I started bugging my husband for a puppy in February ’04. My mom had just passed away and I was feeling pain unlike any I’d ever experienced. I thought a pet would help the healing process. “Besides,” I reasoned, “every house needs a dog. It will be great for the kids.” Tom looked into my sad eyes, then at the shiny, nearly scratch-free hardwood that covers most of our first floor, again into my eyes, then at the spotless green carpet in the den. It was a difficult concept for Felix Unger to wrap his head around. Finally, worn down, he said that we could take a ride out to Apollo, PA to “take a look” at a male cockapoo puppy.
I remember thinking to myself during the long drive that there was no way Tom would give in to the idea of a puppy. Too much work. Too destructive. Peeing. Pooping. Biting. Chewing. Barking. There was no way. No way in hell!
When we pulled into the breeder’s driveway, she came outside and passed a curly, blond, blanketed bundle to me through the passenger window. I could barely look. I didn’t want to get my heart broken by getting involved with this little creature I knew I wasn’t going to be taking home. Then I heard something whispered from the backseat. “Dad…Dad…can we get him?” said fifteen year old Ali. She was grinning and her eyes were sparkling. I looked over at Tom. He was smitten too. What in the world? This was actually happening? Cash passed from Tom’s hands, to mine and out the window to the breeder. We were doing everything wrong. We hadn’t gone inside to check things out, we didn’t see the puppy’s parents…we hadn’t even opened the blanket to see if he had all four legs for crying out loud. It didn’t matter. We were in love. Our “deal” complete, we headed for home.
Ali named the puppy “Marley” after her favorite singer, Bob Marley. This was before that “other” Marley came along. You know, the Jennifer Aniston version. Our Marley was an original. We got him an itsy bitsy stuffed soccer ball because that’s what Bob liked to play. And our new doggy got a tiny little collar with red, yellow and green stripes so he could properly represent Jamaica. I think Ali would have given him dreadlocks too if she could have…but you have to draw the line somewhere.
Marley was an instant hit, with the family, with friends, with Ali’s entire softball team; basically with just about everyone he met. He was a darling looking little puppy with shiny black eyes and an equally shiny big black nose. His little stub of a tail never stopped wagging. But it was his personality that made him so dear. He was friendly, sweet and as silly as could be. He oozed happiness and joy. He helped so much to ease my grief. He was comical and clownish and just so doggone cute. I remember one evening when I was thinking about Mom and feeling particularly down. I heard a noise and looked into Marley’s crate. There he was, scaling the side of his pen like he was King Kong climbing the empire state building. I couldn’t help but laugh. He made me laugh a lot.
Somewhere along the line, our pup became Marley AKA MarPar, Marley Poo or Baby dog. I’ve always had a soft spot for the name Baby dog. And I sure developed a soft spot for this little guy. I had him all to myself during the daytime and we spent a lot of time hanging out together. We would curl up in the middle of Tom’s and my king sized bed with our heads on the pillows and blanket pulled up around us and we’d just talk. Sometimes we’d talk about puppy stuff but mostly we talked about mom and how much I missed her and about how much she loved doggies and how she would have especially loved this little doggy. Baby dog was a great listener from the very beginning. He would lay in my arms and make wonderful “people-eyes” eye contact and bat his incredibly long blond eyelashes as I told him things I never told anyone else, ever. When things got heavy, he’d lick away my tears and when things were lighthearted we’d just lay there and “sing”. Sometimes ya just gotta howl. He took on his role as grief counselor with great enthusiasm and he was a wonderful secret keeper.
Tonight, a little over seven years later, my darling Baby dog lays on the floor beside me, stricken with a very aggressive form of cancer. Today’s not been a good day. Neither was yesterday or the day before. The cancer is winning and I feel we’re entering the final chapter. Marley is still an adorable curly blond fur baby but his eyes are sometimes sad now and his ravenous appetite for food and fun diminished. He can’t get comfortable and spends most of the time trying to sleep. I know that the difficult decision that most pet owners must eventually make (and dread) is right around the corner for us and it’s probably going to be one of the worst days in our life as a family. My heart that once felt like it would burst with happiness at his puppy antics now feels like it’s going to cave in from the sorrow. I say the Serenity Prayer and tell myself we’ve done everything humanly possible to help him.
A few nights ago, Marley and I replayed one of our old rituals. We laid in the middle of the king sized bed with our heads on the pillows and the blanket pulled up and had ourselves a long talk. He made that wonderful eye contact for which he’s famous as I stroked him and fingered his curls and marveled that the chemo hadn’t shortened those eyelashes any. I told him that I wished he could tell me what to do for him and that I hoped he knew how much I loved him and was going to miss him. I told him that he was the best little dog a person could ever hope to have and that he did a wonderful job getting me through the most difficult time of my life. And that’s when it hit me. Marley had been given a job to do and he had done it, better than any other doggy on earth could’ve possibly done. His work here had been completed. And now it was time for me to accept the reality of his illness and to do the best thing…the most LOVING thing I could do…quit fighting this damn disease and let him go.
When the time comes, it’s going to be one of the most heart wrenching moments of my life. But, you know what? I’d rather have had these seven years with Marley (and his cancer) than to have never known such a sweet pup. I know he’ll be well cared for when he leaves us because he’s got a pretty cool grandma waiting to meet him on the other side. He’s heard a lot about her!