Friday, August 5, 2011

Marley and Me by John Grogan - More Grogan than Marley, I'd Say..

Hey Rebel Readers!

Recently finished up Marley and Me by John Grogan. My mom sent me a copy last Christmas, telling me that the story reminded her of what I've told her about my Labrador's antics, and since Christmas she's been asking if I've read it yet. Well, mom, now I have =D Gotta say though, I'm a little bummed - the book was lauded as this stellar animal lover story but it just didn't reach that level for me. = ( I mean, the Grogans clearly loved Marley (most of the time) but damn, some of the sheer naive, almost negligent human behavior in this book stunned me!

"The Yellow Lab" by Dean Russo
See Dean's Etsy shop, 405 Poprocks,
with more of his artwork, here.
Amazing stuff!

For anyone that has not read this book, it is a work of non-fiction, in which newspaper columnist John Grogan tells the story of Marley, his Yellow Lab, a dog he deemed "the world's worst dog" (says so right on the front cover - see below:)

How bad can an animal with a face like that be? Well, I can tell you first hand - Labs are a handful! That face just makes it harder for you to really get that mad at them - you get steamed for about a minute and then you realize you're laughing at yourself and the dog because this Lab is looking at you like "Well, what did you expect - I'm a big bumblin' dog!" I'm serious, our Lab is 5 and most days she still has trouble working out a system where all her feet can go in the same direction, not to mention her infamous non-stop tail wagging, known to do record damage all on its own!

But back to the book - let me say I did enjoy the tales of Marley and his mischief, the problem for me was that there wasn't enough Marley in Marley and Me! I felt like I would get a brief, entertaining story about Marley and then Grogan would start rambling for pages on end about his work, he and his wife trying for a baby, his quest to find his perfect niche in life - that's all well and good but save it for an autobiography about YOU, or if you want to write a memoir - say it's a memoir about you with some funny dog stories thrown in (which is basically what this book felt like to me) instead of making it seem like it's 100% about the dog. 

Though for me, this book may have been more aptly titled "Me... and oh yeah, Marley" , when Grogan did talk about Marley, I was entertained, particularly with the history of the breed : what is now known as the Labrador breed dates back to first being recognized around the Newfoundland area (Canada) in the 1600s, near but not exactly in the city of Labrador, though the exact origin of the breed is unclear. They were later imported to Europe where in the 1830s the 3rd Earl of Malmesbury deemed them Labradors and the name stuck While discussing the history of the breed, Grogan touched upon something that I immediately recognized in our Lab, Morgan:

"Labs were bred as working dogs and tended to have boundless energy. They were highly social and did not do well left alone for long periods. They could be thick-skulled and difficult to train. They needed daily rigorous exercise or they could become destructive. Some were wildly excitable and hard for even experienced dog handlers to control. They had what could seem like eternal puppyhoods, stretching three years or more. The long, exuberant adolescence required extra patience from owners {that's for sure!}. They were muscular and bred over the centuries to be inured to pain, qualities that served them well as they dove into the icy waters of the Atlantic to assist fishermen {I had to train Morgan just to voluntarily get into the bathtub to wash her!} But in a home setting, those same qualities also meant they could be like the proverbial bull in the china closet. They were big, strong, barrel-chested animals that did not always realize their own strength." Ch. 3

Just an example of this exuberance, below is a short clip of our dog, Morgan, during the first snow of last winter:

Then there was the bit about being angry at Marley, and I instantly thought of the times we've had to scold Morgan for bad behavior:

"As was a hallmark of his breed, he was immune to pain, an unstoppable force of muscle and sinew {we call our dog "The Mo Tank"}. Once when I was in the driveway washing the car, he jammed his head into the bucket of soapy water and galloped blindly off across the front lawns with the bucket stuck firmly on his head, not stopping until he crashed full force into a concrete wall. It didn't seem to faze him. But slap him lightly on the rump with an open palm in anger, or even just speak to him in a stern voice, and he acted deeply wounded. For the big, dense oaf that he was, Marley had an incredibly sensitive streak." Ch. 15

There is also discussion in this book about Marley's aversion to the sound of thunder... another commonality with my own dog. As soon as the sound comes, Morgan instantly finds the nearest human and huddles with all her heart! In the book, Marley was more of an extreme case, going so far as to turn to destructive behavior to vent his unease.

scene from the film Marley and Me

Though I enjoy and appreciate the story of Marley (just Marley) there were a couple things that stood out about this book that really bothered me - even in the bits about Marley:

1) In a later part of the book, Grogan makes a huge deal about meeting a nice pit bull, stating that the breed is known for their aggression. Nooo - pit bulls are known for their intense loyalty and protective nature over their owners but are in fact very loving and gentle with responsible, loving owners. It's the jackasses that raise them to be violent that makes it seem like they are an aggressive breed. I'll tell ya right now, reading this book, you'll find that this guy really tends to "just wing it" in the research dept.

2) Okay, let me start with referring to these two excerpts that just incensed me:

Chapter 23, Page 232 (paperback edition here): "...we began freely supplementing his diet with table scraps, against the better advice of every dog guide book we had ever read. Table scraps, we knew, simply programmed dogs to prefer human food to dog chow... Table scraps were a recipe for canine obesity. Labs, in particular, were prone to chubbiness, especially when they moved into middle age and beyond." Okay, so he's learned that much, right?

Reading on to Page 233-34: " Each evening after we finished our dinner, when it came time to give Marley a meal, I would fill his bowl with chow and then freely toss in any tasty leftovers or scraps I could find. With three young children at the table, half-eaten food was something we had in plentiful supply {two words here: compost bin - oh yeah and this guy was editor for Organic Gardening Magazine}. Bread crusts, steak trimmings, pan drippings, chicken skins, gravy, rice, carrots, pureed prunes, sandwiches, three day old pasta - into the bowl it went {I cringe!}. The only foods we kept from him were those we knew to be unhealthy for dogs, such as dairy products {you can give dogs cheese in small amounts, you know - sometimes it serves as the only way to get meds into them! And you avoid giving him dairy, but pan grease, dripping, and chicken skins are okay???  Order of Coronary, Table 2!!}, sweets, potatoes, and chocolates. I have a problem with people who buy human food for their pets {what's the difference if you're just giving the dog your share??} but larding Marley's meals with scraps that would otherwise be thrown out made me feel thrifty - waste not, want not - and charitable. "

Yeah... Vets love getting "donations" to their "charity" when such pet owners end up having to pay to have their dogs treated for obesity and canine diabetes, just to name a couple problems that develop from this kind of behavior - Marley himself goes on to have serious stomach issues - wonder how "thrifty" Grogan felt paying that tab.

Denial is more than just a river in Egypt... 

There is also discussion of how Grogan freely lets Marley (even encourages him!) to come up the stairs in the dog's late years when he's battling severe hip dysplasia. I just wanted to slap this guy! There are sooo many things that could have led to less pain and trouble for this dog later in life. I'm not a perfect pet owner, I get mad and overreact at things at times, but I've raised animals all my life and I learned early on that you should reward a pet's loyalty by giving them the best, healthiest life possible - not give into indulgences (even though you know they can endanger the animal) just because you can't help yourself! This family was lucky to have a dog that was so loyal and loved them regardless but it just killed me that it could have been so much easier on him. 

Grogan and his lab Woodson, who was one of the dogs
 used to portray a young Marley
in Marley and Me

scene from Marley and Me

All this and the American Kennel Club actually went on to say (and I quote from an article off their own website) :

"Responsible dog ownership is something Grogan, the author of the best-selling book on which the film is based, knows better than anyone"

REALLY??? Better than anyone?? Did they read the same book I did? ' Cause those quotes about Marley's diet are Grogan's own words! 

Well that's enough of a rant for now - Marley and Me is a cute story for the dog antic tales (tails?) - don't avoid it just because I didn't love it. I always encourage people to find out for themselves. What's blah for me could be mind-blowing for you and vice versa. If you had a different interpretation on reading this (or any book discussed here) feel free to tell me! I'm open to all views, even if they do not echo my own - I like variety and debate! 

I've yet to see this movie in its entirety, but it's coming up on my Netflix so probably in the next few days - I'll let you know what I think ...

If you want to see a really funny review of the film Marley and Me, check this out!

If you are a Labrador owner and are interested in being part of an official club / community where you can mingle with other Lab lovers, there are a couple options for you :

~~~ The National Labrador Retriever's Club offers membership for $30 a year OR

~~~ The Labrador Retriever's Club, Inc. (the AKC Parent Club of Labrador Retrievers) offers membership for $15 a year.

Newfoundland dogs are cousins of the modern day Labradors - can you spot the resemblance? =)

Newfoundland dog

Pic of our Black Lab Morgan (taken a couple years ago)