Lessons From: Marley and Me

SEPT / OCT 2012: BY CAROL STARKEY

marley

We’ve all heard or read stories of a perfect dog. Lassie, Old Dan and Little Ann (from Where the Red Fern Grows), and Benji spring to mind.

But when John Grogan and his wife Jenny adopted a little ball of wiggles, Marley, they had no idea what they were in for. They’d both grown up with that idyllic dog. Afraid to start a family, they opted to get a dog, and brought him home. Before long, though, it was apparent Marley would be no Lassie.

Labs are known for their boundless energy but Marley was nearly manic. Impossible to train, John took him to obedience school where he was quickly thrown out after refusing to obey and disgracing the teacher by practically dragging her across the parking lot. As he grew older, the adorable quirks became less so, and his destruction became wilder. At this time, the Grogans lived in Florida and the almost daily thunderstorms drove Marley crazy. If not locked in the cement garage, he went into a destructive frenzy, literally trying to claw his way to freedom, bloodying his paws and muzzle in the process. Later in life, he deformed and twisted a metal crate designed to keep him safely in the house whenever thunder struck should no one be home. Pills to ward off this fear barely took off the edge.

Marley didn’t have to be alone to be destructive, though. John once used a hose to spray through Marley’s droppings for three days just to find his wife’s gold necklace. Marley had the habit of taking something he knew he couldn‘t have but gave the secret away by wagging his body furiously. This time, John wasn‘t quick enough. Another time, the entire Grogan family decided to eat at a fancy outdoor cafe, only to have Marley jerk the heavy table after him as he ran after a poodle.

Despite his bad manners, his panic attacks, and his affinity for eating things not meant to be eaten, he was loved. And even more, he loved in return. When the Grogans lost their first baby in a miscarriage, he changed from a frenzied dog into a quiet, sorrowful dog, burying his head in Jenny’s lap. He stayed with her for days, mourning with her and understanding her pain. Even when Jenny suffered from postpartum depression and couldn’t take his antics anymore and beat him with her fists, he didn’t retaliate. He just stood there taking the sorrowful blows, tail between his legs in acknowledgment of his bad dog status.

When a neighbor girl was shot, it was Marley who stood protecting her and John. His fur bristled, his teeth bared, Marley was ready to do battle against those who would hurt the ones he loved. When John’s children were babies, climbing over Marley, pulling his ears, he simply rolled over and let them, never growling or snapping.

And whenever any member of the family came home after a long day, Marley was there, thumping his tail, wiggling with excitement, and ready to lick faces. His love never waned, never faltered, and when his final moments came, his family wasn’t the same.

Though Jenny could finally clean the house of all the dog hair and things placed on the coffee table were now safe, the house felt empty. The children moped, and John and Jenny had holes in their hearts. Though he’d been a pain, and expensive to boot, Marley had become a part of the family. He’d lived for over a decade and ingrained himself in all their lives.

God gave us animals to take care of, to have authority over, but a dog is different. They wrap themselves around your heart and when it’s their time to go, you really do grieve as though a member of the family has passed. And in some ways, that’s exactly what has happened.

I think animals give us a taste of His love for us. Here we are, weak, stubborn, not knowing what’s best for us and wanting our own way, but He shows us over and over again His love, forgiving our mistakes, helping us to grow and mature to become more like Him.

So even though the Grogans didn’t get their “perfect dog,” they got something even better. A dog that taught them so much more about life than they imagined, a dog that loved them no matter what, and a dog that showed them how to live life to the fullest. ■

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Carol Starkley lives in the beautiful state of Connecticut. She has a husband, three daughters and numerous pets. She works part-time while working and going to school. She loves to write, read, and take pictures of life around her. Her blog is updated infrequently, but she hopes to change that after she graduates. She’s a Christian, and hopes that ultimately her life will point to him. She also blogs.

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