Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Marley & Me (and Java)

For the past few months I have been reading Marley & Me off and on as I have had a few spare moments to devote to reading. I am within a few pages of finishing the book and it has definitely made me sad. Let me back up and explain why.

The book is about a big, boisterous and very bad dog named Marley. I can totally relate to the author, I have a lab mix named Java who is also prone to misbehave at the most inopportune times. When I read about Marley's exploits with the trash can, I think of Java. When I read about Marley running away, I think of Java. When I read about the big, dumb dog named Marley being the authors best friend, I think of Java. Thankfully, when I read about Marley being afraid of thunderstorms and destroying the authors house, I don't think of Java. (Lucy, on the other hand, is deathly afraid of thunderstorms. But she just shudders and shakes and runs under the bed or to her crate.)

As the author walks through Marley's life I see a lot of parallels with Java. As Marley gets older, they became more and more clear.

I rescued Java from the pound when he was just a puppy, weighing no more than 6 pounds. It was the summer of 1996 and the Olympics were coming to town. I was in graduate school at the time, working on the Ph.D. that I never did earn. Java was with me to see the Olympic torch run past Emory — as a puppy he would spend the day in the genetics lab with me — and later than night in VaHi. He went with me everywhere, including to bars, where he was a great chick magnet.

As I grew older, left school and got a real job, Java grew up too. He turned into a pain in the ass who would run away from me, dig in the trash, roll around in horse poop, break out of every fence, bust through front doors when people try to walk in the house and get picked up by the pound. Yet I still loved him, despite his flaws. He was, and still is, my companion. He has grown up and become older as well. However, he's aging much more quickly than I am and it's really starting to show.

First it was little things. Glassy eyes indicate that he is getting cataracts. He doesn't jump up in the bed to join us for a "dog-pile" as readily as he used to. He's no longer quite so quick to try and make his escape through a partially opened door. This is possibly because I had an electric fence for years, but that has been inoperable for more than a year now and I don't think he's noticed yet. In the past year he's started having trouble getting up the stairs at night. On a few occassions he has refused to go up the stairs because his rear hips have arthritis. We've even had to carry him up the stairs on some occassions — no easy task with a 65 pound furry beast! Finally, he's unable to come with us on long walks or hikes. When we last took him for a 5 mile walk on the Silver Comet Trail, he was in obvious pain later that evening. He has trouble getting up to the top of Kennesaw Mountain and we don't even bring him along when we plan a longer hike. Steph and I both feel bad that we take Lucy along with us while he sits at home, alone.

I know as time goes on, his ability to do the things he once did will continue to decline. I am finding it more and more difficult to observe. I know he's not suffering, his quality of life is still generally quite good. I also know that some day in the future his quality of life may decline significantly leaving us to face some tough decisions about how best to care for him. And that scares the hell out of me.

Reading Marley & Me last night this all hit me like a ton of bricks. I found myself on the couch crying over the book and the inevitable reality that Java will not be with me forever. He's been a part of my life for so long, I'm not sure what it will be like without him. And I hope I don't have to find out for a very long time to come.

If you're a dog lover, you owe it to yourself to read this book. You'll cry too.

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