NEW YORK – If you’ve ever known and loved a dog, it’s not hard to understand why they’re dubbed “[human’s] best friend.” But they’re often so much more – our confidants, our teachers and even our healers. In her new book, “Mattie, Milo, and Me” (She Writes Press, April 23, 2024), author Anne Abel shares the central role her dogs played in her healing journey.
Anne grew up in an abusive home, leading to severe depression and a determination to do better as a mother. One of her sons wants a dog from the time he is a baby; Anne very much does not. For years she appeases him with creatures who live in cages and tanks, but on his tenth birthday she can no longer say no — and she proceeds to fall in love with their new four-legged family member, Mattie. When Mattie dies a sudden and tragic death, Anne begins to sink back into depression.
Trying to cope, she immediately adopts Milo, a dog who, unbeknownst to her, has already been returned to the rescue by several families due to his aggressive behavior. But even after Anne realizes Milo is dangerous, she’s committed to trying to give him a chance at a good life.
Anne’s journey takes the reader from dog school into the deep woods as she perseveres with Milo’s lifelong rehabilitation and her unwavering efforts to be a good mother to her sons. Working with Milo strengthens Anne and expands her ability to love. Ten years later, when Milo dies, Anne faces another choice: close the door to that part of her heart, or risk loving another dog after two tragic losses?
“Mattie, Milo, and Me”
Anne Abel | April 23, 2024 | She Writes Press | Memoir
Paperback | ISBN 978-1-64742-622-4 | $17.95
Ebook | ISBN 978-1-64742-623-1 | $8.99
Anne Abel is the author of “Mattie, Milo, and Me” (She Writes Press, April 23, 2024). Her story about unwittingly rescuing an aggressive dog, Milo, won a Moth StorySLAM in New York City. She has won two additional Moth StorySLAMs in Chicago. Her credentials include an MFA from The New School for Social Research, an MBA from the University of Chicago, and a BS in chemical engineering from Tufts University. She has freelanced for Lilith; Philadelphia Daily News; The Jewish Exponent; Philadelphia Weekly, Main Line Life and Main Line Today, and formerly wrote a weekly column, “The Homefront,” for Main Line Welcomat. She also taught English and creative writing at the Community College of Philadelphia. Anne lives in New York City with her husband, Andy, and their three rescue dogs, Ryan, Megan, and Chase. She grew up outside Boston, MA. Find out more about her at anneabelauthor.com.
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Praise for “Mattie, Milo, and Me” by Anne Abel
“… a certain kind of pet lover, looking for a comforting reminder of the powerful bond that can occur between animals and humans, may finish this book teary-eyed.”
— Kirkus Reviews
“Mattie, Milo and Me is a warm memoir about a woman’s connection to—and transformation because of—her dog.”
— Foreword Reviews
“Abel debuts with a heart-warming memoir spotlighting the intense bond between dogs and their owners. . . . Animal lovers will relish the central role that Abel’s pets play in her wellbeing throughout the narrative.”
“A moving and fearless exploration of resilience, atonement, and the healing power of the link between people and their furry companions. Abel’s writing is both introspective and heart-wrenchingly honest.”
– The Book Revue
“Mattie, Milo, and Me began as the winning story at a Moth StorySLAM in NYC. The story of Anne and her dog Milo captured the hearts of the audience. She wrote this memoir to answer the many questions posed by people who wanted to know more. This is one of those books you won’t want to put down, but also one you won’t want to finish.”
— Inga Glodowski, The Moth
“I love Mattie, Milo, and Me. It had me laughing out loud—yet it’s so touching that it had me in tears, too. This book is brilliant. Anne’s joys and struggles are relatable. I learned a lot. I highly recommend Mattie, Milo, and Me.”
— Natalie Aronow, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine
“Mattie, Milo, and Me is a beautifully written book. This memoir takes you on an emotional ride. You’ll laugh, cry, and want to hug a dog by the end. A must-read.”
— Gary and Allie Vider, Metro Pets NYC
In an interview, Anne Abel can discuss:
- How pets can become essential companions in healing journeys, offering unconditional love and support
- The intimate and emotional stories of Mattie and Milo, and how these two special dogs helped her navigate grief and depression
- The complexities of adopting pets with undisclosed behavioral issues, highlighting the compassion and commitment required to nurture their well-being
- The profound influence of her challenging childhood on her storytelling, exploring how parental dynamics shaped her voice and narrative style
- Life lessons of love, loss, resilience and personal growth
- The transformative power of storytelling in connecting with others, finding laughter and creating a sense of community. Plus, the pivotal role that storytelling played in her life upon moving to Chicago and later to New York City
An Interview with
Tell us about your life before Mattie and Milo entered the picture.
My life before Mattie and Milo involved distracting my son from his lifelong quest to obtain a dog. Although his first word was “dog.” His first sentence was, “I want a dog.” But, I did not. Until he was 10, I was able to keep him content with caged and tanked creatures.
I was determined to be a different kind of parent than the parents I had. My mother and father each attempted to eliminate any individuality that I had. They wanted to shape me in a certain direction that suited their needs but had nothing to do with my interests or inclinations. My mother was harsh, dismissive and sarcastic with me. My father forbade me to speak at the dinner table and told me he had no interest in what I had to say. “I don’t want to talk to you,” he would say to me on the rare occasions that I tried to speak to him. So, I was determined to show interest in what my children had to say and to encourage them to develop and follow their interests.
My father worked next to an animal experimentation lab. One day when I was 7 he brought home a beagle puppy. “She Wore An Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” was a song playing on radios everywhere that summer. I named the dog Teeny. I loved Teeny. I loved cuddling him and loving him. Teeny slept in the kitchen, a gate separating him from the green carpeted dining room. One morning I came downstairs to say good morning to Teeny and found him in the dining room, and a big wet yellow spot on the rug. When my father came down and saw it, he hit Teeny on the nose several times and then took him into the kitchen, saying, “Bad dog, bad dog.” Then I heard him open the door to the basement and say “bad dog” again, before throwing Teeny down the basement stairs. I heard Teeny yelp. Next thing I knew my father was walking out the door with Teeny. “Your father is taking Teeny to the vet,” my mother said. That was the last time I heard the name “Teeny” spoken in my house by either my mother or my father. I never saw Teeny again. I was too afraid to ask what happened. I don’t remember when I realized Teeny had died. But all summer when I heard the “Yellow Polka Dot” song on the radio, I cried.
In childhood I did not feel liked, loved or welcomed by my parents. I was determined to let each of my sons experience those feelings that I had longed for. And, when I got Mattie and then Milo I was determined to let each of them be who they wanted and needed to be, to appreciate them for their traits, and to love them for who they were.
And then you became a pet parent to Mattie. Can you tell us about her?
Even though I dreaded getting a dog, I wanted to do it for my son. The day we went to meet Mattie, we were sent into the kitchen to wait for her. I was comatose, I so much did not want a dog. Then, a white ball of fluff came bounding up the stairs and into the middle of the room where we were standing. I fell to the floor, my arms wrapped around this bundle of energy. I was in love. For the seven years until she was accidently killed, Mattie was a living, breathing, love-giving, love-taking stuffed animal. She required nothing but love.
In your book, you describe the aftermath of Mattie’s unexpected death. Was it difficult for you to relive that time following this heartbreaking loss while writing your book?
I had processed the grief long before I wrote the book.
How did Milo find his way into your life?
When Mattie was killed, I knew I needed to replace her immediately to keep myself from falling into the abyss of depression. The next day I was with my family at the rescue meeting Milo. He was magnificently beautiful, had soulful eyes and was very mellow. He seemed like a good choice.
Your initial relationship with Milo turned out to be very difficult. What was it about him that didn’t make you throw your hands up in defeat and bring him back to the rescue?
I soon learned that he had been returned by several other families in his 18-month life. I could not bear to think of him sleeping on the bed of rags in his cage at the rescue. I could not bear the thought of driving him back there and seeing his reaction when he realized he was being returned, again. Milo did not ask to be born. It was not Milo’s fault that no one had taken the time to socialize him.
What life lessons did you learn from Milo?
One lesson that I learned was how important it is for every living being to be who he was meant to be and who he wants to be. Before Milo, I learned how to help each of my sons find their individual paths. Milo’s individual path was outside the realm of what I knew. I learned that sometimes it is important to consult an expert who can help figure out someone’s individual needs. I also learned that Milo needed to express himself by running wild in the woods every day.
At what point did you realize the pivotal role pet parenting played in your life and healing? Why did you want to share this story?
I wanted to share this story because I believe that Milo and Mattie deserve to be remembered for what they brought to my family and me. I hope that by sharing this story I could encourage other people to understand a little bit more about what different kinds of dogs can contribute to a meaningful life. An easy dog like Mattie brings comfort and joy and love. A difficult dog like Milo brings a different kind of satisfaction and love.
Do you currently have any pets?
I have two 14-year old bichons rescues, Chase and Megan, and a 19.5 year-old chihuahua rescue named Ryan. I got Ryan at the same rescue Milo came from, the day after Milo died. And, on December 29, 2023, Ryan married a 14-year-old 3.5 pound blind chihuahua from Russia. The caterers said it was the best event they had been to all year. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Photos and videos available upon request.
The original reason I had the wedding is that my daughter-in-law informed me in June that my 6-year-old granddaughter is no longer allowed to get a dress except for a wedding. And there are no more weddings in the family. And my granddaughter loves dresses. That got me thinking.
When Ryan’s health and my mobility began to deteriorate last winter, early spring while my husband, Andy, was still living in NYC and going to Philadelphia three nights a week to teach at the University of Pennsylvania, it became difficult if not impossible for me to take care of Ryan. We asked our dog-walker, Anna, if she could help out, and help out she did! The morning after she moved into her new apartment, we drove over with all of Ryan’s belongings. His bed, his bag of medicines, his food and his treats. There in the apartment to greet us was Anna’s 3.5 pound, blind, chihuahua, Africa. I had never seen such a tiny, energetic dog. (We now call her our little ballerina.) I don’t know if it was love at first meet for Africa and Ryan. Maybe it was that when Ryan stays over, Africa got treats because Ryan gets treats all the time at home, not something Anna ever did with Africa. But, personal growth is a good thing and I am happy to report that Anna says that she now gives Africa treats even when Ryan isn’t visiting. Whether it was instant love or not, it soon was true love. Anna told me that before Ryan, Africa had been afraid to go to the dog park at the top of their building because the air blower scared her. To be honest, it’s hard for me to imagine Africa afraid of anything. But, when Africa and Ryan went to the rooftop dog park together, Africa was so focused on listening to the jingle of Ryan’s tags so she could follow him and be with him, that she forgot about being afraid of the loud blower. If that isn’t love, what is? And, whenever Ryan returns from his visits with Anna and Africa, he is frisky, alert and very happy. Again, if that isn’t love what is?
So, I decided a wedding for Ryan and Africa on December 29, 2023, would be the perfect event for my granddaughter to get a dress. And as we got closer, the wedding took on a life of its own. I hired a caterer. Anna has friends who are a photographer and a balloonist. We had two 6-year-old two-legged bridesmaids. My 14-year-old bichon, Megan, was also a bridesmaid in a matching dress. My 9-year-old grandson was the ring bearer. At the end of the afternoon one of the caterers said, “This was the best event I have been to all year. You made my day!” I don’t remember having so much fun in a very long time. And the day after the wedding my granddaughter said, “Nana, this is the most beautiful dress I have ever seen.” So the wedding was a success all around.
What would you say to someone who generally isn’t a dog person? What can they take away from your book?
It would be hard to meet anyone who was less of a dog person than I was during the first 10 years of my son, Joseph’s, life. Not only was I not a dog person, I was emphatically anti-dog. Not only did I not have any interest in a dog, I imagined that all they did was ruin rugs, eat slippers, and require long walks on cold mornings. When I was driving in my warm car, I often felt very sorry for people I saw walking their dogs out in the cold. I just did not care about dogs. At friends’ houses I ignored their dogs, not wanting to pat them or be near their wet mouths and shedding fur.
One thing non-pet people can take from this book is that they may think they are not pet people because they are focusing on a negative aspect of pets, but when they get an animal they could find there are many characteristics to love.
Another thing non-pet people can take from his book is that all living beings – two and four-leggeds – are unique individuals and deserve to be known for who they are. It’s no more reasonable to say “I don’t like dogs” than it is to say “I don’t like people.” I loved Mattie for being the sweet lovable dog that she was. I loved Milo for being the adventurous, athletic, strong-willed dog that he was.
Can you discuss your beginnings in storytelling? What made you start?
When I moved to Chicago in 2016 due to my husband’s work, I realized it was 8 degrees, and I would be alone all week. I needed something to do in order not to fall into the abyss of depression. I tried improv and got kicked out of class after not too long. My dog walker told me about this thing called “storytelling,” something I had never heard of. I went to my first open mic and was surprised that the audience laughed and cheered. I was hooked. I began going to open mics telling stories that I had worked on. Soon people with curated shows were asking me to tell stories at their shows. Then an acquaintance said, “You’ve got to go to The Moth.” Believe it or not I had never heard of The Moth. I said I would go. Then the acquaintance said I had to tell a story there. I prepared a story, but thankfully my name was not picked from the basket. I went a couple more times and was called. It was amazing being on the stage. The lights were so bright I could not see the audience. I didn’t win the first couple of times, but I did pretty well. Then, in February 2018 I was chosen for the Love Hurts show. I told a story about my family of origin. And, I won. The following month, I went to another show, alone, on the spur of the moment. There were no more tickets, but they said if I got there early, I might be able to get one. So I got there at 4:30 p.m. for a 7 p.m. show and got in. My name was called last. I stumbled on my way up the stairs to the stage but didn’t fall. I told about my solo trip to Australia at the age of 60, to follow a Bruce Sprngsteen’s tour, when I had quit my job teaching at the Community College of Philadelphia after having one desk too many thrown at me. And, I won!
A few months later I moved to NYC. My goal was to win one Moth StorySLAM in NYC. So, in April, 2019, for the theme of Bamboozled, I told the story of Milo. And I won.
Do you ever encounter writer’s block?
All the time. In my childhood and in my upbringing, my father told me not to say anything. He said I had nothing interesting to say. When I sent him my first published piece he said, “I’ll read something you write when you win a Pulitizer.” My mother wouldn’t even acknowledge that I had sent her something I’d published. I have come to understand that these are some of the reasons I have found it difficult to write. When I know that there is someone who truly wants to know what I have to say about a certain topic, I often have more to say than I have room or time for.
What’s next for you?
In Fall 2025 my second memoir is being published by She Writes Press. After having one desk too many thrown at me at the Community College of Philadelphia where I had taught for five years, I walked out the door and thought, “I am never coming back.” But as soon as I was making a u-turn to go home I was panicking. I suffer from severe depression, and I was terrified of falling into the abyss once again. I needed a plan. I needed a project. As I was merging onto the expressway home, I thought, “I know, I’ll go to Australia and see Bruce Springsteen’s tour.” So, at the age of 60, even though I hate to travel and I hate to be alone, and a year earlier I had not even known what a Bruce Spingsteen was, I WENT!
A former award-winning journalist with national exposure, Marissa now oversees the day-to-day operation of the Books Forward author branding and book marketing firm, along with our indie publishing support sister company Books Fluent.
Born and bred in Louisiana, currently living in New Orleans, she has lived and developed a strong base for our company and authors in Chicago and Nashville. Her journalism work has appeared in USA Today, National Geographic and other major publications. She is now interviewed by media on best practices for book marketing.