Marley and Me: ‘Two paws up’

I recently attended a screening of Fox 2000’s new movie Marley and Me, which opened nationwide on Christmas Day, and I left the theater hoping that everyone would go see this film. The movie’s important message-that adding an animal to the family means making a lifetime commitment to treat the animal like a family member even when he or she is unruly, hard to live with, ailing or old-is something that all of us need to hear.

Unless you work at an animal shelter, you’d probably be surprised at the reasons people give for getting rid of their dogs and cats. The animals, they say, are a bother. They bark all the time, take too long to house train, have fleas, keep getting pregnant, are too aggressive or are too timid. Countless people toss out their “pets” as they would an unwanted piece of furniture when they move or have a baby.

As the number of foreclosures goes up, the problem has gotten even worse and some people are simply leaving animals behind to starve inside empty houses-although they manage to pack up their television sets and video games. Local authorities have found starving cats and dogs locked inside abandoned homes or chained in backyards; in desperation, some animals have tried to eat drywall, plastic and garbage just to survive.

When I lived in Louisiana, I used to volunteer at the local SPCA. One Saturday, I worked at the intake desk and watched as people came in and gave one sorry excuse after another for giving up their animals. “I got new furniture.” “She just sits there.” “She’s no fun now that she’s older.” One man brought in two sweet Doberman pinschers who’d had their beautiful Dobey ears chopped into triangles and their tails whacked to a few inches. As he dropped off his dogs, he said simply, “I am moving.” These are the people I hope will see this movie.

Dogs (and cats) are a part of the family, for better or for worse, and when we bring them into our homes, we have a responsibility to love and care for them the way that Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston (playing John and Jenny Grogan) love and care for Marley in Marley and Me. The Grogans stuck with Marley through tipped-over tables, shredded couches and eaten necklaces. They took the time to properly introduce him to their children and were with him as the aging dog began to falter and it was time to say goodbye.

I also applaud the filmmakers for changing the plot of the best-selling book by having the Grogans adopt Marley from a rescue group instead of buying a puppy from a breeder. Every puppy who is purchased from a breeder or pet store means that a potential home won’t be available to a dog in an animal shelter or a breed rescue group whose life depends on being adopted. People who are determined to have a specific type of dog or cat can adopt the breed of their choice at a rescue group or an animal shelter. And although I recommend giving an older animal a second chance at life, if you have your heart set on (and the time to spend with) a puppy or kitten, rescue groups have those too.

In the trailer for Marley and Me, Owen Wilson reminds us, “A dog doesn’t care if you are rich or poor. Give him your heart, and he’ll give you his.” I hope this movie inspires people to stand by their animal companions-even when it’s not easy-and to love them unconditionally, just as they love us.

So please, go see Marley and Me, and take a friend. And when you have the time, money and patience to bring a dog or cat into your life, visit your local animal shelter and adopt one of the many animals who aren’t as lucky as Marley was.