The jingling of dog tags lets me know that Marley is awake. A thud of a landing as he leaps off of the king-sized bed precedes the clicking of his nails as he trots down the hallway toward me. Avoiding the rest of the slick wood floor, he takes a detour through the office where the rug affords him some traction. He looks up at me expectantly. He has trained me well. It's time for his morning constitutional.
We met Marley in the spring of 2010. He was the runt of his litter. I couldn't believe how miniature he was. I had previously bred Labrador Retrievers, so I was used to big puppies. Marley was not big, but what he lacked in size, he made up for in love.
When it was time to take him home, he was the size of a newborn Lab. We called him our Boston Baked Potato. Seriously, he was so tiny, and his little legs were smaller than link sausages. He slept in his kennel, chewed on his toys, and slowly he began to grow.
As family dogs do, Marley wriggled his way into our hearts and home. He has secured his position in my heart as one of my favorite dogs ever.
He leaps with excitement when he sees me pick up my hiking jacket, or put on my shoes. Obviously, if shoes are involved, Marley will be going for a walk, right? The sound that perks up his ears the most is the opening of the Jif peanut butter jar. He bounds from the living room into the kitchen to await his reward for having good hearing.
Marley loves to hike, but he has his limits. We learned that the hot, dry climate of southern Utah's desert is no place for a Boston. I understand now that although he has the heart of a champion, his little legs would prefer we keep our hikes under eight miles. He will give it his all, straining against his harness, enjoying his trail leader position, but when he's had it, he's had it, and he's not going to budge one more step, no matter how he is cajoled.
Marley loves to be warm, and is often nestled in snuggly, warm blankets, or in front of heat sources. He loves the wood stove, the radiant heaters, and the heat vents in the house. He is content to snuggle at my side in our chair under a blanket for hours.
When he wants my attention, he will get right in my face and stare, or he will whimper. Usually that means he needs to go outside, or his tennis ball is under a chair, or just past a vent grate. Marley does not step across any type of grate on floors or sidewalks. I always oblige him to assist with ball retrieval. Like I said, he has trained me well.
He reminds me of Lassie, alerting us to terrible predicaments. Instead of Timmy falling down the well, though, it's usually just his red Kong toy is stuck under the coffee table, or his precious tennis ball has rolled out of his reach.
Marley has a lot of anxiety about traveling in our vehicles. I think once he figures out we're not taking him to the vet to be boarded, he settles down and enjoys the ride. Just be careful not to drive over the rumble strips. That sensation sends him to the floor of the vehicle, quivering with nerves.
It's funny how sensitive he is to our needs. If someone is sad or sick, he offers his quiet companionship in support. If we are playful, he responds with his energetic body, leaping and spinning before us.
When we first brought him home, I was slightly disappointed that he didn't have the perfect facial markings of the white mask on both sides of his face. Later, I grew to love the asymmetrical pattern, and it reminded me of the Phantom of the Opera. Now, I could care less about it. I think he is a beautiful specimen of a Boston Terrier.
His presence makes our house feel like a home. Marley loves his family, all of us. No one is a stranger to this little canine companion. His unconditional love warms my heart.
Marley has been a blessing in my life. He comforts me, he entertains me, and he loves me. We do not disappoint each other. We have no expectations, except that we will be there for each other, so we can't let each other down.
I realize that Marley will not be with me forever; that is a given with any family dog. No matter how much time we have left together, I promise to make the most of it, and to love him for as long as I have the chance. I'm so grateful for him, and because of Marley, I know that I will never be without a dog. No dog can replace him, but I now know that a life without a dog is a life diminished.
Marley will always have a special place in my heart.