly eleven and had been very sick for the last few months. Her heart was giving out and when we went for a walk we would carry her most of the way.
We thought she might leave us on Saturday, but I think in her funny, doggy way she knew that it was an important day – an engagement party for our son Alex and his fiancée Yvonne - a celebration of love. She loved us all too much to die that night. So she hung on until Sunday.
Mellie and her sister JoJo joined our family early in 2001. They were Maltese/Sydney Silky crosses, Mellie looked very Maltese and JoJo very much the Sydney silky.
Mellie explores the bush. A full gallery is available online here.
She was called Imelda because, as a tiny puppy, she liked to climb into shoes but it quickly became Mellie.
When JoJo and Mellie came to live with us we had an old beloved red cattle dog, Rusty, who was ten and had started to become pretty sleepy – a nasty experience with a tick hadn’t helped. The arrival of the little dogs brightened him up and for next five or six years he was almost as lively as them.
Dogs are pack animals and they regard their humans as part of their pack. In our family Mellie was always most concerned that the pack stay together. If we were going for a walk and one of us was a little slow in getting out the door, Mellie would rush back in and round you up. If one of us fell behind on a walk –anything more than five or six metres – she would stop until you caught up or rush back to get you. There was not the slightest biological evidence for this, but I often wondered whether she had been a border collie in a previous life.
Mellie was also very talkative. Lots of dogs bark, others are fairly taciturn (like JoJo) but Mellie conversed. When we came home at night she was waiting at the front door and then proceeded to give us what sounded like a lecture – a series of squeaks and wimpers and low growls that went on for a few minutes. We just assumed it was something like “How can you be out so late? Do you know what time it is? It has been very boring here? You could have left Inspector Rex on for me…” and so on.
I have never been entirely convinced that she saw much of a distinction between humans and dogs. Until a few years ago we used to let them sleep on our bed and when Lucy was away Mellie would always sleep on Lucy’s pillow. It was rather a relief when we decided that our bed was to be henceforth a dog free zone. So they slept underneath it instead.
Mellie was a very good political campaigner. She was always nice to children and especially to other dogs. JoJo on the other hand still has a lot to learn about politics – she invariably tries to pick fights with huge dogs (which often retreat out of shock I think) and from time to time when a little child, encouraged by its fond mother, bends down to pat her, JoJo often rewards the infant with a snarl and bared teeth. But at least she doesn’t bite.
Of course this child friendly demeanour of Mellie was helped by her being little and fluffy and looking a bit like a teddy bear. She used to walk like a teddy bear too, barely bending her knees.
Mellie loved swimming and whether it was a dam or trough in the country or a beach in Sydney she always rushed into the water for a swim. Her sister was quite the opposite. I used to ask Lucy why they were so different. “They’re sisters.” She said. As thought it was perfectly obvious. Which it wasn’t to an only child like me.
Mellie was something of a medical miracle to have lived this long and her survival is a great tribute to the many Vets who patched her up over the years. We used to call her the Maltese Patient.
And she was also an occasional escapist. Sometimes she would wander off on little adventures of her own, dropping into one of the clubs not far from us, entertaining the drinkers until the bar closed and they called for us to come and pick her up.
Most of the time she just went for a walk around the neighbourhood and generally one of the local kids would bring her back.
So a big thank you to the vets who kept her alive and the many neighbours who returned her to us when she went for a wander.
Despite her generally peaceful and affectionate nature, she was a stalwart in the eternal war between dogs and cats. This was a mistake and she lost an eye in an encounter with one of the local tabbies. A few years ago she developed cancer in her left hind leg which was amputated. For nearly three years she managed quite well on three legs and whenever she got tired one of us would pick her up and tuck her under our arm like a white furry valise.
Dogs know a lot more than they let on, Mellie could always sense if we were a bit down or worried and she would make sure to hang around. She could tell when she was needed and her calm was always reassuring. Are dogs wise? Or do we just imagine it, transferring to them virtues and qualities we would wish for ourselves?
Yesterday we went for a walk with JoJo, carrying Mellie all the way. But even at the beach at Rose Bay Mellie didn’t want to go in. That was a first. And when we came home she sat with us on the couch as we read books, staying very close all the time.
And then she slipped out the dog door. When she hadn’t come back after a little while I looked out for her. Often when I did that I would see her snuffling around in the garden, looking under bushes, rustling around in the undergrowth having little doggy adventures of her own. But this time, the last time, I could see her lying there, in one of her favourite places, quite still. Mellie was dead.
Together, Lucy, Alex, Daisy and I laid her to rest under a tree. Her exploring days are over, but she is part of the garden she loved forever.
Why do we love dogs so much? Is it because they are loyal and loving? Is it because they love us for what we are, without judgement? How can it be that in a world of so much human tragedy, so much momentous and terrible change, we shed tears over the death of a little white dog?
Is it because, as Byron said, our dogs have all the virtues of man, without his vices?
Dear little Mellie, you were such a brave, fond and loyal friend. All your pack will miss you and never be quite the same without you.