Thursday, August 13, 2009
Marley and Me by Jennifer Walton
This is my story of Marley Rasta Dog, my best friend and co-pilot in life.
Eleven years ago my life changed forever. I was living in Baltimore and working at a little pub in Fell’s Point, also going to college at night. I was 23 years old and on my own. As I came home one night I was startled to see a shadow moving through my trash can out front, and upon closer inspection realised it was a dog. Now I was always a cat person until this point, and had never had a dog of my own. I had no idea the deep and spiritual connection one could have with an animal – but my heart went out to this guy. He was young, and shaved to the skin. Someone had spray painted him with green paint, the words “Cops Suck” down his sides. He had a huge chain choker on his neck, but to this day remember the huge silly grin he gave me as I looked down at him. I was hooked. I opened my apartment door and he ran straight in and plopped down as if at home! Being unsure of what to do I left the door open a jar, in case he just wanted a moment’s reprieve. He looked at me and bounded back out the door, as if wanting to play or chase something. I followed and watched as he ran straight into the street and was almost hit by a car on the busy street.
That is all it took for me to decide it was no longer HIS choice what he was going to do, but mine. In the subsequent 10 years, admittedly tables have turned, and he has had his way more often than not! But this was a big decision, keeping this dog. At first I thought I would only keep him until I could find a good home! I was naive and did not realise that was my first day as Marley’s mom. So, there I was with a dog that was shaved to the skin, slept no longer than 15 minutes at a time, was on constant alert, and already tickled me to death. Bob Marley was playing on my radio, and therefore, Marley was born, my Roots Rock Reggae dog.
The following months were hard as I also realised Marley was prone to attacking children, or essentially anything under 3 foot tall. It was seen as a threat and I believe it has always been because he was abused at some point before I found him at around the age of 2. He also had trouble being around men, but not to the extent that he was around children. I thought to myself over and over, how can I keep a dog that displays such violent tendencies! Always on alert and never sure what he was going to do next.
As the years passed, Marley calmed down. I worked with him a lot in those years, constantly re-enforcing good behaviour, but mostly just giving him lots and lots of love. There was a dog park we frequented in Baltimore, and I will never forget the day that I ran into a woman that we had seen a couple of years earlier at the same dog park. She came over to me after a few minutes of watching Marles and commented, “ Is that the same dog you used to bring to this park? He seems like a completely different animal! You have done so much with him. He is so much more happy and relaxed. I can not believe it is the same dog!” I was a proud parent, and realised what a lot of love can do for an animal that came from such a rough beginning. Not to at all ignore the fact that the things Marley has taught me over the years are of any less value. I have learned from him that if you are determined to do something, than never give up! I learned this one day as I watched him chase his 1 millionth squirrel in the park, always vowing to catch one, never has!, but has also never given up trying! I have learned the value of unconditional love most of all. I have learned the importance of taking care of someone else, because what you get back is far greater than what you bestow. I have learned what it means when they say man’s best friend.
Marley is an amazing friend, and has been fiercely loyal to me for his entire life. Boyfriends have come and gone, friends have disappeared, but he is a constant. I have etched in my memory every moment we have shared. I have had to pick him up from jail on 2 occasions! I have had numerous run-ins with animal control. But I have also held him in my arms to keep warm on cold camping nights. I have woken up before dawn to take walks in the rain before work and never once thought twice. We were a team.
Last week Marley went to the vet for a routine check up. When I got a call the next day saying his liver count was 3 time what it should be, I felt numb. I was not ready to hear this. I guess we never are. This past week has been a roller-coaster for me. I am sure that Marley also is wondering why his mom is crying and weeping and holding him closer than ever. He still looks at me as if to say, “you are embarrassing me, do not hug me in front of the other dogs!” I still do not know the outcome of the results, as we are on different medicines. But I do know this: I have for the first time been confronted with the inevitable death of my best companion. Whether that be next week or next year I have faced what that moment will be like. I am living the roller-coaster of trying to let go, as well as be strong. I am telling myself I gave him the best life I could have, and he returned the favour. But, as is life, when it is time, it is time. We have no control over that. I will always have my memories, sometimes bittersweet. I also know that I can never be touched the same way again. He was my first. I wanted to share the story of my dog Marley. Of our friendship and our bond. I am lucky enough to have a friend who is a photographer who has documented our life together since the beginning. I smile thinking he has been in almost every picture with me taken over he last 11 years.
3 YEARS LATER
I lost my Marley. It has been 2 weeks and 2 days. Today is the first day I am able to sit and try to put into words the terrible sense of loss and grief. First, let me backtrack. Marley 3 years ago was diagnosed with cancer erroneously. He ended up having Lyme’s disease, which is treatable and the medicines worked wonders. The whole ordeal was a scare as I thought I was saying goodbye to my man then. Miraculously the vet had a misdiagnosis, and after a few days Marley was back to normal and life continued on. Well, with the nagging whisper in my head that I would have to face this again one day, the inevitable end. But, time has a way of healing and forgetting and soon it was just like old times, trips to the seashore, playing in the surf, strange hotel rooms, and always shotgun in the convertible, wherever we went. Life was good.
Then a few months ago a routine trip to the vet, as Marles had a nagging, hoarse cough. All his blood work looked good, and the cough was the only persistent symptom we saw. Because Marley was part husky, his neck was strong and thick and full of muscle. It made it very difficult to feel the tumor growing there until it was very large and un-moveable. X-rays from our vet showed a huge mass in his throat, and because of the size and position it was not able to be surgically removed. X-rays also showed small white nodules in his chest and lungs. The diagnosis – thyroid cancer.
So, here it was, back again, but this time no misdiagnosis. Marley had a cancerous tumor and it was growing around his larynx, slowly causing him to be unable to breathe. Dr. Prowell, Marley’s vet, knew that the options were few. But I highly respect her opinion, as she is always very honest and straightforward, not talking in circles. She gave us the two options she saw – let Marley live his last month(!!) with the aid of anti inflammatory drugs to ease breathing and let him go when his quality of life became challenged. This she said would be difficult because he will still want to eat, go on big walks, wag his tail, but he will begin to have issues with sleeping through the night and being comfortable. It is hard to say goodbye to a pet when they still want to walk and eat and kiss you!
The second option – take Marley to a specialist, a radiologist / oncologist for treatment ideas. This is what we opted for. So began the deluge of doctor’s, x-rays, trips to veterinarians 2 hours away, and through it all trying to be brave and hear what our options were for our boy. We met one of the leading specialists in canine cancer in the United States today. He looked at Marley’s x-rays and sonogram and looked into his eyes. His diagnosis — intensive radiation treatment followed by chemotherapy, to try and reduce the size of the mass as well as fight the nodules in other parts of his body. His diagnosis was Marley has a few weeks left with no treatment and perhaps a year with pursuing the full course.
So, big decisions to make, and of course time and money play a factor, a big one. But the most IMPORTANT factor for me was to approach this so that I knew I would have no regrets and that I had done everything I could, whilst keeping the quality of his life intact. I know Marley, better than anyone else alive, and I know that a sick Marley on chemotherapy would not be a Marley that would even want to live. My Marles lived for 2 mile hikes in the woods, chasing squirrels, barking at neighbours' cars. If these things were taken from him, his quality of life would suffer. Therefore, chemo – not an option. Radiation was less intrusive, and had a good shot of working. So we signed up for radiation therapy. Marley would have to go to 18 daily radiation visits in Virginia, over an hour’s drive away.
It was our only hope. So began the new part of our journey. We drove every day together, Marley shotgun, to Springfield Virginia to the clinic. I would wait as Marley would be taken into the back and treated, and about an hour and a half later stumble back out to me, still drunk from being anesthetized. I will not go into the entire treatment, although I will point out the important parts of these journeys. We made some really amazing friends at the clinic. Marley started off his sessions having to be carried to the back as he did not want to leave his mom (this was the hardest thing for me to watch) to trotting back after a week’s time with his new friends Miss Jen and Miss Becky. They were lifesavers and the work these women do is inspiring and commendable. They are good people. We always stopped and got a treat on the way home at McDonalds and a huge walk when Dad was done work. Through it all, fingers crossed that this was working and we were doing the right thing. We got a lot of funny looks as Marley was completely shaved around the neck, and answered many questions as honestly as we could.
In the end, the treatment did not work for us. Perhaps the tumor was too large; perhaps we found it too late. But we did all we could. Marley was so brave throughout. Marley was laid to rest May 18, 2008. He will always be loved and remembered.