Jodi's Reviews > Marley and Me: Life and Love With the World's Worst Dog

Marley and Me by John Grogan
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's review
Nov 01, 08

bookshelves: memoirs, read-it-saw-the-movie, dogs
Recommended for: Dog lovers
Read in November, 2008

I've had this book on my to-read list a long time because I'm such a dog lover but never got around to it until after my dog died 11 days ago. This book was wonderful for helping me look back at the life of my dog with fond memories and to be able to laugh at all of his short-comings. The last few chapters were hard to read because I so recently went through all of the challenges with an older dog and then losing him so suddenly to a devastating illness.
Instead of talking about Marley, I would like to use this space to reflect on life and love with my dog, Charlie. After 6 months of marriage, my husband finally agreed to a dog. I knew I wanted a small dog so a shih tzu was the preferred breed. We also wanted an older dog so no house-training would be involved, and we liked the thought of rescuing a homeless dog. These 3 things led us to Charlie. The lady who was fostering him had him a few days when she received our call and all she could tell us was he was found wandering around outside by a couple who turned him over to the rescue group. The foster mom was a waitress down the street from where we lived so she would bring him to work at Ryan's Steakhouse! It was a pleasant spring day and he was in the car when we arrived. The lady gave us the keys to her car and told us to go see him. When we got to this huge boat of a car from the 70's we found a little cage in the backseat with a tiny, frightened dog huddled as far back in it as he could go. We had to drag him out against his will he was so scared. As soon as I was really able to see him, I knew he needed us. He was painfully thin -you could see his entire rib cage and his backbone stuck out sharply (We weighed him after we had him for 3 days and he had eaten a ton of food. He was 11 pounds - the vet told us later he should weigh 18 pounds for his size!! He was almost 50% underweight the poor guy!). Not only was he too skinny, he was stinky and he had been shaved to an almost furless state -you could see the brown and pink splotches of his skin. He was the most pathetic and ugliest dog we had ever seen. We named him Charlie on the spot after the Charlie Brown Christmas tree. Remember? Charlie Brown picked out the ugliest, scrawniest tree on the lot and everybody laughed at him. That is what our dog looked like! However, we knew that with a little love our dog could be beautiful just like the Christmas tree at the end of the movie! In about 6 months he was handsome and fairly healthy!
Charlie and I bonded immediately -I wanted a lap dog and I sure got one. However, he was terrified of my husband. We figured he must have been abused by a man at some point. After loving Charlie for a full 3 days, I had fallen head in heals in love with him, but I had to go back to work. He managed to keep his dirty little secret from us until after I was smitten and left for work. He suffered from extreme separation anxiety -shortly after being left he would pace frantically and lose control of all his bodily functions. After peeing and pooping, he would continue to pace furiously until he collapsed from sheer exhaustion. The first time I came home to this, I thought he had exploded because he had poop everywhere on him and the cage - even the top of it! We took him to several vets, a dog trainer, and tried "doggie downers" for him (aka clomipromine). It was even suggested that we should see if we could get him enrolled as a case study at Tufts University (too far -we lived in Ohio at the time)! My husband was ready to get rid of him after a few weeks of the poo-poo problem but I refused. We were hoping to have children at the time and I pointed out that what if we had a special needs child -would we get rid of him or her too? I began to think of Charlie as a "special needs" dog and we found ways to make his daily bath (sometimes twice or thrice daily bath) easier. We learned shredded newspaper in the bottom of the cage is better than flat. I also learned to let him soak in the utility sink in the basement with warm soapy water while I scrubbed his cage. He was very sweet so we tolerated his short-comings.
Like Marley, Charlie was frightened by thunder storms and had medication to be given a half hour before the storm. However, he was usually panting frantically before we even realized a storm was coming. He became a pretty good weather man -almost like clockwork about 35 minutes into his pacing, we could hear the first rumble of thunder! Charlie also had to adjust to babies in the house just like Marley and he did well. My husband brought home a blanket each time for Charlie to smell before bringing the baby home and he never thought it was too big of a deal. Having babies in the house just meant that when they were a little bigger, he had extra food to scarf up off of the floor. He was always present under the high chair at meal times. Nap times Charlie always went into our room and napped right along with my children.
Charlie was a great traveler too. Because of his separation anxiety we took him along with us whenever we could. With babies came the stroller, and this made life great for Charlie -suddenly we had a way to sneak him into so many more places with us. As long as he was with us in the basket at the bottom of the stroller, he would curl up and go to sleep! We just threw a blanket over the top of him and no one knew! Charlie went shopping with us many times at the mall, K-mart, and Wal-mart. No one ever knew he was there except for the one time we at lunch at the food court - he kept sticking his head out because he could smell the food. We ate quickly and got out of there! We also snuck him into many hotels whether they allowed pets or not. We had a special duffel bag we would put him in to carry him past the front desk. He was a quiet dog and well-behaved as long as he was with his pack! We never had a single problem in all of the places we took him.
The separation anxiety improved once I became a stay-at-home mom, and got even better when poor Charlie became totally blind and deaf. After these senses left, we could leave him with no problem and stopped giving him so many baths. He just slept and never missed us. The poor guy had glaucoma in both eyes and eventually had two surgeries two years apart to remove them and ease his discomfort. I have met other one-eyed dogs before but never a no-eyed dog! People who didn't know him would do a double-take because when they looked at his furry face they knew something was wrong but couldn't figure it out. It was kind of nice to give a bath to a no-eyed dog because no worry about getting soap in his eyes!
In the last three years or so with him, we knew he was declining but nothing too worrisome until last spring. My husband was out of town, and the dog just didn't seem right. I was busy with two young children so I let him sleep until my children were in bed. Then I woke him to go outside. He couldn't stand up - his left legs kept collapsing and his head was hanging to the left. When he did manage to take a step or two, he circled to the left. I immediately thought he had had a stroke and cried all night for my furry baby. He didn't seem to be in pain so I didn't call the vet until they opened in the morning. The vet got me in ASAP and I was prepared to hear the worse. I had even prepared my children for what I thought was coming. However, like Marley who got a second chance, so did Charlie. The poor dog had a horrible ear infection and his equilibrium was off. I was so happy to take him back home and just give him medicine. In a few days he was fine.
Twelve days ago I knew something wasn't right again. I knew he was headed downhill (he was 105 in dog years) but he was still eating, and making it outside so we just kept plodding along. Again my husband was out of town and Charlie was up pacing ALL NIGHT. I tried everything I could -took him outside 3 times, put him in bed with me, put him out of bed, talked to him, stroked him but nothing worked. Finally at 4:30am I put him in the bathroom and closed the door so I could get some sleep. When I got up around 7am he was still pacing. I put him outside again and got the kids ready for school. I put him back in the bedroom (where he lived due to his complete blindness) and took the kids to school. When I got home I saw a huge smashed pile of poop all over the tile in the bathroom. AHHHHH! While cleaning it up Charlie continued pacing but I noticed at times he was dragging his back leg. I called the vet and had an appointment set for a few hours later. The vet said he wasn't doing well -he had a platelet problem and was bleeding internally. I had noticed some bruising on his tongue and thought he had bumped into the wall due to his blindness. He had a bruise on his belly and I hollered at the kids for being mean to him. The vet told me I needed to make a decision quickly. I didn't want him to suffer so I agreed to spend one more evening with him to say goodbye. It was a tough evening. He suffered several seizures and cried in pain a few times. My poor baby!
The house is so quiet without him. When I go to the bedroom I am surprised not to see him on my bed and force myself not to look for him. Funny, but I couldn't pick up his final pile of poop outside - it made things too final. I cried when I wiped his booger smears off my walls earlier this week. He is buried outside by a tree in the backyard. I can see where he is buried while I wash my dishes at the sink in the house. I have cried a lot of tears on him over the years and he never complained. He was a quiet friend. When the kids were fighting on a few tough days, I told him he was my favorite -I would not admit this to the kids! We used to joke that he was absent when doggie brains were passed out in heaven, but he showed up for an extra dose of sweetness. I know I will have another dog someday, but I am far from being ready right now. I miss him more than I can say.

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