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Marley -n- Me

Jul 17

I come from a long line of animal lovers.  As a “Colton” it is said that my ancestors from many, many moons ago were horse thieves.  I can only glamorize in my mind that they were stealing horses that they believed to be neglected to take proper care of them rather than for monetary gain.  But you can make your own assumptions.  I won’t go back that far.  🙂

One of the fondest memories I have of my Mother was a bright, sunny morning that she came bursting into my room.  She threw the door open and ran over to the side of my bed.  She hurriedly whispered “Jaime! Get up! Get up!  I have something to show you downstairs! It’s a surprise!”  As any 9 year old wanting to sleep in on a Saturday morning does, I groggily rubbed my eyes as I yawned, stretched and brought myself back into the land of the living. As much as I wanted to say “Mom, do I have to????” (in my best whiny 9 year old voice), I knew better than to ask that. She had something very special downstairs waiting for me and I knew from the sound of her voice that I did not want to miss it.  I scurried out of bed and ran downstairs.  I turned the corner to the kitchen and I stopped dead in my tracks.  There in the middle of the kitchen was the largest, fluffiest dog I had ever seen.  My Mom was standing next to him stroking his neck as he lovingly stared deeply into her eyes.  She looked at me with her eyes gleaming and said “Come pet him!  Isn’t he the best?”  She went on to tell me the story how she was driving home from the grocery store and here was this large beautiful creature standing in the middle of an intersection.  She didn’t hesitate to stop and throw her doors open to corral him into her car.  She stayed in the area for a bit to see if an owner would come around looking for him.  When nobody appeared, she drove him home and called the police to report him found. She beamed with pride as he sloppily licked my face and made me giggle.  “Can we keep him Mom?!” I exclaimed. And so I learned the hard lesson of lost and found dogs and them being returned to their rightful owners later that afternoon after his owners got ahold of the police and the police my Mom. What a wonderful lesson of love and compassion I was able to receive at a young, impressionable age.

And then there was my G’Pa Colton.  I can trace back my “animal rescue gene” to him specifically, who is no surprise my Mother’s Father.  G’Pa was stationed overseas for the AirForce with a dog named Pal during WWII.  Pal was a messenger dog in Siam and G’Pa his handler.  Unfortunately, during that era many dogs were not brought back from wartime and were set off into the wild or left behind after their service.  *Disclaimer: I have read conflicting information on this over the years. Although the Vietnam War left many of the military dogs displaced or left behind for fear of disease/poisoning/behavioral issues, I have read that in most other modern Wars the Military Dogs were protected and brought home assuming they were healthy. I wish G’Pa was around for me to ask more info on this.*

This was not happening on my G’Pa’s watch. He would sneak the dogs into prohibited areas of the base and hide them until the time was right.  He shared one story of moving three dogs from room to room on the base as quickly as possible as people were sweeping the base looking for these hidden dogs. Many people helped corral them from room to room. These dogs were so smart, it was like they knew that they were being saved and obeyed each person as they passed from person to person. And they evaded the potential captors.  G’Pa would then coordinate their shipment back home to the soldiers who loved these dogs and their families. 

Of course, this included Pal.  My G’Pa loaded him into an crate that headed out to sea for the United States on the day of G’Pa’s return home.  It was a painful Goodbye and my G’Pa knew that he would not see Pal for weeks.  Finally, the call arrived that G’Pa’s “cargo” had arrived at the port.  The Port Master said on the phone, “Wow, that is one vicious dog. Watch out. I hope you know what you got yourself into there. He tried to eat my guys as they were just pulling the crate off the boat. Sorry, nobody is letting that guy out.” G’Pa rushed down to the port to go collect his “vicious” dog.  He walked up to Pal’s crate and whispered Pal’s name through the grate.  He heard a whimper and the soft, happy thump of a tail on the inside of the carrier. He was home. Pal went on to care for and watch over G’pa’s most prized possession, his family, for the remainder of his life.


Now G’Pa Colton passed away a number of years ago.  I was still in high school. He and my G’Ma lived in New York and then Pennsylvania (me in Michigan my whole life) so I did not see them all that often.  Normally, it was a once a year trip plus a holiday with the whole family. And once we reached a certain age, my brother, sister and I would get to go visit them individually one week out of the summer. G’Pa was a quiet, gentle man. He had a calm, soothing nature about him and had an uncanny way of making people feel good to be around him. He was strong and charming. He tended to many things around their retirement community like the bluebird houses, the gardens and he was an avid bird watcher. My favorite thing to do was go around with him after dinner for his walk around the complex to clean out and check on each of the bluebird houses.  I remember seeing my first bluebird babies with him.  He would bring his binoculars and his bird book and we would sit in the wooded areas listening for different bird calls and finding them in the trees to identify them.

Almost immediately after Marley’s passing, I had a desire to begin building a wildlife garden in our backyard. It wasn’t planned. It just happened. It gave me something to focus on, not-dog-related.  It also hit a deep nerve of love and re-connection with my loved ones.  I resurrected the couple lowly bird feeders from our previous house that had been in storage collecting dust. I had never had much interest in birding as an adult yet this desire and need in me came out like a BANG!  I rounded out the number of bird feeders, bought bird and butterfly attracting plants for our deck, added some suet feeders, hummingbird feeders and various kinds of seed feeders.  We bought a couple of squirrel feeders for entertainment.  Both my husband and Marley’s Boy jumped on board immediately even though we never discussed it.  We are designing bird-friendly and butterfly-friendly ways to reshape our landscape outback to include more than just grass.  As a family, we have found it to be incredibly therapeutic to sit out on the deck and identify the new birds that come in to try out this new (and continuing to expand) little area of our backyard.

This project started the day after Marley’s passing. Immediately after dumping some birdseed into the birdfeeders, the sparrows (that have only seemed to multiply as the days progressed) arrived. The one interesting bird that arrived that first day was one single Cardinal. This Cardinal has shown up everyday since then.  He does not stay long but he comes like clockwork in the early AM and the late PM hours to bounce in and back out. He is a beautiful and vibrant male.  The interesting thing I learned about cardinals is that they are known to have a strong tie to our deceased loved ones. It is a belief held by Native Americans that the red cardinal is the most notable spiritual messenger. I stopped dead in my tracks when I read this information about cardinals and felt chills shiver up my spine in such a comforting way. It made perfect sense…building it, seeing him, watching his daily return. People told me to “keep my eyes” open after Marley’s passing.  I got it. But I didn’t. Now I am beginning to understand. Therefore, we have named this beautiful Cardinal, Marley. We are working on figuring out how to build an appropriate Cardinal birdhouse in our backyard to encourage him to stick around. It makes me happy and tearful each time he comes by. I will hold onto the belief that it is her sending him to us everyday.

5 comments so far

  1. rikntracy
    6:50 pm - 7-17-2017

    Hi Jaime!

    So good to hear from you! Your grandfather was such an amazing person and had a well-evolved view of animals at a time when many people had the “it’s just a dog” mentality. Although I guess a lot of people still have that mentality now :(. And yay for the Bluebirds! We have a nest going in one of our houses right now, the third of the summer! He obviously passed down his huge heart to your Mom and to you! I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s taking care of Marley right now as she waits for you to arrive someday.

    And I’m so glad you got your sign. I truly believe in the signs we get from our friends once they have crossed over. You just have to be open to them. I’d love to see some pictures of your garden and the Cardinal. I love birds, too and Cardinals are great visitors. They have a beautiful song, too.

    I know things are really tough right now and you are missing your girl, but kudos to you for redirecting that grief into something constructive, positive, and helpful to other creatures.

    Tracy & Zatoichi

  2. misterrustybucket
    8:42 pm - 7-17-2017

    Your Grandpa sounds like an amazing man and I love the stories about the Underground Railroad for dogs, he saw how special those dogs were and honored them. I love that Pal was going to tear up the Port Master but really just wanted his person! What a great legacy he built through your Mom and you and now Marley and her boy.

    Marley the Cardinal, I am so happy she is visiting you that way, how beautiful. We have a bluebird house in our yard and so far this year it has hosted two wren families. I know you are supposed to knock out their nests but I can’t do it and those little babies are still adorable with their tiny mouths gaping wide. I hope your new garden brings you peace, there is something about being outside in a garden and seeing the flowers blooming and breathing the fresh air that helps remind you that you are still connected and can still nurture something beautiful. It’s a lovely place to spend some physical energy and just feel the sun and wind on your face.

    I know Marley will continue to visit you. Love this post! (And that picture- Wow!)
    ❤️Amy & Rusty

  3. izzyabraham
    10:39 am - 7-18-2017

    Such a beautifully written story. I didn’t know “during that era many dogs were not brought back from wartime and were set off into the wild or left behind after their service.” That’s very sad. Thankfully your grandfather made a change. What a wonderful man and legacy.

    Lovely to read about the Cardinal; I’m still waiting for my sign or message, but your story gives me hope!

  4. jerry
    6:43 pm - 7-23-2017

    Whoooaaaah. I’m so glad I waited until a lazy Sunday morning to sit down and read your story. I looked like a great one and it more than lived up to my intuition. THANK YOU for sharing such a beautifully written story about your life with animals and especially about your sweet Grandpa.

    I’ve never known anyone from WWII who had one of the war dogs and now I feel like I’ve indirectly met one of these heroes. What an honor, and a beautiful photo of two sensitive souls. I’m a sucker for those pointy-eared dogs so you have me hooked.

    The bird garden is a beautiful way to honor Marley. I’d love to see a photo! I don’t know what it is about birds and growing older, but I think we start to appreciate these little guys more because we finally see the beauty in their fragile yet strong bodies that soar into the air as we can only dream about. These are qualities that we as humans should strive to achieve as best we can.

    Meanwhile, I totally believe that the Cardinal is Marley. We’ve also been repeatedly visited by birds at certain times and I know in my heart that it’s Jerry saying hello. How wonderful that Marley came back in that form to surround you with earthly love and beauty!


  5. Olivia
    12:57 am - 7-28-2017

    What a beautiful story! Many years ago,I watched a very sad documentary about ‘war dogs’ that broke my heart. So happy to read an account of courage, respect and love for one of our noble canines.
    I was drawn to this story by the photograph of your G’Pa and Pal. Pal closely resembles my dog Kingston. He too is a rescue dog;abadoned by his former owner. Now, he lives a happy life with his family; like Pal did in his forever home 🙂

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