This isn’t a story about a dog, this is a story about a man. A man, and the death of a dog that had saved him from depression.
Just a dog. I hear that pretty frequently from folks. It’s just a dog, why do you care so much. It’s just a dog, why bother spending so much on food. It’s just a dog, why bother with so many expensive vet visits. It’s just a dog, why rush home from work. It’s just a dog, why can’t you spend more time away. It’s just a dog, an animal, made to serve us and nothing more. It’s just a dog.
They’ve never been just a dog to me. I remember all of them, every dog my family has ever had. Each has become a part of me in some way. They have each helped to define some stage in my life, the mere mention of their names sparking memories long since forgotten. They weren’t all smart or well behaved, but each has left an indelible mark upon me.
Sometime last night or early this morning, my family lost one of our four. Marley, one of the sweetest dogs I’ve ever met. Marley was far from intelligent. In fact she was potentially the dumbest dog I’ve ever been near. This story isn’t really about Marley though, even though it’s her death that has inspired it. This story is about me.
Our four dogs each have a story to tell. Digger, our protector, is a Great Dane and Labrador cross. We adopted him after a long search, visiting shelter after shelter. He’s big, loyal and ferociously protective of his pack. He’s getting up there in years, but in his prime he was nearly 140 pounds of lap dog until he perceived danger. Digger suffers from separation anxiety though, and couldn’t behave himself in the house alone. Enter Whiskey.
Whiskey was brought in to be Digger’s companion. He doesn’t tolerate other dogs too well, so it took us quite a while to find her. For a while it was just the two of them and the four of us. Whiskey is every part the dainty lady of our family. She loathes the mud, won’t go outside in the rain and is content to lay in the sun all day long.
Marley, who passed yesterday, was our baby. My wife has two children and though I consider them both mine, I have none. When Christine decided she wanted to have another baby, we brought Marley home from the shelter, all of about 8 weeks old. From the beginning, we new this little black lab wasn’t all that intelligent. She took over a year to learn not to pee in the house and even that was a stretch if she got too excited. Marley, or MarMar as the kids came to call her, hungered for affection.
The smallest of our four, she always seemed to be on the outside looking in. She died alone, afraid, and in pain on the side of the road across from our house. Marley escaped from the pen yesterday and though I caught hold of her, I couldn’t hang on. I’m not sure who was behind the wheel of the vehicle that hit her, but it was me that killed her. She laid on the side of the road thirty yards from our front door while we called her name over and over. She laid there in the cold, wet grass alone and afraid until she finally let go. I let her go. I didn’t find her in time.
Moe is our 60 pound long hair constantly shedding Golden Retriever. Our fourth and final rescue, he came from a neighbor. They purchased and abused him. When one of them announced in front of my children that they were just going to shoot him, we took him into our family. Moe and Marley became inseparable. They shared a crate and slept on the same dog pillows. When they’d escape the pen, they escaped together and returned together. Moe has turned out to be a phenomenal dog, both intelligent and loyal.
Yesterday Marley and Moe, just like usual this time of year, found a way to escape together. I was worried, but not terribly so. A few times a year we went through the same thing. After a couple of hours and always before dark, we’d find them by the door asking to come in. Exhausted, they’d collapse on the floor and act like nothing had gone wrong. Last night was different. Last night Moe returned home alone. We called and called but Marley never came. I knew something was wrong but hoped for the best. I’d hoped Marley had just caught somethings scent and taken chase. Instead of heading off to bed, I slept outside on the porch. I wanted to be there when she returned. If she returned.
It turns out Marley had been hit by a car just feet from our front yard. I don’t know how long she laid there or if she heard us calling for her over and over. I hope it was quick. I hope she was knocked unconscious. I hope she didn’t suffer at all.
I’ve lost pets before. Most of us have. Some folks liken it to losing a family member. This is a little different. My family and I are moving soon and know that our property and home will be significantly downsized. Having four large dogs in a smaller house was going to be a challenge. Doing so in a relatively suburban setting with no fenced yard was going to make it nearly impossible. For the past two weeks, I’ve been trying to find Marley and Moe another good home. I was trying desperately to find them a place together that would afford them room to run and play. Another forever home where they could grow old together and be treated well. I didn’t want to give them up, but felt like it was the right thing to do for them. Now this.
This isn’t a story about Marley though. This is a story about me. As near as I can figure, I’ve been battling depression for more than ten years. Sometime in my early twenties I started to slip. I was making really bad decisions. I was doing things I couldn’t explain, things I immediately felt bad about afterward. I was losing who I was and couldn’t explain it. Somehow or another, I just wasn’t me anymore.
My story has been told a few times. Suffice to say, I found myself married, working a high stress job, raising kids and owning a home. Somehow despite my inability to make a good decision, I had ended up in a good place. I made my share of mistakes for sure, but the potential was there for a truly happy and fulfilling life. As anyone who has battled depression will tell you, the disease had other ideas.
A few years ago things got bad. Really bad. I looked for ways to insulate myself from everyone including my family. The only things I allowed in were my dogs. They never judged me. My dogs, though they couldn’t speak, saved my life countless times. Over and over, when things were at their worst, one of them would lay their head in my lap or tap me with their paw. They knew. They understood. They listened without judgment.
Marley’s death has hit me hard. I failed her. She was part of my pack and I failed to protect her. I left her to die cold and alone on the side of a road. I left her there within sight of my front door to die. She was there until this afternoon when my father found her. Instead of continuing to search, I’d gone to work, just expecting her to roll onto the front yard, tail wagging and tongue hanging out. Maybe there’d be a porcupine quill or two sticking from her snout, but she’d be otherwise unharmed. I failed to protect a member of my pack, and right now I can’t forgive myself for it.
Photo: Courtesy of the author