The Portland Phoenix

Leftovers: Mellie’s grand adventure

Mellie the dog wearing cone of shame

Mellie sports the cone of shame and tiger-striped bandages after her Grand Adventure.

The elderly and infirm willingly speak of things they regret. Many say they regret not spending more time with loved ones, not exchanging grudges for forgiveness and not being more spontaneous. But, unlike them, and if given half a chance, I am certain dogs would not share in those regrets.

Natalie Haberman-LaddIf anything, dogs are indeed spontaneous and live in the moment. A stinky compost bin becomes their Vegas-like buffet and up to 300 million olfactory receptors turn them into hunters, travelers and archeologists — and, for my dog Mellie, social butterflies. I know this to be true because just last week, she 

Houdini’d her way past a guy working in my condo (bolting out when he opened the door) and went on a daylong spree of discovery and joy.

The joy was all hers. I was inconsolable and filled with visions of my sidekick lying four-paws up in the middle of Washington Avenue. Gratefully, that didn’t happen, because Mellie is savvy from her days as a young pup roaming the mean streets of Jackson, Mississippi. Of course, that was over three years ago, just before she rescued me.

Once Mellie got to Maine (shout out to our many animal adoption organizations), we became inseparable. When COVID-19 hit me hard, she never left my side. When I went to work, she became our office dog, our director of barketing, and obviously, my muse. When on the road, she charmed advertisers and even got us out of a speeding ticket by winning over a Portland Police officer who had a German Shepherd for a partner. Without smiling, the K-9 handler simultaneously chastised my driving while complimenting the dog’s sunny disposition and calm demeanor.

While on Office Dog duty, Mellie guards the editors office. This puts her in a strategic position to bark at the incoming mailman.

Last week’s impromptu adventure also leaves me certain that Mellie has way more friends than I do. News of her disappearance spread on the Nextdoor app and Facebook, with people sharing posts and commenting from as far away as Boston. After Maine Lost Dog Recovery posted her informational flier, over 18 thousand people knew she was out there. Complete strangers took time from their busy lives to comb nearby streets, woods, playgrounds and parking lots. Mellie’s co-workers, neighbors and dog enrichment center friends also spent hours looking for her. Kevin, a City of Portland animal control officer, kindly assured me that he’d get municipal folks searching. There were so many people who cared and reacted that when Mellie’s Uncle Evan called for her in a thickly wooded area, he repeatedly heard two women neither of us know also calling her name from somewhere in the distance.

Lost dogs are an everyday occurrence in Portland and not all the stories end as perfectly as ours did. From the moment a neighbor called to let me know Mellie was on the run, I too was out looking. First by car (she can’t resist rolling down the window and letting the wind blow back her ears), then on foot. I checked online often and she had been spotted behind PATHS, at Lyseth Elementary School, and over the Falmouth city line trotting down the sidewalk along Allen Avenue extension. People reported she was sweet and friendly, and one man said she appeared to be in no hurry to end her travels.

But end they did. And as fate would have it, I was the one who found her.

As our editor Marian McCue noted, it’s more likely that Mellie found me. I was heading one way on a favorite path, and she was headed the other. Hoarse and tired after walking almost ten miles, I looked up and saw a little yellow blob approaching (cue the soft music, field of wildflowers, and the two of us running toward each other in slow motion). Also exhausted, Mellie was limping a bit and her paws were bloodied. We hugged for a long time and both of us cried.

Walking home together, we emerged from the path onto the street when Uncle Evan and Aunt Hannah’s car magically pulled up. We hopped in and got a ride home, where Mellie drank two bowls of water, ate a fashionably late dinner and crashed kitty-corner on my side of the bed until the next morning.

In the aftermath, what I gleaned from my dog’s grand adventure is to believe that in the end everything is going to be okay. If it isn’t okay, then it isn’t the end. We need to be in the moment when afraid and unsure of what the future will bring. In hard times, we’re supposed to lean on friends and trust the goodness of strangers. We’ll avoid regrets by leaning into forgiveness, and above all by loving with purpose.

Maybe by showing a little faith, we can all run with the big dogs.

Natalie Haberman Ladd is an award-winning columnist, freelance writer, and Portland restaurant veteran. She loves Boston sports, California cabernets, and has never sampled a cheese she didn’t like. Reach her at

If your pet is lost…

The Animal Rescue League of Greater Portland has compiled a step-by-step list of what to do when your pet is nowhere to be found. The “Lost and Found Pets” tab on their website is detailed and will walk you through who to contact depending upon where you live.

Social media is a powerful tool for spreading the word and once the Maine Lost Dog (or cat) Recovery creates a detailed flyer, post it on as many related sites as possible. The longer your pet is missing, the more important it is to refresh and repost. Also, placing the flyers in plastic sleeves and hanging them in public places near the last spot your pet was seen is crucial.

If a friend or family member’s pet is lost, be supportive and listen rather than advise. Resist the urge to tell them what they “should have” done differently to keep the incident from happening. Asking if a pet has a specific brand of identification collar or an implanted microchip is not helpful at that moment. Nor is inquiring about an electric fence or if the animal was registered with the state or city. Such questioning will be asked by the agencies helping. Once again, your role is to search and support.

There is some good news on the lost pet front. According to a 2012 study by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 93 percent of dogs and 75 percent of cats reported lost over a five-year span were returned to the safety of their home.

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