Thursday, October 15, 2009

Puppy Love

I am a crying, sniveling mess. It's a chilly afternoon and I've spent two precious hours watching the movie Marley And Me. It's rare I watch TV in the afternoon. The blare of the screen and many talking heads is depressing. I might as well stay in my pajamas, cozy up with a nice aerosol can of processed faux cheese and turn on the gas oven. But for some reason I ignored the laundry and unpacking of the suitcase from our weekend in Pennsylvania and turned on the tube for escape.

I had missed about 20 minutes of the movie. Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston as a couple who fall in love, have this whirling dervish of a puppy, and face the challenges of raising children and building their lives together. The glue of the story is Marley. He chews, slobbers, eats everything and anything. Just when they've had enough he does something more destructive thus more endearing to them and the audience. Cue the strings and the audience says "awwwwhhhhhhh."

This is not my type of Hollywood fluff. I'm a movie snob who avoids at all costs most stuff for mainstream movie goers. I forget that movies are entertainment. I need to be less serious about such stuff.

So the couple suffer an early miscarriage then fast forward to a baby, a job promotion, Marley failing obedience school, humping poodles, terrifying babysitters, more kids on the way. There is the realistic arguing tired parents go through. The resentment of "giving up" things in your life. The changes endured, the loss of and wonderful gain, the push and pull of everyday life. Some of the dialogue I could actually identify with.

I knew or half heartily guessed the outcome of the movie. Marley ages and not gracefully. Our knucklehead of a dog is turning the page on this chapter in his life. Newman, Newberman, Nut Less Wonder, Scooby Doo, Captain Grey Beard. He's been in our family since he was a pup. His history, his geneses is stuff of Hollywood.

He was a carny dog. He traveled with a carnival that had made a stop in a small Pennsylvania town where our families still live. Sean's brother agreed to take the puppy after a friend said she had the dog but could not keep him. She knew some of Newman's past. After being rescued from the carnival, some kids kept him in their backyard shed for about three weeks. He was supposed to be a secret from the parents. That secret was bored with being kept in the dark. Sean's brother named him Newman after Mad Magazines Alfred E. Newman. He's a motley mix of Shepherd, Black and Tan Hound, and another large breed whose utterance of their name sends small children running to the house for safety.

Newman's stay with Ryan was a happy one. They would camp outdoors and share Chinese take out together. They were brothers. Ryan met and married. A baby was on the way and Newman had to go. He stayed a bit with Sean and Ryan's mother. He kind of became the relative that was entertaining, always good for a story, and funny when he was drunk (sometimes?) But he wore out his welcome there. Here's a one way ticket to Massachusetts Newman!

Ryan brought him on a sunny autumn weekend. I still remember Ryan sitting on the front porch devastated that he had to give his first love away. Newman sat at our front door for two days, waiting for him to come back. Our cat was not happy to have him in her house. The scratches and nail marks on our freshly refinished floor bears the story of the first few months. I wasn't exactly thrilled to have a large dog with an even larger tail in our home. One sway of that tail and he would clear off our coffee table. That Christmas I had no ornaments survive the lower branches. Oh and he had separation anxiety. We found this out after coming home from Ireland. He ate three sets of antique french doors. Really ate them! He ate basement steps. He ate through a metal fence meant to keep him from harming himself. He ate rugs, window blinds and sashes. Prozac has remedied much of his behavior.

I remember the first week he was in our home. I was lying on the floor in front of the fire. He curled up beside me and laid his head on my stomach. I was part of the pack. When I was pregnant with Lola and on five months of strict bed rest, he was my constant shadow never leaving my side. "Oh you'll have problems with him and a new baby in the house." That's all we heard from those who thought they knew Newman. I brought her hospital cap home and let him sniff before we brought Lola in. He didn't seem impressed. That first week the mailman came to the door and Newman sounded the alarm and ran to the top of the stairs not budging. Lola was asleep upstairs in her crib.

He's dug huge craters in our backyard, destroyed doors, steps, and carpeting, bolts out the backdoor at every chance he gets. He's antagonized the neighborhood dog walker because he knows she doesn't like him. A substitute mail carrier absent mindedly left a warning card with our mail a few years ago. " Alert, aggressive dog at this mailing address." He's heard "stupid dog" more than once from me. He has never bit anyone and plays well with others. Our kids take toys and food out of his mouth without even a snarl. He is the best stupid dog as I scratch between his eyes on that special spot on his nose and rub his silky ears between my thumb and finger. He opens one bleary eye woken by my affection.

He's 13 or 14 now, we never know. For several years in a row we said he was 10. It felt like a fitting age for his behavior. When the day comes we've talked of cremation. Everyone in the family would like a memento of Newman. His back legs are weak and he can't jump into the back of the Volvo. Some nights we hear him coming up the stairs, like a gimpy old man with laboured wheezing. When he makes it to the top he sleeps in Lola's room as tight against her bed as he can. Some nights he doesn't have the strength to make the climb. We know the day is coming and we're not sure what we'll tell Lola. What we tell ourselves? For now we're a family with two great kids and a knucklehead of a dog who we love.

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