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The Prince of Rome

If Christmas is about love, then we've just gotten our wish.


Matteo lost his battle against life today, giving in at the ripe old age of around 17. Too few of his organs were still functioning correctly and he was eating more medicine each day than food. Still, he fought all of this off for the last few months as though his gift to us was to be there on Christmas morning. He came up only a few hours short.

Melissa picked Matteo up off the street while she was living in Rome, Italy sometime in 1998. He was a mangy mess, covered in fleas, and had the remnants of a metal choke collar stuck in his neck. She watched him for two days before asking around to find that no one knew his owner. Matteo had been hanging around this deli because someone kept throwing him proscuitto sandwiches. While Melissa knew that not many Italians care for pets well, she thought he may belong to someone in the area, so she took him to the local veterinarian, hoping that she would recognize him.

She didn't, and the rest is history. So moved by the passion to pick up a frighteningly unkempt dog from the street, the vet gave Melissa all the necessary food and antibiotics to help heal the little dog. She took him home, gave him a long bath to soak the ticks and fleas out of his hair, and picked the name of her former roommate's boyfriend for the dog - Matteo.

He recovered his appetite first, followed soon by his now cared for body. There was a surgery to remove the collar imbedded in the skin on his neck and many more trips to the vet, but soon he was well enough to pass his own physical to earn himself an international passport. It came just in time because roughly 18 months after picking him up and saving him from certain death alone in the streets of Rome, Melissa packed up and moved back to California. The possession of a doggy passport meant that he didn't need to be transported with the luggage. It was required that he take a sedative for the 12-hour plane ride, but he was able to ride in the cabin and avoid quarantine once he landed.

I met Melissa in September 2004. I finally got to meet Matteo after a couple of dates, and he could hardly have been less interested in me. Our first meeting was in Melissa's apartment; he came up to sniff for a second, then followed Melissa around for a few minutes, and then returned to lie in his bed. That was his reaction to everyone new. It took me a while to realize it, but he wasn't disinterested, only accepting.

I wasn't exactly warm and caring in the beginning. When Melissa first brought him to my apartment when she came to visit, I wouldn't allow him out of the kitchen because that was the only place in my apartment without carpet. Although he never barked, he whimpered throughout the night, probably because he was cold in there, and alone. Matteo hadn't been alone since Melissa found him in 1998. Well, his whimpering in the kitchen only lasted one night because the next time, his pet bed got parked in the bedroom next to the nightstand. Of course, that meant that he now wanted to get up into the bed next to Melissa. As much as I had wanted to protect my crappy, cheap apartment in Salinas, CA, I really wanted to protect my crappy and cheap, but new bed I'd purchased just before meeting the two of them. It took a little longer, but he eventually made that leap, too.

Speaking of leaping, there were a few things that Matteo was physically able to do when I first met him. One was to jump up onto the bed, even beds that sat on bed frames. He had a good vertical leap! Another thing that he could do was to refrain from barking. He never barked! One time in the three years and three months since I met him, he let out a half-whimper half-bark when he was scared by something rustling the bushes next to him, but that was completely justified because it was very likely a skunk causing the noise.

It didn't take long for me to warm up to Matteo, but Melissa will tell you that I did it whole-heartedly. As soon as he got up into the bed with us to sleep next to Melissa, it wasn't just Melissa he wanted to touch. He most often slept cross-wise in the bed so as to touch one of us with his head and the other with his hind legs. When Melissa started spending long hours away from home because of work, I would pull him into bed with me and he would start the night pressed against me, his pappi, and I would wake up to find him curled up next to his mammi.

As the years progressed, he needed to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Sometimes, the three of us would go to bed and he would be on the floor in his own bed in the morning. He was never mad it had happened, but delighted to find a new day before him, and especially ready for breakfast! When his ability to jump on and off the bed deteriorated, we first made him and then bought him some stairs to climb. They finally had to go when one night, in complete darkness, he tried to climb, only to slide off the side and fall back down to the hardwood floor. He yelped, then cried a little, and limped for a few minutes (until we gave him a treat) but wasn't hurt.

Matteo lived a good life, at least the last 9 years of it. We can only guess at his age of 17 because he was diagnosed with an eye condition in 2001 that only affects dogs 10 years and older.

He got to do what he wanted. He went out when he needed. He ate whatever he could (and could get away with). Most importantly, he loved. Whether he was curled up next to us on the couch, pressed against one of us in bed, or he just walked by and licked the top of our foot, we knew Matteo was there. Right now, everything just feels empty. We love you, buddy! There will always be a spot in our bed for you.

Posted by dennis @ 11:40 AM
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