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Marley factually erroneous, politically correct

If you’ve read the book, then see the movie, you may notice that while Marley is still shown with all his behavioral warts on the big screen, the story has been sanitized in at least one way: The real Marley came from a  breeder in Florida, while in the movie Marley is a “rescue.”

It’s a minor alteration, and far from nefarious, but it does show the clout animal welfare organizations can have — and how, when the media cooperates with them, they return the favor.

Even PETA — despite its objections to using animals for entertainment, despite a scene in which a dog is walking on its front legs while its rear is held by a passenger in a moving car — has given the movie “two paws up” for sending the message that pets, no matter how problematic their behavior, are for keeps.

“Dogs are members of the family, and Marley and Me reminds moviegoers that they deserve to be treated as such,” says PETA Vice President Lisa Lange. “We 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.”

PETA also praised the the filmmakers for altering the story line, and having Marley be a rescued dog. PETA, while highly critical of “puppy mills” and “backyard breeders” is against all forms of dog breeding, saying it is irresponsible as long as dogs are being euthanized in shelters.

In the book, which is non-fiction, author John Grogan says Marley came from “a backyard breeder … a hobbyist motivated more by love of the breed than by profit.”

With the magic of movies, he becomes a “rescue,” making an already heartwarming story even more so.

But while PETA officials are making nice with the moviemakers, some individual members are coming down a little more harshly — on both the book and the movie.

“The movie goes against everything PETA stands for,” wrote one member of a PETA internet forum. “Puppy mills are already breeding little ‘Marley Labs’ just in time for X-mas and the shelters will soon be full of young yellow labs …”

Some fear that the movie’s popularity will lead — as it has after movies featuring dalmatians, pugs, saint bernards and chihuahuas — to a breed, this time yellow Labs, being bought on impulse and later abandoned.

(The American Humane Association is running a new education campaign around “Marley & Me.”  The association — which ensures animals in the film industry are treated humanely, and bestows the “No animals were harmed credit” to TV and movie productions — has been hosting special screenings of the movie, handing out pamphlets on responsible dog ownership and featuring adoptable animals at events in 15 cities).

While some worry about the movie romanticizing labs, others feel that the book and the movie romanticize irresponsible dog ownership — that Marley’s behavior problems, in real life, should have been addressed far more quickly and intensely. I suppose that’s one way to look at it. Then again, “a heart-wrenching tale of irresponsible dog ownership” is not the stuff of which movie blurbs — or movies — are made.

To me (neither the book’s biggest fan nor harshest critic, and one who hasn’t seen the movie) the beauty of the story is how love (for a dog or a human) can conquer all, how we’re willing to keep trying and look for the best, even when a dog, person — or movie — has some faults.


Comment from Willa
Time December 29, 2008 at 10:00 pm

I think I must have seen a different version of the movie- in the one I saw, he came from a back-yard breeder. It wasn’t as apparent as it was in the book, but it sure looked like a breeder to me.