Women's Journal

Between the Lines: An Open Conversation on Latest Book “Mattie, Milo, and Me: a memoir” with Author Anne Abel

Photo Courtesy: Anne Abel

By: Michael Beas

“Mattie, Milo, and Me,” Anne Abel invites readers into the tapestry of her life. Through graceful and vulnerable storytelling, Abel explores themes of love, loss, and self-discovery, weaving a poignant narrative that delves into the complexities of human relationships. This literary journey spans a spectrum of emotions, from the warmth of laughter to the ache of loss, as Abel reflects on the transformative power of familial bonds. Readers are welcomed into the author’s intimate reflections, creating a shared experience that resonates universally. “Mattie, Milo, and Me” stands as a testament to Abel’s storytelling prowess, offering a captivating and emotionally resonant exploration of life’s profound moments.

Reflecting on the ten years spent with Milo, what were the highlights and low points of your journey together? 

Some of the low points were:  Shortly after he arrived at our house we realized he was anything but the mellow dog we had met the previous day at the rescue. He went through the house howling anytime a car or truck went by. He humped and jumped anyone who walked in the door, including our family. He bit two of my three sons within five days of being with our family. And, the second day we had him, he pulled me onto my stomach and dragged me into the middle of the street an arm’s length from a school bus that had screeched to a stop. HIGH POINTS: Once I was able to manage him, it was exhilarating when I took him to the woods – I hated the woods – and I saw him leaping and flying across my path as we went from one side of the woods to the other, being the Milo he was meant and wanted to be. As much as I hated walking in the woods for an hour every day, I loved seeing Milo being able to be the living creature he wanted and needed to be. I took him almost everywhere with me and he would wait in the back of the station wagon watching everything going on around him. Whenever he spotted me approaching he stood up and gave a swoosh with his beautiful Lion King tail. His expression of happiness at seeing me made me feel loved. I smiled every time. Another highlight of living with Milo was when we went to the dog park and his best dog friend, a beautiful French Poodle named Anise, was there. When the two of them were together, no one else at the park, people or dogs, existed for them. They were like two beautiful, athletic, ballet dancers performing across the expanse of the flat grass park. They galloped and ran across together and when they reached the end they jumped up into each other’s paws, hugging each other. Then they came apart. ran across the park again, and repeated their hug. It was absolutely breathtaking. People would just stop walking their dogs and watch. 

Milo’s eventual passing marks another significant loss in your life. How did you navigate that grief, and how did it compare to your experience with Mattie’s death? 

I navigated the grief of losing Milo in a similar way to how I navigated Mattie’s death. The day after Milo died, I went to the same rescue  who gave me Milo to get another dog. This time I was more calm about the decision. I was insistent on getting a small dog who doesn’t shed. (Which is what I had told the rescue owner I wanted after Mattie had been killed. But, in my grief I had been duped into getting Milo.) When Mattie died it was a sudden accident. She had not been ill. She was fine one minute and dead the next. When Milo died, even though it was shocking to learn he had cancer, I had five days between when I learned he had cancer and when he died. When Mattie died I wanted a dog who would be exactly like her. When Milo died I realized that there were difficult dogs who were hard to place and I felt strongly that this time I did not want one of those dogs. The owner of the rescue, the man who had duped me into taking Milo, acknowledged that he owed me something for taking Milo and not returning him. And, he presented me with the most perfect little white, fluffy bichon named Sam. A one-year-old dog whose owner had died and who the rescue owner had been keeping at this house. Sam was so sweet and perfectly behaved. When I walked with him he knew to pace himself to me and to look at me whenever I said his name. At first I was reluctant to take such a perfect dog who would be so easy to place in a home. But, I had already bonded with Sam, after spending time with him on the rescue grounds. When I went back to the receptionist to say I was going to take Sam, she told me the rescue owner wanted to see me before I left. When he came into the reception area he was holding a small and brown dog in his arms. This dog was shaking and looked like he needed a lot of love. Not everyone would adopt this nervous little dog. So. I decided to take the two dogs home. Sam and Ryan. In short I navigated my grief in losing Milo by replacing him with two dogs. One dog, Sam, was the dog I had originally wanted to replace Mattie. The second dog, Ryan, was one who needed more intensive care. Not walks in the woods, not behavior management so he would not attack, but a lot of love.

Facing the choice of opening your heart to another dog after two tragic losses, what factors influenced your decision, and how did it impact you emotionally? 

The two tragic losses taught me that loving another dog or dogs is clearly a better choice than being dogless. The pain of losing a dog is almost unbearable. But, it cannot be helped. A dog can give you affection and companionship. The impact emotionally of losing those two dogs was to strengthen my courage to get to know and to love new dogs and their unique personalities.  

Throughout the memoir, you discuss your struggles with depression. How has your relationship with dogs and the challenges you’ve faced influenced your mental health journey? 

My relationship with each of the dogs has influenced my mental health journey in unique ways. Mattie taught me that dogs can bring pure love and joy, which is certainly nice to experience if you suffer from depression. Milo caused me to do things that were way out of my comfort zone and to do things that I would never have imagined myself doing, like going to the woods in the sweltering heat or wearing crampons after an ice storm. Surprisingly, doing these things pushed away my depression in a very powerful way. They kept me focused and very much in the moment. I learned that when I could make any of my dogs happy or get them to express any of their unique personalities, I felt empathetic joy. It made me happy to see them happy, whether it was sleeping peacefully curled up in their beds, or bounding through the woods.

What message do you hope readers will take away from your memoir, particularly those who may have experienced loss or struggled with mental health issues? 

I hope readers will take away a sense of possibilities. In depression hope disappears and feelings turn dark. I hope the reader will follow my story to learn that sometimes joy comes from unexpected sources. If I had given up after Mattie was killed, and decided never to love a dog again, I would have missed many meaningful and joyous experiences with Milo and the dogs who came into my life after him. Caring about another living creature is a powerful way to build mental health.

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Published By: Aize Perez

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