The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Haunted by Marley’s Ghost?

Posted on | December 25, 2021 | Comments Off on Haunted by Marley’s Ghost?

You know, I’ve always been annoyed by people who publicly mourn their pets. It strikes me as . . . decadent would probably be the word, as I’m mindful of the ancient Roman critics who pointed out how the decadence of imperial Rome was marked by women preferring pets to children. So I’ve never been one of those who made a big deal over animals.

On the other hand, we had never before had a dog like Marley, who was a mix of boxer and pit bull. “The Beast,” I called him, and you can ask anyone who visited our house how apt that nickname was. He had a deep low bark, a hearty “woof” that was very intimidating to strangers, or even friends, as Marley tended to treat just about everyone as a stranger.

We got Marley when he was about a year old. He was our son Bob’s puppy, but then Bob joined the Army and so we got this gigantic young beast, remarkably muscular, with hindquarters capable of propelling him skyward in fantastic leaps. We had a fenced-in backyard at the time, and it was just a matter of time before Marley figured out that he could jump completely over it. Once he escaped during a snowstorm, and I had to go capture him, then slipped and fell on the ice, seriously bruising my ribs.

“Stupid beast!” How I cussed that dog over the years, especially when it fell my duty to take him for a walk. What is it about a dog that it has to poop in a certain spot, which can only be located after sniffing around forever? You might suppose that if it were an emergency — as a dog who wants to go for a walk will always try to convince you it is — the animal would immediately conduct its business as soon as you got out the door. But no, instead we had to go wandering around all over creation until Marley was good and ready to complete the transaction, so to speak.

“Stupid beast!” Oh, the nightmares when Marley would escape the house. Any ordinary dog, it wouldn’t be such an emergency, but didn’t I tell you what an absolute beast this animal was? The athletic physique, capable of leaping as high as your head, with that ferocious bark — Marley genuinely frightened our neighbors. He wasn’t a mean dog, but imagine 75 pounds of muscular half-breed pit bull hurtling at you at top speed. Whenever my wife would ask how Marley managed to get out, I’d say the dog must have developed thumbs, because he seldom missed an opportunity if a door was left even slightly ajar and — ZOOM! — off he’d go.

The worst was when he decided to chase the horses. At that time, we lived not far from a pasture where a neighbor kept a herd of about a dozen horses, with a barbed wire fence that was no obstacle to Marley. So after he’d escaped, I found myself down by the fence, holding a leash and yelling for the dog while he chased these horses around the pasture.

Simple question: Why?

What was the dog going to do with a horse if he caught one? But dogs don’t do logic. The whole delayed-gratification/long-term consequences thing is beyond a dog’s ability, and it was pure instinct at work, although I wonder at what Darwinian utility there can be in a dog’s impulse to chase a horse, because more than once Marley got kicked in the head during his horse-chasing exploit. It was pretty scary.

It was also embarrassing. A half-breed pit bull is not the kind of pet that is kept by polite Christian families who live in nice neighborhoods. It’s either a country dog or a ghetto dog, but definitely never a bourgeois dog. Marley was not the kind of dog you’d have if you had any pretension to suburban middle-class respectability. An attack dog, really — the sort of beast a drug dealer would keep around to protect his stash.

Say this for him, Marley was fiercely protective. He protected us from the mail lady, the UPS man, the power company meter-reader, and anyone else who ever pulled up in our driveway, or even just drove down the street. After a few years, Marley got a companion in Ginger, a castoff little yappy dog that Lou Ann got from one of her friends. So any time a car drove past our house, nervous little Ginger would alert and start her high-pitched yapping and Marley would immediately join in with his fearsome WOOF! WOOF! WOOF! Which is quite annoying if you’re trying to concentrate on writing. “Shut up, animals!” I’d grumble, thinking to myself: Woodward and Bernstein never had to deal with such noise.

Who knows what danger Marley saved us from? Maybe the UPS man was a serial killer, but WOOF! WOOF! WOOF! and he didn’t dare come near the front door. But we’ve lost our protector now.

Marley’s health declined over the past year, and finally it became a complete failure of his urological tract — a tumor or a kidney stone, the veterinarian guessed, when Lou Ann took Marley to the doggie version of an emergency room. The prognosis was not encouraging,and any possible treatment would have been prohibitively expensive, so it was decided to have him put down, and Lou Ann held Marley in his final moments, an emotionally traumatic experience. Our son Jim dug a deep grave in the backyard, and Marley was interred with his rawhide chew bone.

No, I didn’t cry, because I’m not like that, but I’m surprised at how much I miss the damned beast, now that he’s gone. Ginger is also lonely without her big dumb companion, and I suggested to the kids we should buy Lou Ann a puppy for Christmas, but they nixed the idea — Marley was irreplaceable. During last week’s episode of The Other Podcast, my co-host John Hoge made the inevitable Dickens joke, that this Christmas I’d be haunted by Marley’s ghost. And so it is, but I thought he was deserving of this brief remembrance, for what it’s worth.

R.I.P., Marley the Beast.



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