Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog by John Grogan
What I learned from this book: John Grogan is a jackass.
I listened to this book on audio CD for two reasons: one was that it was about the only thing I had available to listen to recently, and I was sick of surfing the radio. The other was that several people I knew had spoken highly of the book to me. It was a bestseller (of course, so was the Da Vinci Code)! It got made into a movie (so did the Da Vinci Code. There was a clue here...).
Marley and Me starts with a simple premise. John and Jenny Grogan are happily married newlyweds living in Florida, when they get a plant. I don’t remember what kind of plant, but it hardly matters, because the plant dies. Jenny waters the thing to death.
Now, planticide is not a punishable offence in Florida, nor is a Federal Crime, but Jenny Grogan is nevertheless distraught. After all, the Grogans want to have children some day. If they cannot care for a sessile organism that requires nothing more than light and water for survival, how will they care for a mobile, sentient, organism that requires food, drink, play, education, and so on? It seems so discouraging! But then, Jenny his upon a solution. The Grogans will get a DOG!
Let me go over that thought chain again: I cannot successfully raise a plant, so I will raise a dog instead. That’s sort of like saying; I cannot successfully pick up a fifty pound rock, so I will deadlift 500 pounds as practice. Or, to paraphrase the Internet: sense. This thought process makes none.
But hey, fine, they want a dog. At least they go out and carefully research and plan to acquire their new family member, right?
Wrong. Rather than actually learning anything about what they’re getting into, the Grogans decide that they can just flip through the classifieds until they find something that catches their eye. They chug off to buy their AKC purebred Labrador retriever without the foggiest idea of what a purebred Labrador retriever actually is. Once they arrive, they are delighted to learn that the breeder is willing to part with one of the puppies that shows interest in them at a $50 discount! Why, that’s wonderful. They not only got a new dog, but they got him at a bargain! (Never, apparently, does it cross their minds that there might be a REASON why this dog is being offered so cheaply, and that it might not be a good one.)
What follows is less a litany of the struggles of the Grogans with a bad dog, and more of a litany of the Grogans failure to properly raise and care for a very difficult animal. While the book cover makes much of Marley’s faults, the faults are most Grogans.
The book cover tells us that “Obedience school did no good. Marley was expelled”. Which is true, except that “obedience school” consisted of the cheapest class that the Grogans could find, run by amateur dog trainers in a parking lot. When the woman running the class proves unable to control the dog, the Grogans simply give up. It apparently never crosses their mind to seek out a professional dog trainer to help them. Rather, they just decide to take matters into their own hands. The gouged drywall and tranquilizers mentioned on the book cover are both related to Marley’s psychotic fear of thunderstorms, which is apparently quite bothersome to Grogan, but not so bothersome that he bothers to find a solution other than leaving the dog locked in a metal grate and cleaning the blood off when he gets home. (And the tranquilizers, but those don’t help).
At every turn in this book, I’m consistently amazed by the ability to not only be ignorant, but to remain ignorant. According to the book, Grogan is a journalist, but apparently, it never occurred to him to actually do anything resembling research either before or after getting his dog. It takes him years to read anything on the Labrador retriever, or learn that there are actually two varieties of the dog. He is completely unaware of the existence or possibility of bloat until Marley has a case of it (which nearly kills him). It’s absolutely disgusting. He ties the dog up to a table at an outdoor restaurant, and is shocked that the dog drags the table off when chasing a poodle (despite the dogs habit of chasing after damn near everything).
To be fair, Grogan is not deliberately malicious. This isn’t Michael Vick’s autobiography, and Grogan does honestly seem to want to help Marley a better, happier dog. He’s just to ignorant to know how to, and to arrogant to ask for more than the cheapest help.
Are there some cute stories about Marley here? Certainly. But honestly, they are a lot of the same kind of cute stories you’ll get out of any friend that owns a Labrador retriever. They’re really not particularly wild.
Grogan himself reads the book, which is a poor, poor, choice. He narrates the entire story in the same jovial tone, with no variation in his voice except for some poor attempts at an Irish accent, and one dog owner who transitions from southern hick to surfer dude in the space of a chapter.
I don’t doubt that Grogan really loved Marley, but I can’t help but be annoyed at the way he treated him. For all his talk of the lessons he learned from Marley, it seems to me that he missed the most important one: dogs are a whole lot of friggin responsibility, and you ought to think very carefully about how you go about getting one.
I wish I could recommend this book, but I can’t, except maybe as a “how not to” guide for future dog owners. Take what Grogan did, and do something different. Otherwise, the only person to blame is you.
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