Let me be clear from the start. Dogs can be a handful, especially when those who purchase one have little more than a dewy-eyed reference of what it takes to look after pets. There seems to be a perception that usually comes about through frequent viewings of generic family films where the parents, ‘Daddy’ (wearing his well knitted red cardigan, thick rimmed bifocals and almost certainly smoking a pipe) will bust onto the scene with the surprise final present that gladdens the children into euphoria: “Oh Daddy! You got a PUPPY!” ‘Daddy’ is looking very happy with himself, as the tiff between his love and he is mooted, and she once again dangles agreeably from his arm.
That’s certainly how history recalls it, well, in the idyllic environment anyway. This pastoral facade also expects their to be a period of unwilled realisation, where the seemingly feral creature cannot be tamed, causing mental and physical destruction to all during its wanton phase. Eventually, just before the family reaches breaking point, something drastic happens where the dog’s life almost ends, and everyone pulls together in a beautifully orchestrated, and not to mention convenient, repair, thus resolving the previously disrupted equilibrium. All is well again within the household, and ‘Daddy’ gets the Fischer account.
Believe it or not, reality could not be farther flung. Particularly in a film and television sense, we, as the well-groomed audience, consider it obligatory for all the ends to be neatly tied up for escapism purposes. So when a film like ‘Marley & Me’ bridges the gap between fiction and the more corporeal with its unorthodox ending, we occasionally call foul. As it had been at least a year since its release before I decided to watch, a sultry mystique had manifested itself around the final quarter of the film, so much so that when I exclaimed that I was about to watch it, I was already being consoled by peers and loved ones. Messages of ‘good luck’ and ‘you’re in trouble’ showed that even an utterance of the title was a precursor for distress.
Abi and I watched, sobbed the tearful sob, then began to revel in the harshness of a dog’s lifespan. We are both very much dog advocates, have both lost dogs in the past and currently have dogs living with our respective parents. As we see them infrequently between elongated periods of time, we see the transition in them much more clearly (the Marley & Me crew used twenty-two dogs throughout the film to illustrate this change), and although they have runs of youthful tendencies from time to time, they seem to inexorably retire to the rug sooner each visit.
It’s a saddening inevitability that we have to come to terms with, as my Dad and I have recently uncovered the all too familiar conversation which serves to try to contemplate the size of the void left by the parting of our pooch. It would be right to claim that Jasper does not have the title of ‘family dog’ for a reason, as losing him will be the loss of a family member.
It seems fitting to conclude with John Grogan’s soliloquy at the end of Marley & Me, as few other pieces of discourse have managed to sum up the feeling towards my pet as well as this:
“A dog has no use for fancy cars, big homes, or designer clothes. A water log stick will do just fine. A dog doesn’t care if your rich or poor, clever or dull, smart or dumb. Give him your heart and he’ll give you his. How many people can you say that about? How many people can make you feel rare and pure and special? How many people can make you feel extraordinary?”