image of a dog sitting in clover. a red bandanna tied around its neck reads "squirrel patrol"

This weekend was the Texas Independence Relay, a 200+ mile jaunt from Gonzales to San Jacinto. It wasn’t held in 2020 because of the pandemic, but that doesn’t much matter; I’ve not run it since 2010. Though I didn’t finish that 2010 running (busted open a knee), it was filled with so much fun and many good memories, especially the dog.

Nicholle & I had been married for a few months by the time the 2010 TIR rolled around, and we had been talking about getting a dog. Because we both ran so much, a good-sized running-ready canine was going to be a must. Sometime mid-afternoon, I came across such a mutt. Some random stray dog just started running along with & following runners from one relay station to another for nearly fifteen miles—more than a half marathon!—and still had energy to spare. But we didn’t get that dog; he was in too-high of demand among the hundreds of runners at TIR. He found his forever home with another running couple who were able to get the dog back to their home more quickly than Nicholle or I would have been able to manage.

The following Monday, I was back at work with my stitched-up knee, while Nicholle stayed at home, earning some much-needed sleep & rest. Sometime in the afternoon, she took the extra cat stuff we had to the local animal shelter for donation. (Her cat-at-the-time, Sophie, had accommodations at both Nicholle’s old apartment and the home we now shared as husband & wife; with just the one cat, we didn’t need double stuff.) Shortly before the day’s last bell, I received a text from her reading something along the lines of, “I found us a dog. How soon can you get here?”

Twenty or so minutes later, I pulled up to the Schertz Animal Shelter’s old offices on Borgfeld, finding Nicholle in a side room with this lean, black & white dog who was loving all over her but promptly took a disliking to me, barking for me to stay back. Neither of us seemed terribly keen on one another.

But Nicholle was smitten, so I dropped back by the animal shelter to try to start building rapport with this dog while they started the paper work on getting Maggie (the name the shelter had given her) ready for adoption.

There was a side yard where the animals could go play, so I took Maggie there to walk around and better assess her personality. Within a few minutes of being outside, she found a gnarled, well-loved tennis ball and dropped it at my feet. Like any other sensible person, I threw the ball, which she, like any other good dog, promptly sprinted after and returned to me. This went on until the shelter personnel said her playtime was over.

What you can’t see is the ball I’m holding to keep her focus.

The next day, I brought her her own ball (fresh from the tennis courts at Steele High School—thanks, Coach Haecker!) and arranged to take Maggie home by the weekend, just in time to start Spring Break. On Saturday, Nicholle & I walked the two or so miles to the animal shelter and walked home with a very happy Maggie Marzipan, tennis ball in her mouth.

Shortly after Nicholle & I wed, we jetted over to South Carolina for her to see her paternal grandparents and for me to meet them, introduced as the guy who eloped with their eldest granddaughter without telling a soul. While there, we were introduced to and enjoyed the traditional German sweet, marzipan, derived from ground almonds, spices, and sweetener. When we adopted “Maggie,” we agreed we would change her name (our dog, our name), and Marzipan was the best fit—because she was so sweet.

That, and I was am a HUGE Homestar Runner fan, and the character of Marzipan & general silliness, goofiness of HSR matched our new dog perfectly.

Right away, we learned a number of things about Marzipan that remained true over the years:

  1. She did not like being indoors for very long. Kenneling would not be an option. (She destroyed nearly all of the different ones we bought for dogs her size—and larger.)
  2. She was super-eager to please in most every respect. She learned to sit and stay away from certain things very quickly.
  3. She loved to play ball, even learning the word “ball” and going to look for one when we would ask her, “Ball?”
  4. She loved kids, acting as protector and pal to any & every kid she came near.
  5. She knew she was home, staying in the boundaries of the home, protectively barking at any perceived threat until she was told it was OK.

There were more, like her love/hate relationship with laser pointers, but one thing Nicholle & I relished with her in those early years was that Marzipan loved to go for walks, as well as for runs.

“A tired dog is a good dog” is what Nicholle would say, and we both really tried to make Marzipan tired, but she was always ready to go anytime either Nicholle or I laced up the shoes to venture out. Some days, Nicholle would run with Marzipan in the morning, and I would run with her in the evening, 5 – 10k at an outing. And then we’d still go for a walk later, even picking up discarded bottles and other recyclables along the road. For a while, we kept items collected on walks with her in a separate bin labeled “Marzipan Recycles.” Tired or not, Marzipan was always a very good dog.

When we adopted Marzipan, we were renting & living in my grandparents’ house, which featured a phenomenally spacious backyard with lots of shady trees. Marzipan loved it because of the innumerable squirrels and the soft grass to run and run and run. But, within a few months of adopting her, Nicholle & I decided to buy a new home in a neighborhood not too far from where we lived. Though it would have a significantly smaller backyard (later expanding the side yards that first summer), it would be our own home, and Marzipan would still find a way to make herself happy, with the same running routes readily available and sufficient room to play ball.

Despite the smaller yard, Marzipan continued to persist on being an outside dog. She would come inside for short bouts of ten or twenty minutes at a time, but she insisted on being outside, no matter the weather; she had her dog house, and she loved that more than the house the people lived inside of. Even when it froze & snowed a few months after moving in, Marzipan would only come inside for a few minutes here and there—but she certainly did not like the snow, venturing out only to take care of nature’s business wherever she could find a suitable spot.

While we weren’t necessarily “that kind” of dog owners, Nicholle & I did do a lot with Marzipan, taking her to dog night at hockey games, triathlons where one of us was racing but not the other, as well as general training. One such spot was Boerne Lake, and Marzipan loved it there, playing fetch with tennis balls in the water—they float!—and just generally having a good time. Shortly before Nicholle learned she was pregnant with our first child, she & Marzipan attempted to do a doggie duathlon, with the two of them swimming together before running a 5k. Unfortunately, Marzipan was too overwhelmed with the noise and general mayhem that comes with open water swimming in a race, and the two of them had to DNF. But Marzipan would enjoy other victories, including a first place dog finish at the Boxer Boogie at McAllister Park later that same year as her epic failure as a duathlete.

At these varying events, we were typically asked of Marzipan’s breed, but we honestly didn’t know. We presumed she had boxer in her, given her markings and behavior around other dogs. Her paws, however, really threw a lot of people, ginormous as they were. “Oh, she’s going to be big when she grows up” was a regular comment for years of us having Marzipan in our lives. At one point, we saw a Great Dane with the exact markings as Marzipan, so we just decided that she was a mix between a boxer and a Great Dane. It seemed to satisfy the eternally curious, especially with regards to her paws. Honestly, though, we didn’t care what breed of dog she was. Marzipan was a good dog, and that was totally good enough for us.

Marzipan was always a very happy dog, made even more happy when she caught sight of her people—especially at feeding time. She would express this exuberance by leaping into the air. Normal, I guess, but her light, lean, muscular build allowed her to launch herself into a low orbit for a few seconds before doing it again. Jordan would likely have been impressed.

By the time Ironman Texas rolled around in May of 2011, Marzipan had been a part of our family for a little over a year. What to do with her during our weekend hiatus to Houston had been on our minds but not exactly at the forefront. With a few weeks until race weekend, we happened upon a new-to-the-area boarding service for dogs dubbed Pawdersosa Ranch. Their slogan? “We love your dog.”

Her stay there was more than satisfactory, though we did get a phone call her first night—the night before we left for H-town—to advise us that she was jumping “so high” that they were afraid that she was going to hurt herself. We assured them it was perfectly normal and that she was just really excited to get her food. By night two, they were used to it and loved having her around. Everyone always did. She was simply a very good dog.

The day after Ironman, we returned home to learn that Nicholle was pregnant with our first child. Marzipan would finally get to be a protector dog for her very own person.

She saw Nicholle through this pregnancy brilliantly, going for lots of walks and being, as always, a very good dog.

The night Nicholle went into labor with The Boy, a severe storm hit the area. Rain and thunder and lightning roared and flashed across the sky, pelting the house with angry arrows of rain. Naturally, Marzipan was outside, hanging out in her doghouse because she hated it inside. Plus, Nicholle was agonizing through labor pains as we waited her to feel “ready.” At some point, a tornado touched down somewhere in San Antonio, which, of course, was where the hospital was.

Unbeknownst to us, the ribbons of wind on the skirts of this tornado would wreak havoc on the extended fencing I had put up around the house, blowing it down where it ran past what would become The Boy’s bedroom. A neighbor attempted to call us throughout the morning and into the early afternoon to let us know (The Boy was born at 10:40 AM and rushed to the NICU, while Nicholle was shuttled off to surgery herself to repair a tear sustained during three hours of pushing) as well as to say that Marzipan was in the front yard. She hadn’t gone anywhere or done anything other than just to lie down in front of the house, waiting for us to come home.

Sadly, she would have to wait for us for several days, though my dad was able to go over and repair the fence, with Marzipan in the back yard with full food & water dishes during our absence. She was, after all, a very good dog.

As with all other kids she encountered, Marzipan was enthralled and super-protective of The Boy, as well as Nicholle, and even from his earliest, he loved the dog. “Dog,” in fact was one of his first words and everything became “dog,” including the orca leaping out of the water at SeaWorld one summer. One of our favorite pictures of The Boy was him supporting himself on the windowsill, peering outside at Marzipan, with her waiting for him outside the window, tail and tongue wagging.

Despite a similar picture with The Girl a few years later, she didn’t connect too well with Marzipan. Marzipan’s goofy, spaztic nature caused her to bump into The Girl and knock her down, which promptly caused some crying and an irrational fear of the dog. The Boy, on the other hand, despite frequent knock-downs and more, continued to be besties with Marzipan and attempt to coax his little sister to give the dog a go. It finally paid off eighteen or so months ago, with The Girl and the dog making nice with one another and becoming every bit as inseparable as the proverbial peas and carrots.

With the onset of the pandemic in mid-March of 2020, schools were shut down, and I found myself at home and able to take time to take the dog for a walk most every morning before logging in for work. Despite her advancing age, Marzipan proved to be more puppy than dog, always eager to go for a walk around the block, the neighborhood, or down to the doughnut shop (once they reopened) with me and the kids or even just with me. She was just happy to get out and move, even if she couldn’t move as quickly or as far as she once did. I’d given up running with her a few years ago when even 5k proved to challenging for, especially in the hot & humid summers common to South Texas. Though she had once run ten or more miles a day with me and/or Nicholle several days a week, running for distance could just no longer be her thing. But she would still chase ball. Or squirrels. Or anyone she perceived to be a threat who came within a dozen feet of the fenceline. She was simply a very good dog.

Following the freeze this past February, the sun returned, and Marzipan resumed her laying about in her yard, soaking up sunlight as thought she used it to generate what we thought was boundless energy. She would still jump at the sound of her food being scooped or the unlocking of the door. Until she didn’t.

I cannot say exactly which day it was that I first noticed her limping, bit I did notice when it had been more than a few days. Her paw had no thorn or debris embedded in it, and there was no wincing or yelping at the motion of the upper or lower leg; I guess I just thought maybe she had finally sprained something with her boundless leaps or sprints up and down the fence. But I also noticed she was losing weight, no matter how much food we gave her, and that she was drinking more—a lot more—which was odd for as mild as the climate has been.

When loading her into the car for her appointment with the vet, I was able to really feel differences between the right and left sides of her body, most prominent in the shoulder and ribcage. Something was very not right with this graciously good dog.

The phone call from the animal hospital came towards the end of my first class of the day, and I was able to step outside to take it while the students continued on with their assignment. Though I knew something was very not right, I was unprepared for what the doctor had to say: Marzipan had bone cancer, and it was moving fast through her body. She didn’t have long to live; weeks at best. Painkillers could be given to help her be more comfortable, but there was the real concern of her fracturing her shoulder which would, of course, put her in more pain. Sure, they could amputate and attempt chemotherapy, but, for a dog her age and the cancer as advanced and aggressive as it was, it was not a practical or realistic option that would allow Marzipan to live the good, carefree, and happy kind of life she’d lived to that point.

A call home put Nicholle & I in tragic agreement: Marzipan would need to be put down.

The timing could not have been much worse, given proximity to The Girl’s birthday (last year’s was complicated by the onslaught of covid19, while this year’s seemed to be bringing on the death of a dog she loved but only relatively recently had begun to truly enjoy having as a friend), but we knew that, given the immense pain Marzipan was living each moment of each day, unable to run or bark or be her happy self, it was best for Marzipan. No person, no animal should suffer so.

And so an appointment has been made for this Monday morning—the Monday after TIR, no less—for Marzipan to go to sleep in the company of the man she didn’t really much care for at first but with whom she found trust and companionship and a home. And in her, he—and any who met her—found the kindest, most gentle soul, wanting nothing more than to help others feel safe and loved.

Over the years, Marzipan was featured in a lot of pictures & videos we took. My favorite is of her on a rare occasion indoors in the living room of what had been my grandparents’ house, then mine & Nicholle’s when Marzipan first came home to us. She sits, staring intently at the remains of a foam ball she had completely obliterated. The look on her face speaks of confusion, of sadness, of acceptance.

The photo is framed and, for years, hung in our kitchen before being relocated to The Annex, the makeshift office constructed in the master bedroom closet just ahead of the pandemic last year. Looking at it has always made me smile just as it always will.

Interspersed with those feelings of elation, though, will also be feelings echoing those of Marzipan in that picture: confusion, sadness, acceptance.

Confusion over how such a healthy dog could so quickly succumb to something so unexpected as bone cancer.

Sadness at the taking of such a great bringer of joy in our lives at such critical periods, to say nothing of the suffering she must feel but never let shows.

Acceptance that this is just how things are, and I am grateful that Marzipan was able to be in our lives for as long as she was—even if I do not feel it was long enough.

In Marzipan we found more than just a dog as a running companion. We found a dog that was a companion through so much of life. She was always loving, always loyal, always just what we needed.

She was always a very good dog, and we we love her and miss her already.

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