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Unwanted Shelter Dog Becomes Lifesaver
by Glenda M. Locke
Oak Ridger staff

She is just a small mixed-breed dog, short of stature, ordinary in looks, but beneath her fur beats the heart of a hero.

Melmo Varnell is a small mixed-breed dog that belongs to William and Linda Varnell of Oak Ridge. She obviously has some terrier in her background, perhaps some feist, but mostly she is all heart.

You see, Melmo has taught her herself to alert Linda when she is about to have a grand mal seizure. Without Melmo, Linda would have a restrictive, unsafe life lived in fear.

Melmo started life as a refugee from the Oak Ridge Animal Shelter. She had been adopted, but her new owner couldn't manage her. He was about to return her to the shelter, when he thought of his friends William and Linda, who had just lost a dog.

It was not a perfect fit immediately. Melmo was headstrong and liked to run way. In fact, the couple had to chase her down and rescue Melmo from the Oak Ridge Turnpike.

Soon after the chase, however, a bond began to form between Linda and Melmo. "I think she just sensed I was a human to be trusted," Linda said. "I reckon we bonded pretty quickly."

Within a week Melmo was walking on a leash and was housebroken. Within two weeks she was obeying simple commands.

But her biggest test was still ahead.

Linda has hormone-based grand mal seizures that often occur dramatically and rapidly with little or no warning. One day when she was home with Melmo, one of the terrifying attacks occurred and frightened the small dog badly. She ran to Linda's side and began licking her face and snuggling as closely as she could to her. It was a sight she was not to forget.

William took over the story at that point.

"About 15 minutes before Linda had her next seizure Melmo began circling around her, walking between her legs, whining and pawing at her," he said.

"I had started to feel strange," Linda said. "I laid down. I knew something wasn't right."

Melmo followed Linda to the bed and lay right atop Linda. She refused to get down or move. Seconds later, Linda had another terrifying seizure.

Now Melmo always let Linda know when a seizure is imminent, making it possible for Linda to lead a more normal life. Now she can drive, use the mixer or sewing machine and shop -- all things she was nervous about doing before the advent of Melmo.

"She is just a remarkable little dog," William said. She has received an honorable mention award from the Tennessee Veterinary Association as Dog of the Year and she is now recognized as a certifiable service dog, complete with her own identification card.

When she is near Linda, and she is always near Linda, Melmo watches over her carefully, with her eyes rarely leaving Linda's face.

"The relationship we have is hard to describe," Linda said, stroking the small dog. "She is a very important member of our family. I took her because I thought she was getting a raw deal, but it turned out that I got a deal when I got her. My life would be so uncertain without Melmo."

Glenda Locke can be reached at 220-5505 or

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