As someone who previously neither “owned a pet” nor exhibited any potential for above-average social media skills, this is a funny position to be in, though it is funny regardless. Adopting an elderly dog from a shelter who would go on to have millions of fans is not a chapter I could have ever envisioned, much less a book.
I just wanted a dog who was hopefully kind of cute, not necessarily the cutest ever, who would keep me company in my lonely life in a Manhattan shoebox. Instead of swiping for creepy dates, I browsed for homeless dogs, which is how I found Marnie – there were two photos of her on PetFinder.com: in one, she was looking straight ahead at the camera, gazing right at me. In the other, taken a moment later, she averted her eyes, as if she had full comprehension of what a camera does, and why the photo was being taken. This dog seemed like she had some kind of cosmic understanding of the world. Her tongue subtly poked out of the side of her mouth. There was no text. My new mission was to figure out how to get this dog.
But there was no demand for Marnie. She was ten years old and was spending a fourth month in a decrepit shelter when I took the day off work to take a train up to Connecticut to see her. It was the dead of winter, and outside the shelter was a row of cages housing large dogs barking desperately – this place did not seem quite right. I stepped into the office, which was just an extremely smelly kitchen. I had basically just entered into a real-life Sarah McLachlan “In the Arms of an Angel” ASPCA commercial.
The dog was a hot mess. She was filthy. One of her eyes was gray, and I was told she would never see from it again. She had been found roaming the streets alone, smelly and matted. Her name on the paperwork was Stinky, which really says a lot considering the state of the shelter.
At that point I didn’t so much as actively choose to adopt Stinky as much as I passively went along with it. Unprompted, the shelter owner whipped out the adoption paperwork and showed me where to sign. In a panicked state of consciousness, I became the committed caretaker of Stinky, like marrying a probably nice but half-blind stranger who was also maybe about to die. I got back on the train to NYC with Stinky. A businesswoman boarded, looked at her face, and quipped, “Ooh ferocious.” I took her straight to PetSmart for a desperately needed bath, and then I took her home.
For the first month I bought poop bags three rolls at a time. The thought of having a substantial amount of surplus poop bags if she passed away seemed like it would be too depressing. Her head was tilted to the left and she kept walking in left circles only, never to the right, and the vet suggested it was possible she had brain cancer. Whenever she ate, she would have a sneezing fit afterward, and she was also diagnosed with the intestinal worm giardia. Thankfully she did not have brain cancer – turned out the head tilt was a residual effect of a brief illness called vestibular syndrome. The rest was solved through antibiotics and dental surgery.
She had to have fourteen decaying teeth removed. That evening, about ten days after the adoption, I picked her up from the vet, and when the door opened, she came happily running toward me, tongue wagging. It was the first time I felt like this dog and I were an official team. “I love you!” I told her. I felt weird, realising what I had just said, but then I said it again and it felt right. I began to say it a lot. We grew close quickly, and at Marnie’s insistence, I would bring her out with me frequently.
The most unexpected part of Marnie’s recovery, for me, was noticing that her once gray eye was clearing up. It was so gradual, I hadn’t even noticed it happening; but a few months back into our life together, I went back and looked at old photos and realised that her eye was healing.
“Can I borrow your dog and make a million dollars on Youtube?” a friend wrote on my Facebook page. “This dog could be internet famous.” “Does your dog have Instagram?” “This the cutest dog ever.”
I didn’t think much of all of this comments I was receiving. It’s the type of thing you say to anyone with a cute or funny-looking dog. How do you even actually make a dog famous? The idea that Marnie could somehow be more worthy of clicks than the other hundreds of thousands of cute dogs on the Internet seemed like a delusional, self-centred idea. Of course I thought Marnie was the most adorable dog ever, but I figured I had fallen into the cliché of thinking your child or pet is “the best.” Okay, fine, whatever, I will put her on the Internet. I made an Instagram page for her @MarnietheDog, uploaded four photos, hashtagged them #dog #dogsofinstagram #shihtzu. I got three followers. This is stupid, I concluded, then gave up. It would be nine months before I posted another photo.
I became ‘”funemployed” after my web series for MTV ended, and I didn’t want to get another job where I couldn’t bring Marnie with me. Marnie is not a demanding dog, but the one thing she asks is not be left alone. I had snuck Marnie into the offices at MTV many times, especially when I had late-night editing sessions, but one day a security guard tapped me on the shoulder in my cubicle and said, “Excuse me, miss, uh, do you have a dog?” Marine was fired from Viacom, and three months later I’d be gone too.
I needed to find a job where we could stay together, but I didn’t know what to do, so I basically did nothing and lived off my dwindling savings. For months Marnie and I would sleep in, go for a walk, then we’d go hang out with friends at night. One night out, unbeknown to me, someone posted a photo of Marnie and tagged her stagnant Instagram account, and suddenly we had two hundred followers instead of three. I literally had nothing better to do, so shortly thereafter, on Valentine’s Day 2014, I posted a new photo to Marnie’s Instagram account. It wasn’t long before I became addicted to the relatively swift pace of incoming likes and follows from people who were also appreciating the joys of Marnie.
Two months later, she was featured on Buzzfeed. I was walking down the street the next day when a woman stopped me. “Excuse me, is that Marnie?” She asked for a photo. I couldn’t believe it. This seemingly isolated incident occurred again a week later. “That dog is insta-famous!” the person said. And again. A succession of prominent features rolled in on Reddit, Vine, and Tumblr and a YouTube video of Marnie walking around in one of our many trips to the local pharmacy went viral, landing on Good Morning America and all over the place.
Within a year on Instagram, we hit one million followers. Walking around outside with Marnie now is like walking around with a celebrity, and the strangeness of it all is not lost on either of us. “Imagine if Marnie knew how famous she is,” people say. I think she knows. Marnie lived eleven years of her life not being a celebrity. She knows what cameras are. She knows her name. She knows that when people walking down the street scream her name in excitement that this is different than those eleven years before. People say adopted dogs make the most loving and grateful pets, and I would say senior adopted dogs are even more wonderful.
Marnie The Dog: I’m A Book by Marnie The Dog & Shirley Braha is published by Hachette Australia, RRP $19.99