Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Goodbye, Marley

That is a picture of an adorable golden retriever puppy exhibiting some of his tireless energy.  It was taken ten years ago and up until a little over a week ago the same dog could usually be seen doing pretty much the exact same thing, except he was a lot bigger.  I don't have my own dog.  I haven't since my old childhood dog Shannon died while I was in my last semester of college, at the ripe old age of 13-and-a-half. 

My sister and my brother-in-law adopted Marley just a few months later.  They had just moved into a new house in New Hampshire from their suburban first-floor split level rental in Malden.  Jeff's parents never let him have a dog, and Katy grew up mostly having a dog in the house.  So they found a litter of puppies, picked out the one with the orange thing tied to his collar because he was the one who followed them around the most, and brought him home.  I used to "babysit" him when he was a puppy and before they even had kids for me to babysit for. 

They went to the effort to train him and for the most part he was an obedient and easy-to-live with dog.  I don't ever recall hearing of him chewing anything up.  They never gave him people food so he never expected it or tried to steal it off the table.  He never tried to run away because he just loved being around his people so much. 

His only bad habit was that he went absolutely bonkers anytime anyone new showed up at the house.  Now, he didn't bark or jump up on people, he'd just run up to you and sort of spin around in circles, step on your feet a couple of times and maybe eventually sit on your feet and pretty much convulse because he was just so happy to see you.  Most of us had adapted our own version of the Marley defense stance to prepare for his imminent, ecstatic greeting.  Except of course if his "dad" was home, in which case he would do his best to pretend he wasn't going to launch himself at your feet but you could tell it was taking every ounce of his control to remain somewhat calm. 

In spite of his craziness he usually wasn't completely out of control.  This is his baby sister, Moira, when Marley was only about a year and a half old.  To be fair, once the kids got older he'd been known to accidentally knock them over in a fit of running in circles all over the house in the excitement of a new visitor.  We all thought that once he got older he might calm down a little.  He never did.  If anything I swear two weeks ago when I went to watch my nephew and Marley came to meet me at the door he was even more crazy than usual.  He did always eventually calm down though so you could visit in peace, it was just the initial greeting.

In fact, about three weeks ago we were at the lake house and my brother had had some friends stay over after a nearby wedding, and when Marley arrived with my sister and there were six new people in the kitchen he was just running all over the place and sliding all over the wood floor, so excited and undecided as to which person he wanted to say hi to first since he was so overwhelmed. 

When Marley was about three, we became neighbors, so I got to see him a lot.  It was great, having lots of the benefits of having a dog without all of the responsibilities of having a dog.  I'd see him outside when I ran by and of course he was there every time I visited them.  He would also sometimes sleep over if his family was going away for a night or two. 

He was a lot of fun when they brought him to the lake when all of us were there.  He learned to love jumping off the dock into the water, which he would only do really if someone else was in there and he seemed to think they needed "saving."  Except one time he went up in November and jumped off the dock in his excitement and I'm assuming the shock of that one meant he wanted to see a human enjoying the water first to make sure it was warm enough.  Just last month I was outside with Marley and my niece and nephew watching them blow bubbles and watching Marley put in extensive effort to try and 'catch' every single one. 

He even went on the boat and enjoyed standing up front and catching the wind in his face.  That all ended when my dad bought the Chris Craft in 2006 and Dad was not that interested in having a dog in his nice, new boat (to be fair, the first week we had it Dad promptly spilled a huge cup of coffee all over the rug) but he still loved the lake. 

He loved to eat snow being shoveled, too.  I guess he did have one other flaw, and that was he was awful on a leash.  I mean, you could go almost anywhere with him and he'd stay right by your side, but if you put a leash on him all he wanted to do was pull you around.  To demonstrate this, last year when I picked him up to watch him Timberman weekend my sister told me to just look at him there in front of us, not going anywhere, perfectly content.  She clipped the leash to his collar and immediately started pulling her to the end of the driveway.  It's like he assumed having the leash on Timberman expo that afternoon on my way to the lake house.  My arms were sore the next day from reining him in. 

He had a gentle leader, which any other dog owners probably know is a leash that actually attaches to the dogs' snout.  It looks sort of like a muzzle, so once or twice when I brought him hiking with me and would pass people coming in the other direction they would assume he was vicious and it was keeping him from biting.  I don't think Marley ever bit anyone.  But at least he couldn't pull the leash too hard. 

As Marley got older, his fur got whiter and he looked a lot older but we always talked about how he just wouldn't slow down.  He was still as excited as a puppy and never had any physical problems.  So last week when my sister mentioned he hadn't been eating and wasn't feeling well I didn't think that much of it.  I was going to ride with Katy and Jeff to this open house thing at my brother's office last week so I went to their house to meet them and my mom was going to watch the kids. 

Upon my arrival, Marley did not immediately rush up to greet me at the door.  Katy and Jeff were still upstairs so I thought maybe he was up there with them.  Then I saw Moira in the kitchen and walked in to see Marley lying on the floor in the doorway to the next room, barely lifting his head to see what was going on.  Immediately I knew there was something drastically wrong with him.  He eventually decided to stand up and come see me and my mom, who might have been standing three feet from him and he had a terrible time standing, an even worse time walking to us, and his feet were slipping out from underneath him as he struggled just to sit at our feet.  He all-but collapsed. 

My sister came downstairs and said he had gotten dramatically worse just since that morning and it was decided that he would go to the vet that night.  I didn't think he'd make it until morning if he didn't see someone right away, although looking at him even then I figured this was probably it.  It was about 5:15 and he got an appointment at 7 so we went to the open house and my mom was going to take him in and we'd meet her there.  It took a minute or so to drag Marley to his feet so he'd go outside to pee, which he finally did and it was basically rust-colored which also of course did not seem to be a good sign.

When we arrived the kids were sitting in the waiting area and I sat with them while Katy and Jeff went in to my mom and Marley.  They had no idea what was going on and they asked me really important questions like, "Was Indiana Jones based on a true story?"  And, "Do you think anyone has ever built a real lightsaber?"  The minutes ticked by and I pretty much knew once again that this was probably it. 

Then my mom came around the corner with tears in her eyes and said, "Do you want to come say goodbye to your dog?"  Moira, who is 9, couldn't believe it.  Conor, who is 5, really had no idea what was going on and actually provided some much needed comic relief by blurting out random, funny things to ease the tension during this difficult moment.  My sister mentioned something about him going to sleep and Conor said, "He's gonna sleep here?"  And my mom said, "No, he's going to heaven with Papa."  

Marley was still just lying on the floor looking so sad and in pain.  He was almost like a zombie, not really that interested in being petted, not wagging his tail at the attention.  I never had to say goodbye to a dog before.  I petted him and then Moira came down to pet him and then Conor blurted out, "What, just pets and no huggies?"  So Moira gave him a hug and then Conor got down on the floor and gave him a hug, still really not showing any sign of knowing what was really going on and then me and Mom took the kids home while Katy and Jeff stayed with Marley in his final moments. 

Apparently he had liver failure.  Possibly he had cancer and a tumor that caused it, but it doesn't really matter.  It was amazing how quick that happened.  Like I said, less than a week earlier I'd been there and Marley was his usual, jubilant self.  Flipping out when I got there and making it very difficult for me and Conor to play Operation when he went to lie down on top of the game board.  He ran up the stairs when we went up there, ran down when I was leaving.  I suppose it's good that he didn't suffer long, and it wasn't one of those on the fence thing where you're not really sure if he still has some quality of life left, but still, it was an amazing shock.  We all expected to see him start limping around a bit in his old age before something like this happened. 

So Marley is gone and almost the minute we left the vet and weren't even in the car yet Moira asked, "Can we get a puppy?"  No word yet on any decisions there.  Probably a bit too early to jump into things.  It was so strange though to go over there for dinner the next night and not have Marley come rushing to greet me at the door.  Although for once I didn't have to contemplate which clothes to wear over there that I would not mind getting covered in dog hair and/or possible dog drool.  He was a great dog and we'll all miss him a lot. 

How cute is that puppy?  Anyway, I know this blog has become a serious downer.  Training starts officially next week and hopefully I'll have other things to write about that are more in the spirit of why I started writing this in the first place.  It's a long way to Ironman Texas and we can probably think of the next seven and a half months as my last chance workout.  Almost time to get serious!  Although I will say that this morning when it was pouring rain and dark and there was even a thunderstorm going on I did not so much mind not having a workout that I absolutely needed to get done. 


  1. so sad. and at the same time a wonderful tribute.
    waiting right now for my friend to go with her to take her furry friend for his last trip to the vet - i know....
    love to you.

  2. My beloved Kota, a Bernese Mountain Dog passed away last March ( we had to put him down, cancer), he was my first child and he was greatly loved by myself and my 4 kids. There will be no replacing Marley or Kota, dogs are so amazing and provide such unconditional love. I am so sorry for your families loss and especially for the kids. Lots of hugs to go around. that being said, keep these pictures handy and tell lots of Marley stories, it really helps the sadness.