Sometimes, your best teachers don’t work at school. I learned so much about life and love from our family dog, Marley. For 14 1/2 years, she showed us her love and enthusiasm every day. We recently lost Marley, but the lessons she taught us will stay with me for a lifetime.
Marley was truly a member of our family. My kids picked out this adorable golden retriever pup when they were in grade school, and her enthusiasm for life was inspiring—and destructive. She loved to chew on everything from our shoes to the columns that held up our balcony. Marley failed puppy school. She never slept. She was a bit of a nightmare in her youth.
But just like people, you don’t give up on a dog. We hired a private trainer to come to the house, and we learned how to live together–both Marley and us. She went from being the creature that kept us up at night to the one that guarded us in our beds, loyal to a fault. By the time she was three years old, she was the best dog anyone could hope for, sitting, shaking, and earning her treats.
Marley loved the water. She accompanied us on many boat trips to the river and would sit in the front of the boat like an anchor and keep watch for us. The wind would run through her hair, and her ears would fly back, and she would smile in a way that only a truly content dog can smile.
It wasn’t just a vacation with Marley, though. She became my office assistant, sitting guard while I conducted interviews and barking when she disapproved of a candidate. I didn’t always take her hiring advice, but I should have. She was more often than not right in her intuition.
That intuition extended past just job applicants. When one of us was sick or recovering from surgery, she was right there by our side. She knew when you needed extra care and affection and delivered in spades. Walks were her favorite thing until she couldn’t take anymore the last year of her life. She would protect anyone she loved by growling or barking at strangers that felt threatening.
So how does a dog teach you? By example. When you watched Marley, she loved freely. She loved to show her affection with tail wags and obedient walks. Marley was excited when you came home, whether you had been gone for five minutes or five days. She made you feel valued like you were the only person in the world that could give her the perfect ear scratch or belly rub. She was a protector and friend. And she received love freely as well. There was never a more patient dog when kids wanted to hug her and love her, even if they didn’t know their own strength.
Marley also knew her limits. No one in our family wanted to admit that Marley was getting older or that she wasn’t getting around well, but it was true. She had tumors on the side of her ear, and her back legs were severely arthritic. When we took her to the vet, he was amazed that she could live with these ailments. He said that love had kept her alive, and we knew it was true.
She told me when it was time, in her own way. One day, she was panting in pain and barking to go outside, which was rare for her. When she was out, she laid down and looked at me with her liquid brown eyes and said her goodbyes. She told me that it would be okay and that she had trained us to be strong and love no matter what. She waited until Mark got home from the airport and, with a paw laid on his hand, told him the same thing. It was time.
Marley taught us to take walks and see the world. She taught us to play whenever possible. And above all, she taught us to love unconditionally. Thank you, Marley. I hope we live your lessons every day.