In 2010 I ﬂew from Denver, Colorado, to Lubbock, Texas, to visit a farm that was sheltering a litter of newborn puppies who needed homes. One of the ﬁve-week-old, caramel-faced babies caught my attention by being the calmest, so I named her Carmella, because of her coloring and her mellow demeanor. Even though my sweet Mella just turned 12 years old, I remember so vividly those ﬁrst days with her, as I bottle-fed her and watched her fall asleep in my arms.
Life then looked nothing like it does now, with long, thankless days spent working at a design agency. During the week, the only quality time I had with Mella was when we went on quick runs on my lunch breaks or took late-night walks, and it took an emotional toll on both of us. Weekends were dedicated to her. We went camping and hiking as much as possible, always getting out to explore somewhere new, and that’s when my interest in photography ﬁrst sparked.
From behind a lens, I discovered a voice I didn’t know I had, and as my confidence and style bloomed, I turned into a diﬀerent version of myself. I fell in love with photography as a form of expression and soon amassed a following on social media that made me think, “Maybe I could do this as a full-time job.” I could work as much or as little as I wanted and pioneer a stylistic path for myself, all the while having Mella at my side. I quit the agency grind and wholly changed the pace of my life, and immediately I noticed a shift in Mella’s mood as she walked with her nub of a tail wagging and the happiest pep in her step. Pursuing photography was, without a doubt, the best choice I ever made — for both of us.
Mella has been an incredible adventure partner from the beginning; wherever I was going, she was going, too. Our first big road trip together started in Los Angeles, California, and took us up the Pacific coast to Seattle, Washington, and while it was a pain lugging around her food and ﬁguring out dog-friendly places to stay, we quickly found our groove and had a lot of fun together. As I started working on bigger projects, the trips we took were even more epic, and Mella has joined me in trains, planes, boats, and canoes as we traveled across the United States, drove through the Canadian Rockies, visited Iceland — twice — and so much more.
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I felt terrible when I had jobs where Mella couldn’t join me. I remember when I ﬁrst left on an eight-day shoot, and how Mella understood that I was going and that she would stay behind. She knew the instant I brought out a suitcase and didn’t say anything to her that I was out the door and that she’d be taken care of by my friends; after that, leaving her never got any easier on me. Fortunately for Mella and me, my career has stabilized to a point where I can travel if I want to or stay put, which is a much healthier way of life for both of us; I get a routine and she gets more quality time with me. We still adventure from time to time and go on road trips, but she’s showing her age and it’s not as easy as it used to be. Sometimes it makes me sad, but when I look back on the crazier times that she and I have shared, I can’t help but smile.
I remember when I was dead broke, living in a dark and dingy apartment in Denver, and I couldn’t afford dog food for a week or two, so Mella and I ate peanut butter sandwiches together for every meal, and her smile got me through that tough time. She was happy with so little if it meant that she was spending time with me. I felt like I had failed her, but it motivated me to pick a diﬀerent career — one where I could make the rules — and her inﬂuence and character brought me out of a rough patch and into a new life. She’ll never know how much that meant to me.
She’ll also never understand how she made me a better person, no matter how many times I try to tell her. Mella taught me about responsibility, compassion, patience, empathy, trust, care, and grace, and she’s always stayed by my side through long-distance moves to new cities, huge career changes, horrible heartbreaks, and whatever else came our way. As the world changed around us, together we adapted, rolling with the punches and turning lemons into lemonade.
This life has been wild, sweet, and everything in between, but having Mella at my side has made it that much sweeter.
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