I have been so busy with dissertating, writing manuscripts, traveling, and life. It’s been several weeks since I have posted, not just because I have been so busy, but because I have taken some time for myself and to be with family. About a month ago my wonderful, lazy dog, Marley, went home. I felt that I needed to write a post in his memory to share his lazy legacy. I hope you enjoy this very special post and fall in love with Marley as much as we have over the years.
Growing up, we had several family dogs. To some of these dogs, I was their person, which made them my dog by default. I never got to choose what kind of dog I wanted because my parents were the ones to pick out our dog. But, as a dog-loving kid, it didn’t matter what kind of dog it was, I loved them anyways. When I was in college, I decided that I wanted a dog of my own, by my own choosing. I knew for certain that I wanted an outgoing, tenacious, high-spirited yellow Labrador retriever. Instead, I got Marley.
I mentioned my plans to save up money to get a puppy to my parents. A few months passed, during which I had picked out a name for my puppy-to-be and often fantasized about my plans to spoil, play fetch, road trip, and go on adventures with him once I reached my savings goal. One evening, I made my regular check-in call back home. What was intended to be a surprise when I came home for the weekend ended up getting blurted out by my excited family over the phone, “WE GOT YOU A PUPPY!” I reacted with an exuberant squeal that was cut off seconds later with, “And his name is Marley!” I was a little annoyed that I had no say in choosing his name and more-so by the fact that his name came from the movie Marley and Me. However, my vexation was quickly overshadowed by the excitement of getting the puppy I wanted.
Giving him the name Marley made me expect that he would possess all of the incorrigible, rambunctious qualities and behaviors displayed by the dog from Marley and Me, on top of the general friendly, energetic, and intelligent characteristics that Labs possess. However, Marley proved these apprehensions wrong. Marley was an excellent puppy, especially for a Lab. Lab pups are known for chewing, digging, and destroying everything in sight, but not Marley. He was very calm, but most importantly, he followed the rules my mom established: do not chase the barn cats, do not poop in the yard, do not chew the siding on the house (we had several dogs who had an affinity for this), do not lie in the flower beds, and do not drag the shoes on the porch. I can’t even recall if Marley ever broke one of these rules. Perhaps it was because he thought it would be too much work to do otherwise.
I knew that Labs were prone to laziness, but Marley’s laziness was legendary. There were four things that were important to Marley: being with people, food, belly rubs, and, most importantly, naps. He took the most epic naps, and nothing usually got in the way of his nap marathon. Marley’s favorite spot was on the cool bricks at the bottom of the porch stairs. Not only was this spot cool and shaded, it was a high-traffic area which guaranteed that we would either give him belly rubs or treats as we passed. If we didn’t, it didn’t bother him. I liked to wake him from his nap and put treats inches away from his nose. If it was placed too far to stretch his neck and make an effort, he would just leave it there for when he woke up from his nap. Marley would, quite literally, sleep anywhere under any circumstance. He often took naps in a kiddie pool we would fill up with water every day. He took naps in the rain. He slept through getting shots at the vet. He fell asleep with his head out the window. He even dozed off while we gave him a bath. Before we would leave for church or to run errands, we used to make bets that Marley would be in the same spot when we got home. Eventually, this became a certainty that you couldn’t bet against. Sometimes he would be in such a deep slumber that we thought he was dead. After calling his name a few times, Marley would signal that he was alive with one tail flap—he wouldn’t even pick up his head. If you wanted to love on him, you had to be willing to walk at least halfway to do so. Marley wouldn’t even get up to walk to meet you. He would literally belly crawl his way towards you and would then roll over for endless belly rubbing.
We live on a farm with thousands of acres of land in the middle-of-nowhere Georgia. Most people aren’t familiar with the term or concept of a “country dog” or “farm dog”. Essentially, it’s a dog that lives on the property and has at least two jobs—to protect and to alert. Some people can’t wrap their head around this, but I can assure you our dogs were never neglected, received an abundance of attention and love, and always had a warm, dry bed in the barn. At night, our dogs and my grandparents’ dogs (who lived next door) liked to go—what we called— “rumbling” on all the land. We like to think that this ragtag group of canines, also known as “The Gang”, were protecting the land while we were sleeping by going on nightly missions. To this day we’re still not sure what they did, but we know that they were up to something because, even though they always came home in the morning, they were always wet, muddy, smelly, or a combination of the three.
We attribute most of his laziness to a traumatic event he experienced when he was under a year old. One morning, I woke up and The Gang wasn’t home from their nightly venture yet, so I called for them and went back inside for breakfast. The next thing I heard was loud yelping from the yard—a sound that no pet owner would ever want to hear. When I bolted out the back door, Marley was running towards me, covered in blood. While inside, Marley came across a dog in the area known to be aggressive and have a taste for blood on his way back to the house. The dog attacked Marley and tore open his shoulder. I can honestly say that this may have been the only time that I saw that Marley was scared and heard him cry or whimper. I’m not sure if it was from the shock or from finding safety in my arms, but as soon as I sprinted to Marley, he became very composed. I wrapped him up in a towel and rushed him to the vet with him in my lap the entire way. Fortunately, no major damage was done to any ligaments, tendons, or muscles, but the bite marks were quite deep. Marley needed a lot of time to rest and heal, which was aided by lots of painkillers. After several weeks of recovery, we took Marley to get his stitches taken out and for a checkup. Within a week of getting his stitches taken out, Marley had another encounter with the vicious dog who attacked him in the same shoulder. Again, we scooped Marley up, took him to the vet, he was put back on painkillers, and was back in recovery. We’re pretty sure that all of the painkillers he was on as a puppy were the primary contributing factor to his lethargic lifestyle. This incident also affected the way that Marley ran. His form was more of a back and forth teeter-totter like that of how you would pretend to make plastic toy horse run.
Marley’s legendary laziness clouded our vision of us seeing him as a normal dog. He didn’t set the bar very high for our expectations of him, but we knew he was a very good boy, sweet, and loyal. On the rare occasion, he would remind us that he was just like any other dog and physically able by surprising us with anomalous behavior (for him, at least). We learned that Marley was a master escape artist when we had to tie him up in the yard one day. I believe there was something he kept getting into, and until it was gone, we had to hold him off for safety. So, we tied him on a long rope under the barn, assuming that he would just take a nap. Minutes later, Marley was walking around the yard with about a foot of rope attached to his collar and a big grin on his face. He ended up chewing through the rope twice before we decided to detain him in a room in the barn for the time being. Several minutes later, he was walking around the yard still wearing a smirk that went from ear to ear. It turned out that Marley was more physically adept than he led on. To make the “Great Barn Escape”, Marley scaled the shelves to the top of the inside the barn, shimmied his large, barrel chest and block head through a gap less than a foot wide, and then leapt about 10 feet down from the top of the barn.
Even in Marley’s attempts to demonstrate that he was just as “dog” as the rest of them, he was lazy. After a long night of rumbling with The Gang, we saw Marley proudly trotting across the field with a large object in his mouth. As he got closer, we realized he was dragging home a fawn carcass. We knew right away that this certainly was not Marley’s doing. There was no way he would have had the gumption to chase down and kill a baby deer. Whether if it was one of the other dogs that did the work or if they found it already dead, Marley took credit for it.
Despite Marley’s legendary laziness, he was an exceptionally loving and loyal dog. He always wanted to be near us, always came home, wanted to keep the group together if we went on walks, and would protect us. There was one time that The Gang didn’t come home one morning. We figured that they had a “late mission” and would return shortly. A day went by and we started to worry, so we called for them. Only one dog returned—Marley. He teeter-tottered across the hay field as fast as he could, then collapsed at my feet for a belly rub. We assume that Marley came back sooner that the others because he didn’t want to be too far away from us or the food. In fact, the rest of The Gang couldn’t find their way back because they had ran so far from the property. A few of our neighbors from a couple of miles away called a couple of days later to say that the dogs were at their house and for us to come pick them up.
We would regularly take family walks or jogs down a dirt road that ran perpendicular to our house. Marley always tagged along. Even when he got older, he would hobble slowly behind us even though we insisted that he just stay put. One time, I went for a quick jog and Marley trotted with me. Marley’s intention for coming along was for companionship and protection, not to keep up with the pace of the run, so we often forgot that Marley was with us until we turned around to head back. When I came to the part of the road where I usually turn around, I saw a large, unfamiliar dog several yards away. The dog then let out a growl then started running towards me. As I quickly spun around to sprint back towards the house, I was surpassed by a flash of yellow. Marley ran towards to the unfriendly dog, boldly asserted himself, and had an exchange of words. Without even physically engaging, Marley sent the other dog on his way. Marley put all of his effort into catching up with me and stayed by my side for the remainder of my run. When we got back to the house, he collapsed with exhaustion with a big smile on his face and was showered with affection. He knew he was a good boy.
Marley also found time between his napping marathons to sow his oats. My grandpa was notorious for bringing dogs home without notifying my grandma. He once brought home Dixie, a full-grown, female German Shepherd who wasn’t fixed and, inevitably, became pregnant. In the weeks leading up to her giving birth, Grandpa made a whelping box under his barn for her. On a mid-December morning, I was heading to town to run a few errands. As soon as I walked out the door to leave, Marley swiftly teeter-tottered from my grandpa’s barn to me. He pitter-pattered his feet in excitement in front of me, was spinning in circles and eventually tugged my coat to follow him. He eagerly led the way to Grandpa’s barn. I heard puppy cries, but Dixie wasn’t in the whelping box. Instead, she dug under the barn and had her litter there. Meanwhile, Marley was pitter-pattering in the whelping box and whined until I came to him. Marley wasn’t concerned about Dixie and her litter, he was tending to one puppy that had been left behind in the straw in the whelping box. It was as if he were telling me, “Hey! This little guy was left behind and needs help!” I scooped the cold, nearly lifeless puppy in my arms, warmed it up, and then placed it with Dixie. Marley was such a proud father. From that litter, my mom ended up keeping a girl that we named Shadow. Stray dogs often wander up on our property. One day, a yellow dog that had Lab characteristics came to us that my husband and I ended up bringing him home with us. Given that it’s not out of the range of possibilities, we like to tell ourselves that he’s Marley’s puppy. Not only does it give us a reason to think that we have a piece of Marley with us, but it also gives Marley a bit more credit for being a ladies man.
Our conversations about Marley’s laziness was always followed by, “Well, he’s been through a lot.” While the age of five is usually the prime of most dogs’ lives, Marley entered retirement at five and scaled back his rumbling and occasional antics to reserve more time for napping. Although the whites on his face really started coming through once he entered retirement, through all of college, graduate school, and getting married, I could always count on Marley to be peacefully sleeping in one of his spots and to graciously accept a plethora of belly rubs when I came home.
This past year Marley turned 9 and we began to realize that we needed to give him extra attention and love because we had a feeling that he may not be with us for much longer. We joked that if he kept up his “lifestyle” he may outlive all of us. However, in early-Spring we noticed that Marley would often spontaneously throw up food. Worried, I took him to the vet to have a full workup. Marley, of course, slept with his head out of the window on the way, napped in the waiting room, and fell asleep during examinations and shots. Usually, the vets have to mildly sedate dogs to take body scans, but this clearly wasn’t necessary for ole’ Marley. The vet found that Marley had developed mega-esophagus. The cause of this is unknown, but it is essentially when the muscles in your throat don’t or stop working to pinch the food down to the stomach. As a result, the food sits in the dog’s throat and is most likely regurgitated. The only fix to this is to sit the dog upright while and after feeding. We tried doing this with Marley and he definitely kept more food down.
Several months went by after his diagnosis and he seemed to be doing well. I usually go back home to visit with family a few times a month. I had been swamped with my dissertation and traveling that it had been about a month since I had been home. Nonetheless, I called home often to check in and my mom became increasingly worried about Marley in our conversations. About a month ago, I made time to go back home and check in on him. As always, he was in his spot napping and gave me the one-flap tail salute to let his presence be known. However, Marley had really declined in the past month and was having an impossible time of keeping food down. My husky, yellow Lab who was questionably overweight at times had lost so much weight. I never wanted Marley to feel that I was sad or scared, so I held back my tears and loved on him as much as I could.
I ended up taking him home with me to give him intensive care and try to help Marley gain weight. We knew that if Marley didn’t show progress that we would have to make a very hard decision. While we knew that this would be a hard decision, we wanted him to keep his dignity. He was so skinny and weak that Mike and I had to carry him. I whipped him up some recommended weight-gaining meals for dogs with mega-esophagus, hand-fed, and held him up through the meals. We got through the night without him throwing up anything which made us hopeful that things would possibly look up.
The next morning, he woke up, gave us a one-flap tail salute, and napped with a smile on his face. However, later that evening Marley let us know that he was ready to say goodbye. As he was fading, we cuddled him and told him that he was a good boy and that we loved him. I put my face as the end of his nose and, for a few seconds, he came to and recognized me. A little glimmer sparkled in his eye and he cracked a smile. At no point during our goodbyes was Marley scared, showed any sign of pain, or cried. He was so serene and brave which made me so proud of him. It was the most peaceful that it could have ever been. Marley closed his eyes and took his best nap on February 10, 2019. Even in his final moments, Marley was a good boy.