Calling Dog Lovers Everywhere

27 01 2009


“Marley & Me” 2008

Starring: Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston, Eric Dane, Alan Arkin

Growing up, my family was always a cat family. My sisters and I once found a stray kitten that we kept for weeks in a treehouse, fed bologna and slices of processed American cheese until we cautiously presented our adopted pet to our father, who mercifully allowed us to bring “Tigit” into our home. Many years and many stray cats later, Tigit remains a part of our family, re-Christened “Bones” to reflect his startling weight loss and his overactive up-chuck reflex. All evidence to the contrary, we’re told by our veterinarian that he’s still comfortable and healthy. Vets know best, we hope.

The point is, we were always animal lovers. But our cats were independent creatures, despite our best efforts to make them affectionate and loyal. We had no idea how profound our love for a little furry beast could be until the year I turned nineteen, when Dad finally, finally found the perfect puppy. Seamus was so much more than a pet. My entire family was instantly bewitched by the droopy-eyed, floppy-eared pup who peed excitedly every time a sister or stranger walked through the front door; who jumped on a wooden trunk to crawl through the slats of my parents bed, wiggling frantically when his behind grew just big enough that he could no longer slide effortlessly through the metal bars. The cats were peeved with their new live-in guest. We were totally, hopelessly in love.

I could write for hours about Seamus, and then about McKensie, the black Labrador mix I adopted two years later, after moving across the country and abandoning any chance of snuggling daily with my fuzzy brother Seamus. McKensie earned the nickname “Little Wackie,” a reflection of her exhaustive supply of energy and enthusiasm. She preferred to bestow wet, sloppy face-kisses over modest licks of affection. She passed on chew toys in favor of woodwork and table legs.

And so I can understand Mr. Grogan’s (played by Owen Wilson) predicament in raising Marley. I’ve had a Marley of my own, you see. This film is custom-made for the millions of people out there who embraced the simultaneous adoration and sheer exasperation that come from adopting a furry friend. You will laugh heartily, frown knowingly, and cry wholeheartedly as you watch a young couple develop over the years into a six-member family: Mom, Dad, brothers, sister, Marley.

Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston (playing John and Jenny Grogan) provide a marriage that is both believable and hopeful. They love each other, like each other, and occasionally drive each another completely crazy. Marley joins the family as a gift to Jenny, with John’s silent hope that a puppy will temporarily halt his wife’s biological clock. Marley “redecorates” the Grogan’s garage, howls noisily during thunderstorms, and gets himself kicked out of obedience school. It is impossible to explain how or why such a nuisance becomes an indispensable family member, but you know it if you’ve done it before.

I often wonder if McKensie really loves me, her “master” or “mother,” depending on who you ask or how you look at it, as much as I love her. When she wakes me with a wet kiss or nips protectively at any dog vying for my attention, does she do it out of instinctive loyalty or out of genuine affection? Perhaps I’ll never know. That’s the thing about dogs, and the theme at the center of Marley & Me. They ask so little of us, and end up giving us so much more than we ever expected them to.





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