Marley probably didn’t have the most auspicious start to life. She started out a stray pup, destined to be separated from her mother and to wander Varkala’s cliff in search of charity from tourists dining at Western-style restaurants and cafés. She would have had limited success at this, essentially a cuteness competition with the other puppies and dogs hanging around the area, until she grew big enough to be ready to have pups of her own. At that time, the restaurant and shop owners would have hounded her out, condemning her to a life of trotting and sleeping around Varkala’s streets, maybe venturing out to the cliff or beach from time to time, running in packs with other strays, and probably not living very long purely because she wasn’t blessed with genes that would make her grow big and strong.
It was Chris, visiting Varkala at the time, who took pity on her. He came home after a cliff excursion one day with this small mongrel in tow. I just couldn’t help it, he said. She looked so sad and cute – I couldn’t leave her there. Me, I was unsure at first, as people don’t look upon dogs kindly here. In general, they are dirty scavengers who make too much noise and, if they get close enough to you, are liable to bite and infect you with rabies. The way to deal with them is to throw stones or kick them if they get too close. We'd also heard a horrific first-hand account from our dog-loving friend Ayna of the twice-yearly gangs who would patrol Varkala's streets in a truck, round up stray dogs and then hang them over the side of the cliff until dead. I felt like this ugly little pup would be more of a burden than a blessing. How wrong I turned out to be.
Mummy (we became Mummy and Daddy to our pet) thought of the name Marley – in reference to the renowned reggae musician, not the Owen Wilson/Jennifer Aniston film – and it stuck. Her floppy ears grew tall and pointy and she switched from milk to eggs without complaint, but she only grew as big as an outsize puppy. She grew accustomed to the house and land we lived on – half an acre was plenty for her, but never enough to keep her from exploring outside. For a while she had a boyfriend until one day the look in her eyes became a little too wild, and it was time to have her spayed.
I took her to Animal Rescue Kerala in Kovalam, an hour and a half by rickshaw. Having never travelled, let alone on Kerala's notorious NH47, she vomited in fright the whole way. The surprisingly helpful staff and volunteers at ARK explained to me that they no longer take in stray or unwanted dogs because there are simply too many, and urged me to find a responsible solution for Marley's future should we ever leave the area. Post-procedure, she was oddly calm – perhaps a remnant of the general energy that seemed to be about ARK – and the return journey passed without problem.
Thanks to a pretty steady diet of love and affection from the two of us, especially Mummy, who was home more often and had actually had dogs of her own before, Marley grew to be intuitive and very sensitive. We loved her so much that we forgot there had ever been a time before her. Our moods generally defined hers, and she clearly thought of herself as human. When other dogs came onto the property, she would gambol about with them – a Street Dog again for a few minutes – until they got bored and jumped the wall. Then she would return to us, her family, and sigh loudly in her favourite chair in the living room, perhaps hoping for a surprise cuddle or biscuit.
She was about one and a half when she got poisoned. We'd kind of been expecting something like this because she'd developed strong guard dog traits and would bark loudly at folks passing in the street, especially if they were schoolboys stopping to throw stones at the pati on their way home. One afternoon, having been off her food for a few days, Marley ran up to the roof of the house where Mummy was doing yoga and promptly urinated all over herself. She then went completely stiff, and while it certainly seemed to be the end, it wasn't – she relaxed after a few minutes, had some water, then curled back up in her chair. She barely moved for days, but she kept breathing and eventually got back to health. The only thing missing was that playfulness that had always been present in her eyes, replaced by a faint glaze and easy lethargy. Only Mummy and Daddy would notice this change, but it would be impossible for them to ever ignore.
After that, we kept her inside for weeks, only letting her out at the end of a short chain. She hated it. Having never lost that street dog element, she wanted to run, to be with her friends, her hungry but free friends. Ultimately, our fear of her getting poisoned again was outweighed by her obvious sadness at being cooped up. We agreed that if something like that ever happened again, it would still be better than limiting her freedom to such an extent that she couldn't have a happy life.
Mummy had to take a job in another country, so it became just us two, Daddy and Marley, and with this big change came another: a move to a new home. She never really got accustomed to the new place, with new smells and sights and new running dogs who weren't her friends. I had to confine her to the house and terrace because other folks lived on the property, and I really didn't want her to exercise her guard dog traits on them. She was sadder than ever. The light that had once been ever-present in her eyes now only flickered when she buried her face between my legs each time I arrived home. It was the same story: she needed me as much as I needed her, but she wanted to be in the open and live on her own terms, at least sometimes, for a while, until she missed me again.
One day, I put her on that chain for the first time since moving to the new place; when I came home late that night, she had already passed away. That was a month ago. I don't know exactly what happened, and I only blame myself, but I try to believe that she had a happier – and hopefully longer – life than she would have. As a friend told me in the aftermath, “don't cry because it's over; smile because it happened.”