Almost anyone who's lived with a dog has some funny stories to tell.
And almost anybody who's had a long-time canine companion knows how a dog can make one a better human being.
John Grogan regaled an audience of 300 last night at the Stranahan Theater with hard-to-top tales of his attention-deficit, hyperactive 100-pound Labrador, Marley, who changed the Grogan family in ways tangible and intangible.
Mr. Grogan, 55, and his wife, Jenny, got Marley as a 20-pound puppy shortly after they moved into their first home in South Florida, where they worked as journalists. He slammed into their lives like a hurricane.
"Right from the start, he was a handful," Mr. Grogan said. The exuberant pup raced into the bathroom and came out unraveling a 40-foot roll of toilet paper. When friends came over, he'd fill his mouth with water before leaping on and saturating guests. One day, a stereo speaker disappeared; three weeks later, the other speaker was gone. Marley was an eating machine. A gardener (and for a few years, editor of Organic Gardening magazine), Mr. Grogan believed his hibiscus flowers suffered from a rare disease until the day he spotted Marley leaping onto the shrub and gobbling each new blossom.
Obedience school? Marley was kicked out after the second class.
"He was this quaking volcano ready to blow up at any time."
But he passed his most critical test when he proved a loyal and gentle protector after the couple's three babies were born. "That saved him from [going to] the proverbial 'home in the country.' "
Mr. Grogan wanted to write a book and had considered many a topic that crossed his desk as a reporter and columnist. When Marley died at 13 and the family was grief-stricken, Mr. Grogan wrote a column about it. The day it appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, he received 800 e-mails and so many phone calls that his voice-mail box shut down. The comments were passionate and sweet, convincing him that the story of a young couple building their lives and family, and the nutty dog who helped them do it, was his book.
Marley & Me (2005) was the best-selling nonfiction book in the country for 23 weeks, spent 18 months on the best-seller list, and was made into a major film.
"One of the biggest gifts Marley gave me was to be able to write my second book, my memoir," he said. In The Longest Trip Home, he recounts growing up in a loving, intensely Catholic family in suburban Detroit, whose vacations did not take them to Cedar Point.
"We went to holy miracle sites around the country where we would say the Rosary as a family." By the age of 7, he began realizing he didn't share his parents' passionate faith, which gradually created a gulf between them.
When his aged father was given a diagnosis of leukemia, Mr. Grogan returned to Michigan for a long weekend, and with a video camera, interviewed his father, who died a few weeks later.
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