Here’s one reader — Jasper the Lab — who really devoured my book…. Sent in by his owner Liam O’Connell, who is in the Coast Guard in the Houston-Galveston area. What’s funny is that Jasper is not alone. Dozens — yes, dozens! — of people have sent me similar photos over the past year.
Archive for November, 2006
My book is filled with mostly funny stories about Marley’s over-the-top, wildly energetic antics. But behind every funny story is a sad reality: There are many, many Marleys out there — and many of them end up in shelters and rescues, abandoned by owners who have given up on them. Many of these dogs are purebreds that the owners, just months earlier, spent hundreds of dollars for. And now the animals are in cages, free to whoever has the fortitude to bring them home and try to overcome whatever “issues” led to the animals’ abandonment in the first place.
The silver lining to this sad phenomenon, of course, are the saints who rescue these abandoned dogs. I hear the success stories every day. Just yesterday I opened a letter from a woman named Pearl in Arizona, who rescued a yellow Lab with many of Marley’s qualities from a neglectful environment and gave her the secure, loving home every pet deserves. Now the two of them have happily grown old together.
Writes Pearl: “She is my yelow Lab and she knows exactly what I want her to do by looking in my eyes. She is my love. I am 82 years old and Molly turned ten in June. My prayer is that she passes away on a Saturday — and I pass away on Sunday.” I thought that was very sweet.
Not long after reading Pearl’s letter, I opened this email from Chuck T. in Atlanta, who found love at an animal shelter. I think his letter speaks volumes about the special joy in giving a rescue dog a second shot at a good life. Here’s what Chuck wrote:
Dear Mr. Grogan,
My heart was broken at having to put our 11-year old golden retriever,Bonnie, to sleep because of a rectal tumor which literally made itself apparent in a couple of days. Surgery would have been tortuous, and her complete recovery was tenuous at best. We literally had hours to say our goodbyes.
So, we were “dogless.” After years of adopting abandoned or otherwise homeless retrievers through a retriever rescue association here in Georgia, falling hopelessly in love with these beasts, and having to nurse them through the last days of their lives, we just didn’t have the hearts to go through all of it again.
Several months after losing Bonnie, I happened to go to our county-operated animal control kennel to adopt a cat as a surprise gift for my daughter, Angela. The section of the kennel devoted to cats and kittens was jammed with visitors, so I decided to just walk through the stray dog section. After a few minutes of walking down the row of cages and having to listen to all the interminable barking and yelping, I came up on a cage containing the most quiet, handsome Yellow Labrador I’d ever seen. He was huge. But he sat on his haunches looking me straight in the eye. He wasn’t barking or acting at all nutty.
I inquired at the front desk about “the lab in cage number 58.” The kennel employee said, he was picked up as a stray and had been there for 4 weeks. He was scheduled to be euthanized that weekend. I went back to cage number 58, and he was still sitting on his haunches and continued to stare me down. I put my hand inside the cage and his tail started flopping.
I got on the phone and called my wife of 28 years, Jeani, and said, “I’m out here at Gwinnett County Animal Shelter and you need to know I’ve fallen in love…with a male.” I told her that I couldn’t leave here knowing they’d euthanize him in a matter of a day or two, that he was a handsome devil and seemed gentle and calm.
So, I executed the appropriate paper work; paid the fee for his having been “de-nutted,” and went out to my car to retrieve Bonnie’s choke chain and leash which I had placed in the trunk of my car after leaving the vets office where she had been put to sleep months before.
I walked out with this yet-to-be-named large, lean, yellow lab, and drove home. Well, Jeani and Angela fell in love with him, too, within minutes of meeting him.
Fast forward two days: After a short period of getting to know the lay of the land, “Carter” soon revealed his true nature. He’s a big, rambunctious, gooney bird, who’s as affectionate as he is crazy…whose flapping tail could practically be classified a lethal weapon and which has jettisoned more coffee cups, coke cans, and vases off of table tops than I can count. I’m six feet tall. So, when I lift Carter up by his front paws, he can literally stand nose-to-nose with me. Kitchen counters with plates of grilled chicken breasts are no problem for him to access. He loves children and hates cats. He’ll bark ferociously when the front door bell is rung and he’ll run like banshee from hell across the foyer floor, sliding to a loud crash against the front door. He has chewed up patio chair cushions, the handles on two guitar cases, brand new pairs of tennis shoes, leather dress shoes, and Angela’s prized volley ball. He’s chewed the heads off of her favorite stuffed animals. We actually caught him just in the nick of time removing the cushions from our family room couch and spreading them out on the floor in what we suspect would have been a major chewing frenzy.
Carter is a total nut case, but we love him just the same. He follows Jeani around the house like her shadow. He’ll lie on the family room floor next to me and toss one of his huge paws across my face or chest, his tail pounding like a large club. When I rub him above his ears, he emits a low groan of happiness, and will strike me with his paw when I stop. When I come home from work, he’s at the door greeting me with whimpers, quiet, little yelps, and that ever-flapping tail. We are not his owners: he owns us.
When I read what you went through in putting Marley down, I knew precisely where you were. One never thinks of becoming that attached to a creature that is totally nuts. But we do, don’t we? They steal our hearts and never give them back. And we experience the same pain when they leave us we do when we lose a human friend or relative.
Because Carter was a stray — we suspect his first owner dumped him, collar-less because of his nuttiness — the kennel employees and our vet estimated his age at about 3 (people)years. We’ve had him now almost 2 years, so he’s approaching 5 years of age. We hope we’ll have many years of him in our lives.
Thanks so much for putting down in words what those of us who have nutty, yet loving dogs experience but can’t quite express. I received my copy of Marley and Me from relatives who own a golden retriever in the final years of her life. They told me,”This story will mean a lot to you.”
I suppose if there is a social good to come out of Marley & Me, it is the reassurance it gives other pet owners that their dogs really aren’t that bad after all. I went through Marley’s 13-year life thinking he was uniquely challenged — truly the world’s worst dog. But since then, I have heard from many, many Lab owners with frighteningly similar stories about their own dogs. The exuberance, the hyperactivity, the dense inability to concentrate or settle down. Those letters have helped me realize Marley wasn’t nuts; he was just a high-spirited, wildly energetic Lab. In turn, my book seems to be offering context to dog owners around the world — especially Lab owners — who are at the ends of their ropes wtih incorrigible pooches. They read about Marley and realize things could be much worse.
This letter just came in from the United Kingdom from reader Sarah Cook, owner of a nutty chocolate Lab named (what else?) Marley, who has driven her to the brink:
In October 2005 my husband Nick and I, and our two sons Mason and Josh, visited a Lab breeder. We returned with a beautiful chocolate lab that we named Marley.
Our Marley is beautiful, loving, kind, devoted and you’ve guessed it, a hyperactive, shoe eating, passport chewing, toy-thieving, chaos-causing, liability!
This summer a friend bought me your book. At the time I was despairing, convinced that we had failed Marley, the dog we all adored, and wondering which way to turn. Your book made me laugh and cry, but more than that made me realise that we weren’t the only ones to love an attention-deficit dog. It helped me to appreciate Marley’s great points and also to retain my sense of humour when he ate a friend’s passport (given to me for safekeeping), dove into a swimming pool full of kids (at a friends party) or stole my underwear out of the washing basket and came to the front door to greet the postman with my knickers on his head.
I am now reconciled to the fact that although Marley is growing up there are many bad habits he may never grow out of. He will probably continue to drive us mad, but without him our lives would be far poorer.
Thank you for sharing your experiences with your Marley, it is a very special book which has been read, reread and shared with our kids who loved it and laughed continually whilst hugging our Marley and telling him “see he’s just like you.” Marley & Me will always have a special place on my bookshelf (or at least it will until my Marley eats it or possibly the bookshelf!
Dear Sarah, I’m glad I could be there for you to show you that, indeed, you don’t have the world’s worst dog. I smile knowing your Marley is carrying on my Marley’s life mission across the Atlantic Ocean.
Since Marley & Me was published a little over a year ago, I have heard from thousands of people from all over the world who have shared the painful experience of having to say goodbye to a beloved family pet. This email, from a woman named Maggie somewhere in America, just arrived today. She wrote to me, “I lost our own hound the other day and find myself thinking a lot about your Marley as well as our own Rascal. I am happy to learn that there are many ‘bad dogs’ who are absolutely adored by their families.”
She then attached the note she sent out to friends and relatives about Rascal’s death. I thought it was worth sharing, not only for the affection and honest emotion she conveys, but for the wise and funny lessons she took from her special pooch.
This is the note Maggie sent out:
> With sorrow, I would like to share the news of our dear old dog
> Rascal’s passing on to hound heaven. After a few questionable early
> years of life on the streets, Rascal joined our
> family and remained a part of it for 12 years. We loved him. He was a
> part of our family and we all miss him.
> Rascal had his faults, but he also had good beagle-ish sensibilities,
> and while he might not be the first to come to mind as a role model,
> in many ways he was right on target. Please bear with me…
> Lessons from Rascal
> * An early life of crime doesn’t make you a criminal forever.
> * It really is better to be lucky than smart.
> * Weight maintenance food isn’t as bad as it sounds.
> * Know what’s worth fighting for…go ahead and kick ass for a chocolate
> croissant – not so much for a green froot loop.
> * Little kids are more fun than grown-ups.
> * The best thing about moving from the country to the city are
> restaurants within walking distance to your house.
> * If someone you love is accidentally hurting you, scream like crazy
> until they stop and then smother them with kisses to prove that there
> are no hard feelings.
> * Stoicism is way overrated and boring.
> * Hungry dogs steal food.
> * A sense of humor is usually more important than your dignity.
> * Love your family with all of your beagle-mix heart, and if you think
> someone is threatening your loved ones, find your inner pit bull and use it until
> you are absolutely sure that everyone is safe.
> He was a very good dog in every way that mattered. Rest happy dear friend.