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Marley -n- Me

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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.

Jul 07

July 6, 2017

Dearest Marley,

So here we are. Today is the day that I have dreaded since the moment I held you in my arms and your puppy breath kisses covered my face on 7/15/2006.

I had never met a dog like you before. You challenged me…in good ways and bad sometimes. You pushed me to be better.  Do better.  You inspired me to be a person that doesn’t just preach love and kindness towards animals but to be one to stand up and do it. And not just animals but for anyone that doesn’t have a voice. You reminded me every day that I needed to stop and take a moment to enjoy what I have in life, right here and right now. There is always something to be thankful for no matter how crappy life could get. You taught me that no matter what I did or how I had failed, you would always love me like I was the greatest human being that ever walked the planet. I failed often. But you didn’t care. You were perfectly happy to sit in the background and watch me as I cared for other rescue dogs that needed my more immediate attention. You did so without jealousy because you knew that I was always yours and you were always mine.

I am sorry that we didn’t get to finish your bucket list together.  I am sorry that we didn’t start it sooner.  I am sorry that I couldn’t have you by my side every moment of everyday that you walked this Earth.  Even if you walked it the rest of the moments with me it still would not have been enough time with you. I am sorry that my passions that you inspired took me away from you. But you so gracefully and willingly allowed me to do what you inspired so deeply in me.  Ultimately, it was always because of you. And it will always be because of you. I am sorry that I couldn’t cure your bone cancer. Dammit, it was not because I didn’t try or make the decisions that I thought were best for you. I know you didn’t understand what was happening or why I kept taking you into the doctors’ offices. But what a soldier you are. You never once complained. You never once resisted. You did what I asked of you and I am just sorry that it didn’t cure you. I am sorry that I lied and said we would fix you. I believed it. I ached for it to happen. And I am sorry that I failed in fixing you one last time. We made it through so many medical crises. I truly had faith that we would beat this one.

The reality is that you never failed me. Not once. You have always had my back and protected me even when I didn’t need protection. You not only accepted my human son as yours but you loved him as if you shared his soul. You protected him, our family unit, our home…the things that mean the most to me. You had this uncanny ability to know precisely when I needed a pick me up and never resisted the opportunity to bring over a toy or ball and drop it on my lap to play a quick game of fetch. You never missed an opening to give me a pitbull hug in the morning with that helicopter tail going or a cuddle session at night before the lights went out. You never missed a morsel of food that fell on the ground (or you were handed) even if you irritatingly sat under the table periodically licking our pant legs to remind us that you were there waiting. Remember how I would always have you grab a toy to put in your mouth whenever anyone would walk in the house because you had an uncontrollable licker? Yeah, that always made me smile inside. You swam like you were born in the water and attacked the hose like a maniac anytime we watered anything. I will miss that.  I will miss you trying to eat the vacuum, because let’s face it, that asshole has been out to get you since day one. I will miss our car rides…getting burgers and fries…Tim Horton’s Timbits…and Starbucks Puppchinos. I will miss you at work with me. I will miss you scaring the shit out of strange men who would try to approach us on walks by barking at them. I may have acted mad at the time but secretly I was giggling inside because I knew what a weenie you actually were. I will never forget the day that you ran that new vet at Parkview right out of the room. I was mortified at the time but that ish is hilarious to me now. I will miss the days that you could do back-flips. Remember those? Nobody could believe that I had a pitbull who could do back-flips. What an athlete you were. Remember when Aunt Kelly would make shadow puppets on the walls and you would chase them for hours? You always knew how to fill a room or a deck with uncontrollable laughter.

You were our first baby.  Nothing can or will ever change that. You made us proud. You made us crazy. You made us laugh. And you continued to make us fall in love with you over and over and over again each and every day…especially the sicker you got. What a blessing to have entrusted us to care for you during your sickness. It was truly a gift to care for you in your finals months, weeks, days and hours. I will treasure this final day together and I will not let it ever escape my memory.

And don’t worry, I am not mad that you have been avoiding us the past couple of weeks and wanted to be alone. I saw the way you have been looking at us as life moved forward. There you were stuck in pause in what I can only imagine was insurmountable pain. You don’t understand that cancer isn’t contagious. But yet, you were still living your final act of love trying to ‘protect your pack’ by not getting us sick while longing to feel good enough to play. That pure love didn’t escape me sweetheart. What a beautiful, selfless creature you are.

Thank you for putting up with the hundreds of rescue animals that have come through our home and teaching and leading each one of them. Some were harder than others. I know that some tested your patience and you were probably relieved to see them go. Some you probably wished had become part of our pack. But you took every hurdle and challenge we faced in stride and with grace. It is not just our life that you impacted. You impacted each one of those canine and every one of the subsequent human lives that adopted those dogs. People like to call the human rescuers “unsung heroes.” We are not the unsung heroes, it is our human and canine families that are the true unsung heroes. Unsung hero, you were, no doubt. And even though most of those people will never know your name or that you even existed, we do. We know.

I know that this is a weird day. And you are going through an unknown procedure called euthanasia. I can’t tell you how it will feel. But you need to know that this is my final act of kindness and motherly love for you. I do not want to shorten your life. I am choosing to shorten your death. You don’t deserve to feel this kind of pain anymore. My love never has and never will waiver for you.  And I promised you that I would do what was in your best interest always even if it means it breaks my heart into pieces.

There are so many special people for you to see where you are going. Go see G’Pa Colton.  Have him show you all the bluebird boxes that he tends to. Make sure he gives you the 7-up (not the scotch) and pretzels at Happy Hour time. Go see John Seibert. He was a dear friend who loved dogs as much as I do and he will give you good snuggles and play fetch with you whenever you want to play. I thought about John this morning and I know he is already anticipating your arrival. Be sure to see G’Ma Colton who will make you get off the furniture but watch over her as she plays Solitaire and Freecell. Go see Duncan, Daisy, Mandy, Tyson, Sasha, Ginger, Sneakers, the other ‘Schensky house’ animals that went before you. We kinda have a clan of them where you are going and they are all great. Be sure to ask around about who the NBS Animal Rescue doggies are that are up there. We have a clan of them, too. Remember Harrison who used to try to bite you? Well, I bet even he will love to see you but please don’t try to eat his food. And Mr. Bob will be happy to snore in your ear again. Give him a kiss from me. I keep telling your Boy that you are going to heaven. I have to believe that All Dogs Go To Heaven…because truly…what human has as pure a soul and heart as you?

After the pain subsides of losing you, know that I will neither forget you nor let your Boy forget you. We will always talk about you, look at your pictures, watch your videos and tell your story. Know that it gives me comfort in my own death that I will have the opportunity to “feel you and see you” again one day. We had an amazing run, Marley. Now shed this crappy body that life decided to deal you and go run free…on three or four legs…whatever you choose this time. I will catch up one day and we will be together again.

Til then, just remember I love you and I will need to talk to you from time to time. There will never be another ‘you’ for me. My heart dog. Though there will be many that will follow in your pawprints, you have that one piece of my heart that is permanently reserved for you and you only.

Peace out Momma…til we meet again.

<3,

Mom

Marley -n- Her Boy

Marley -n- Dad

Marley -n- Me

 

Jul 04

Let’s chat a moment about the “here” that I referenced in a previous post. I talked about Marley’s adoption story and will give you only the Cliff Notes version of how we arrived “here” today.

We adopted Marley in 2006. I helped put on a fundraiser for a rescue in 2007. We started fostering dogs for local rescues in 2008. In 2009, we fostered our first medical dog, a dog with Demodex mange that nobody else would foster and the rescue asked me to foster for the holiday weekend so he wasn’t the only dog that had to stay in the shelter alone. After that, I was hooked on helping the medically compromised, discarded, and forgotten souls on four (and three) legs. In 2010, we fostered more dogs and we foster failed and adopted our second dog Rosie.

Rosie

In 2011, I started a rescue with two of the greatest people that I met along my rescue journey. Fast forward to today, Marley has now helped me foster, train, rehabilitate and adopt over 150 dogs. I wish I had a list of all the dogs that came through our home, it would be pretty interesting to say the least to reminisce!

Marley has helped me save and impact so many of these animals lives. We take in the broken, disparaged, displaced dogs. They come in to live in our home. We care for them. We get them medically sound. We offer them safety and stability. And then we watch them walk out healthy, confident and stronger versions of themselves.

Probably my favorite story in our rescue journey together was Bella. Some people heard puppies crying in an abandoned garage in Detroit and peaked in to see what was happening. Low and behold there were nine two day old puppies and their Mom, dirty and covered in motor oil and soot. Within hours, these kind people contacted a rescue outreach group and the doggie family was rushed into an emergency vet for care. Mom was not producing milk because she was so emaciated and so tube and bottle feeding started immediately for all nine puppies. The babies starting dieing one by one despite immediate medical interventions. The rescue organization and vet staff were crushed with each loss.

Every puppy died…except for one. Baby Bella.

Baby Bella

That is where my rescue was asked to help. Mom still needed to be hospitalized before she was ready to come into our foster home but a vet clinic or a shelter is no place for a newborn, bottle feeding baby. We were asked to take this baby immediately and Mom once she was healthy enough to be released from the vet hospital. I brought this tiny baby into my home, not knowing exactly what to do but relying on trusted mentors and doing lots of googling.

Make no mistake about it. This tiny baby, not even one pound yet, became Marley’s baby. She was there for every single every two-hour feeding making sure I was doing it right. She was up in the middle of the night with me. She cleaned her. She kept her warm. She did the motherly duty of stimulating her to go potty. (Gross, I know, but nature/nurture guys!) She taught her doggy manners. And she helped me make sure this one lone survivor actually survived. Marley raised this baby, Bella.

Bella May 2017

Bella turned into an absolutely wonderful, healthy companion. Better yet, she stayed in the family and was adopted by my brother and sister-in-law in Virginia. In fact, in our trip last month to Virginia, Marley was able to see Bella again after having been adopted five years ago.  Bella’s Mom was subsequently released from the hospital and she was adopted shortly after to a doting couple in Ann Arbor where she lives in the laps of luxury.

I believe it was the last time that Marley will be able to see Bella. But how wonderful that she got to see her baby once again before she passes. I don’t know how much time Marley has. But it doesn’t matter. She has done so much. She has impacted so many human and canine lives. And regardless if Marley is with me in the flesh or in spirit, she will always be with me rescuing the next dog. I will never be without her. She inspired that. And for that she will always be my hero.

Jul 03

We decided to take Marley’s Boy away for the holiday weekend since his Birthday was also today. The big Three! Of course, we needed somewhere within driving distance to Detroit and dog friendly. Gatlinburg, Tennessee it was! Will post more later but I wanted to share our “Breakfast with a View” photo.

Gosh, do I love my girl.

Jun 29

So since this blog is about Marley, I guess I should tell you about how Marley came to be mine and me hers.

In 2006, my then fiance (now husband) was finally convinced that we (I) needed a dog.  I did what most other people do…I went to Petfinder.com to find a rescue.  I found the cutest shepherd fluff-ball of a puppy.  I could hardly stand waiting three days to go meet him at the weekend adoption event.  I went to multiple pet stores to buy all the things one needs for a new puppy…food, bowls, toys, brushes, bed, crate, collar, leash.  I was fully prepared to bring my bundle of fluffy, adorableness home.  I spent the next three days showing his picture to friends and family and daydreaming about my life with this new wonderful puppy.  I had even went as far as to pick out his name.  This cute adorable fluff-ball would be named Hercules.  I bound out of bed the morning of the adoption event and made sure that I was looking my best to meet my new boy.  We arrived outside the pet store where the rescue was having the adoption event.  My hands were shaking with excitement as I rushed Russ out of the car one hour before the event started to make sure we were there first to adopt our new boy.  I walked in and looked at the row of cages setup in the middle of the aisleway and scanned each one looking for Hercules.  No dice.  The cages wrapped around the corner and I quickly bee-lined around the corner to look for my guy.

WHAM! The sight hit me like a ton of bricks.

A young couple had my Hercules in their arms, cooing over him, him licking their faces and the husband filling out paperwork.  I just about lost my shit.  Actually, I am pretty sure that I did. I ran out the front door without even saying a word, furious and heartbroken.  Russ came running out after me and pulled me in to give me a big hug when he finally caught up to me at the car (the car was locked and he had the keys.)  He made me look him in the face and said, “Look.  I know Hercules has been adopted.  But let’s at least go see if there are any other pups you like.  They all need good homes, right?”

Uggh.  Of course he was right.

I walked back in looking at the cages with way less enthusiasm.  In fact, I just wanted to leave.  My boy was gone.  I peaked around the corner to the adoption area just long enough to see the new family with Hercules get their picture taken before they walked out of the store.  Sigh.  Russ interrupted me and said “Hey, come look at this pup.”  I walked up to this large crate and saw a 10 pound brindley-looking thing.  She was kinda skinny.  And homely looking.  She was sitting there with her paws crossed quietly while all the other dogs were barking like maniacs to be taken out and taken home.  She was quiet.  She was stoic.  She acted like she did not really give a fuck about anything actually.  And, wow. What is up with those ears?  Russ opened up the crate and pulled her up into his arms.  And, well, we left the adoption event that day with a dog.

We debated for a couple days over a name.   I was starting from square one since this was a girl.  I couldn’t name her Hercules.  She wasn’t Hercules.  We were in the kitchen getting ready for a few of our friends to come over for a BBQ.  Russ had his Grateful Dead shirt on and was blaring music out in the backyard prepping the grill.  I heard “No Woman No Cry” come on over Pandora outside and I sang along while I prepped the potatoes.  Russ busted in the backdoor and came running up to me with a big smile on his face and sputtered…”Marley, Marley, Marley!”  “Like Bob Marley?” I asked.  “Well, kinda, but no.  It’s just a great name.”  I smiled and looked at our cute little girl curled up on the couch.

Marley it is.

I would love to say that it was such a blissful first year.  But yeah it pretty much sucked.  Teething.  Potty training.  Chewing, chewing and chewing!  Crazy bursts of weird energy at random times.  Puppy teeth.  Dang, it was not fun.  We enrolled her in Puppy Obedience class that she almost flunked out of because she is uh, er, um stubborn?  I thought something may be wrong with her…like mentally.  I ended up calling the rescue and asking what her backstory was.  She was just so…Marley.  Apparently Mom was a junkyard dog that got knocked up by a traveling dog.  The owners of the junkyard sold half her puppies and gave the other half to the rescue that they couldn’t sell.  Marley was the last of her litter.  I talked to them about the issues I was having with her stubbornness and not being particularly fond of strange men. They weren’t at all sympathetic and told me that I could return her if I wanted to.  Return her?  Really. People do that?  No.  No.  This is my girl…for better or for worse.  This is my Marley.

And so we learned to work within the confines of Marley’s comfort zone.  It’s cool.  I didn’t really like strange men either.  I just couldn’t get away with barking at them.

As I had Marley out and about with me at work, at school, out for walks, I noticed something interesting.  People were terrified of her.  And she was just a goofy puppy.  Like they would literally avoid us while walking and cross the road to the other side.  Especially people with children.  I guess I didn’t realize I had adopted anything other than a dog.  I quickly realized that I had adopted not a dog to the general public but a stigma, a pitbull.  But she’s just a dog.  My dog.

I literally spent weeks pouring over research, papers, videos and any kind of information that I could get my hands on about pitbulls.  I learned about their behaviors, body language and their temperament.  I learned about training, their intelligence and their diehard devotion.  I also read stories of the abuse that comes along with these animals from shitty humans that exploit their most amazing qualities and the torture that they have endured at the hands of man.  I was embarrassed.  I was mortified.  No. I was sickened.  I vowed to do everything I could to right all the wrongs of the past hundreds of years of history for this single dog.  That was all that was in my control.

I couldn’t change the world.  But I could change the world for this single dog.  And so we embarked on a journey that I had no clue would ever end up here… <“here” is for another post>

 

Sailboat Marley