Last Thursday, we rented the DVD, “Marley & Me”. I had planned on avoiding the movie like the plague because I knew it was about losing a family dog; a topic that is way to close to my heart. But my newly-eleven-year-old daughter had her way. As we hit the play button, I realize I would have an even harder time separating myself from the script because it was about a young couple, both writers, who find their way in this hectic world while they start a family; all with their beloved (and naughty) dog, Marley, loyally at their side. I swore I wouldn’t cry… and so much for swearing. But the flick got me thinking. Why haven’t I shared the beautiful story of our beloved pup? In the movie, the story is told by a real-life columnist; who had a steadfast best friend, with four legs and a bark. How endearingly clever.
My story begins on the worse night of my life; Christmas Eve 2004. I come home to find our family dog, Abby, a red Doberman, lifeless on her best friend (my then, six-year-old daughter’s) bed. The dog was two when the baby was born; and they were inseparable from the start. The hardest thing, I have ever done was sitting that little girl down to break the news. I get choked up at the recollection. She vowed to never get a new dog. She said her heart will never heal (and to some degree it hasn’t). For the next seven months, I looked at puppies, with and without her. When I was alone, none of them seemed right; when she was along, she said the same (if you can imagine a first-grader refusing a puppy). But that’s the way it was. Until a warm July night…
It was a particularly tying day; so I found solace in “puppy hunting” all by myself. I had found a little border collie at a pet store, and he won my heart. I called my mom and told her to bring my daughter, drop her off at the front door of the store, and tell her to come in, where I guarded the pup in the crowed pet store. She sported a smile that I hadn’t seen. I thought this was the one. But then she said, “Can we think about it?” With a heavy heart, we head back to my car. I reach in the backseat and grab the classifieds for one last skim, but it is eight-o-clock, so I make one last crucial decision. We head to a South Milwaukee pet store that had an ad for mixed breed puppies.
We walk in to a packed store that had a puppy sale for “$150 off”. My daughter walks to the glass, points at a brindle puppy, on a wall of over thirty dogs, and asks to hold her. Not sixty seconds passed before she turned to me, teary-eyed, and whispered, “This is her, she’s the one.” I distinctly recall, it was 9:03pm, and the store closed at nine. This time, it was me who said we’d think about it. She had no idea I had slipped the clerk the 10% deposit required to hold the pup until the next day. The rest is history, and thankfully present, because it nearly wasn’t.
The pup settled in to our life and her pre-picked name “Ruby” very quickly. And quietly. I didn’t think much of her lackluster demeanor, until the health department called to tell me they had shut down the store because of a deadly disease that ran fiercely among the animals. They asked about our dog, and I told them she was fine, as I pack her up to head to the vet before I hung up the phone. After several “all-clears” I thought we were out of the woods. It was life as we knew it for the next couple weeks, until I woke up one morning to a very sick puppy. By the time I made it from Kewaskum to the emergency vet clinic in Waukesha, the outlook was grim. My mom had called and gave the heads-up for our arrival. As I walk through the sliding door, the medical staff was waiting in scrubs. They asked if the pup was Ruby. As they reach for her, I realized she wasn’t breathing. Two techs restrain me as I try to follow, hysterical. One leads me to their private cafeteria. She explains how they had treated many of the sick animals from the same store. When I asked if any were spared, she somberly looked at her feet. Hours later, a vet with a sweat-beaded forehead, pulls off his blue cap, and flops on the bench next to me. He leans forward, elbows on his knees, and I begin to cry again as I brace myself. The next thing I recall was one of the most beautifully shocking things I ever heard… “She’s got a lot of heart; that is a very sick little puppy. I need to know, on a scale of three choices, what measures you want me to take to save Ruby.” Confused, I asked if she was alive. He followed up with a gut-wrenching “barely.” She was on life support of sorts, and grasping to life, barely. He didn’t think her odds were good. I declared with conviction that I would pay for any means necessary, and I told him to save her; I told him I knew he could. I begged him to please go and do it. And that is exactly what he did. After several days in close contact, via phone and face-to-face, I got the news she was coming home. The vet put in personal overtime, and I don’t think he billed me for most of it; I got a refund from the initial $800 deposit; proof positive that I got the right man for the job.
53 out of 54 dogs died from the pet store; unable to be saved. Even four years later, my heart smiles at the sight of our 100+ pound Ruby; who was initially predicted to mature to 35 lbs; but it turns out she was only three-weeks-old at the time of purchase. She is a four-legged angel among us. She is my daughter’s best friend, and our saving grace. She is so much more than ‘just a dog’. She is life’s blood at times. And laughter. And love. She has filled a void, I thought un-fill-able. So do I recommend renting “Marley & Me”? Absolutely; it’s a must-see.