Battle Lost, War Won

Time for a long-overdue update on Marjah, and not one that’s 100% full of good news.
Since April, Marjah settled in nicely here in San Antonio. Spring and early summer meant trips to the dog park and/or a Jeep ride somewhere almost daily. She became a regular visitor when I was attending classes or training with my wounded veteran teammates – even in a few of my college classes – as well as down at the pub every week to watch the Arsenal match with a big group of friends. She made friends everywhere, and even though occasionally a bartender or server at the pub may have forgotten my name, EVERYONE knew Marjah. She got to ride with me on road trips to Austin, New Orleans, and Fredericksburg, and once even went to a wake with me, putting grins on some people’s faces and cheering some folks up for a moment during an otherwise really tough day. She went with me to soccer practice once or twice, and got to see some deer up close for the first time in her life. In June, she came with me and some of my friends on a 5K “Hike for the 22” at the Alamo, and didn’t even slow down until the last couple of blocks. She inspired lots of folks in the crowd that day!





Unfortunately, towards the middle of July when she only had one more round of chemo left, her Lymphoma came back. We tried one more round with a different medication, but it had no effect. By the beginning of August, her lymph nodes had swollen so much that she started losing her appetite. Last week, in addition to the weight loss, it began to affect her airway.
Sunday morning was the first match of the season for Arsenal, with a 7:30 kickoff. As I got up, made coffee and got dressed, I looked over at Marjah in her bed. She was awake, but just watching me, not following me and wagging her tail as usual. Just as I was wondering whether or not I should take her to the match with me, she gave me The Look.
Some of you have seen it, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
I decided if I had to think about whether or not to take her, I’d better do it while she was still able to come along with me. I strapped her into the passenger seat of the Jeep, and we headed to the pub, her ears flapping in the wind, no top, no doors.
Without trying to upset anyone or spoil the morning, I quietly made it known that this would probably be her last visit. It became pretty clear very quickly that all of our friends and the staff at the pub are animal lovers. It probably was best that the scoreline of the game had ruined the mood already. We made the rounds and everyone got some time to pet on Marjah, a few even tearing up a bit and telling her goodbye. The manager loved on her for a while, and brought her some bacon strips from the kitchen. That was the first she’d eaten in about four days, and really not bad at all for a final meal.
Monday morning, I made the call and set an appointment with the vet. Thankfully, there was an opening in the afternoon. I staggered through work until lunchtime, then took the rest of the day off. I spent as much time as I could with Marjah before the appointment and cried for the first time in about ten years. I left her resting on my bed and went to the vet’s office, located about 100 yards away.
Less than an hour later, I returned with our veterinarian and her assistant. Loyal to the end, Marjah got up, alerted, and barked her little yappy danger bark when she saw strangers in the house. She hadn’t noticed until they were in the bedroom with us, and I knew she’d lost some of her awareness in the last day or two. It was time.
The doctor talked me through the process, and I was able to hold Marjah’s head in my hands and know she was relaxed and calm when she went. A thought crossed my mind, and the doctor had no objections when I asked… so I was able to give Marjah one last Jeep ride in the sun as we went back to the vet’s office.



Of the hundred or more people who have reached out since to offer me their support, probably 80 or 90 have actually met Marjah, played with her, and spent time with her at some point in the last four and a half years. That’s just the folks I know about, too. There are probably many others who were touched by Marjah that I’ll never even know about.
I can honestly say, having had her since she was born, that she never suffered a day of her life. I wasn’t going to let that start now, and we got to part ways on our own terms, with her just as loving to everyone as she’d ever been. One of my best friends told me yesterday that “Whoever coined the phrase ‘a dog’s life’ wasn’t talking about our dogs.” Truth there, to be sure.
Marjah can never be replaced, but pretty soon I will get to be a hero for another dog. One local rescue shelter here has about 30-50 at-risk dogs available for adoption every single day. I’m pretty sure I can make the connection once again in a crowd that size. A dog who is every bit as deserving of my love and care for life is already out there – I just have to go find it. I can’t save every abused or neglected animal in the world, but I’m sure as hell gonna save one more.
For now, this blog will become a sort of retrospective memorial and I will post pictures and stories occasionally. I do that as sincere thanks to all of you who have offered kind comments and words of support and encouragement over the years. I thank you, and even though you may not have even met Marjah she touched your lives, too. That’s the kind of power she had over the hearts of others, and I’m honored we all got the chance to see it for a while.


Fun times, a good week, and some GREAT news!

So it’s been a while, but Marjah’s been very busy since moving here to Texas. There are lots of places around town that are dog-friendly, and she gets to go discover them almost weekly. She’s been taking Jeep rides all over the place, and has come to school with me a few times. All this is on top of her continuing chemotherapy treatments and almost daily visits to one of the many dog parks nearby. A few days ago, she got to ride over to the park where she met Hank, a 5 month old tripawd who was only two weeks post-amputation and running around like the energetic little puppy he is!

Last week she got to go to a day of training over at the WWP TRACK facility again, and my classmates were happy to see her as always. Kevin was especially glad to see her, getting down out of his wheelchair and trying for about twenty minutes to get a good selfie with Marjah. I think he was pleased with the results, even if she barely kept still in her excitement and tail-wagging joy!

This past Saturday, I took her with me for a full day of volunteering locally with homeless veterans. Being the new guy, it should have taken me a while to start some conversations with the people I was there to help and earn some of their trust. Since I had the little rock star on her leash there, it wound up being a little easier to make the connection with people I was there to help. She sat there for most of the day acting mopey in the A/C, but she also got plenty of loving and a few treats from folks she had just met. She even kissed a couple of them, which was a great icebreaker.

We also had our last visit to the oncologist for a few weeks. After her testing and chemo treatment on Thursday, the nurse gave me some GREAT news when I picked her up: after arriving here at New Year’s with Stage V Lymphoma and a mass in her chest, Marjah is now CANCER FREE after just ten weeks’ treatment (out of twenty-five)! I’m really thrilled to hear it, and I know there is still a good bit of treatment ahead, but we get to celebrate a bit with four weeks until the next IV round. It’s really looking more and more like Marjah gets to be my sidekick for years to come.

We’ll post more later, probably with some great stories to tell. This month has a couple of baseball games in store as well as a concert and maybe a Jeep trail ride or two, and she’ll probably be along for at least a couple of those events.

One of many Jeep rides - Marjah is ready to help me tackle a day in class!
One of many Jeep rides – Marjah is ready to help me tackle a day in class!
Taking a break in the sunshine.
Taking a break in the sunshine.
This is how excited Marjah gets now whenever she gets to play with Kevin.
This is how excited Marjah gets now whenever she gets to play with Kevin.
Selfies with Kevin!
Selfies with Kevin!
Selfies with Kevin!
Selfies with Kevin!
Marjah's tripawd friend Hank, whose tail never stops wagging!
Marjah’s tripawd friend Hank, whose tail never stops wagging!

Marjah’s Inspiration

So, as mentioned previously, there are some very compelling reasons I have decided to use Marjah for good and share her with others. She has a very special story, and everywhere we go people just have to stop and pet her or talk to her – as often as not before they even notice she’s missing a leg. When anyone asks if she’s a Service Dog, I always quip “Negative, I am her Service Human”. I joke that she’s only 15% as cute as she was when she was a puppy, but wherever we go she captivates people – some much more than others.

Last Friday, I was allowed to take Marjah with me to training that I’m currently going through with the Wounded Warrior Project’s TRACK Program, even though she is not a service dog. I had brought her with me once before only because I had to – she had a chemo treatment that morning, and I didn’t have the time to take her home before class started that afternoon. In the weeks since then, my TRACK teammates have asked me daily how she’s doing and when she would be back for a visit. They have decided that she should be our class mascot, and they’ve even pushed me to have her PhotoShopped into our official team photo, which will be permanently deisplayed at the WWP facility. I finally caved last week and arranged for a special visit… which honestly will be the first of several if things go well.

Like I said before, anywhere she goes people notice and adore her. She is America’s Tripawd, she’s a little rock star and I just hold her leash. Never has that been more apparent than when we visited TRACK together.

When we arrived, I took my seat and chatted with teammates. Marjah settled next to me quietly, and within less than five minutes my teammates began to come over for a little bit of Marjah time. And this happened:



It takes a little doing for a combat-wounded triple amputee to get out of his wheelchair and lie down on the floor. I could have easily picked up Marjah and put her in someone’s lap. She captivates people, some much more than others, and that’s something you can’t coach or just make happen. As I sat and watched, Marjah seemed very comfortable playing in the floor with my teammates, not once looking up to me for reassurance or approval (like she usually does when she’s meeting someone up close). She inspires that bond of closeness, but she also enjoys it herself.

Any other dog or pet I’ve ever owned, if it had come down to shelling out thousands for medical care… I honestly don’t know if that would have happened. With Marjah though, it sort of had to happen. Between her story, the way she engages anyone in public, and the effect that she has on those who have the most in common with her, I knew I had to keep her around as long as possible. I also realized that I need to share her with others as much as possible, whenever possible – particularly those who would benefit from it the most.

She’s not my dog, and it wasn’t my choice – she needs to stick around and keep meeting others who need to meet her and don’t even know it yet.

Been WAY too long…

It has been far too long since we posted to this blog, but we’re thankful that it’s here. Much has gone on recently, and there will be many more adventures to come in the next several months.

Short version:
1) We recently moved to San Antonio, Texas.
2) Days later, Marjah was diagnosed with Stage V Lymphoma.
3) Through sheer coincidence, we have been able to find and afford care under the University of Wisconsin treatment protocol within a 20 minute drive. We’ll be done with that in June.
4) Immediately afterward, we’ll be getting Marjah AKC registered and CGC certified so we can volunteer as a therapy dog team. I’ve never trained her, but I have taken her with me everywhere I can for the last several months. She could pass the CGC tomorrow if tested.
5) Recent pictures, because cute Tripawd pictures brighten anyone’s day.

More to follow soon!








Marjah’s Story

Add an excerpt to your posts to provide a summary for readers in many blog themes!

Welcome to Marjah’s Tripawds page. I hope you enjoy reading and checking back for updates as much as we enjoy posting here.

Marjah was a very special, unplanned addition to our existing pack of three Chihuahua-type doggies. As you’ll soon understand, we have a pretty special bond.

While I was on active duty in the Marine Corps, I was lucky enough to be chosen for a special temporary assignment to work at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Because of the nature of the assignment and my enthusiasm for it, I left everything here at home in North Carolina and went on up there looking forward to the next three months. I left behind my beautiful fiancee, two awesome kids, and their three dogs (including Annabelle, a Chihuahua/terrier mix who was expecting her first litter).

A little over a month into it, I was working like a maniac, putting in long hours without question and making work a priority. Every day, I visited with many young Marines and sailors who had been severely wounded in Afghanistan and just returned home. Most were amputees, sometimes missing two or even three limbs in addition to other serious injuries. I checked on their families daily as well, doing whatever I could to make sure they were taken care of. As a team, everyone on the staff as well as the other Marines working with me would move heaven and earth on a daily basis to give those young men peace of mind that they would recover, their families would be cared for, and their wounds and injuries were only the beginning of a new chapter in their lives. My own family was somewhere there in the back of my mind, and things were mostly a blur day to day.

That all changed for a few moments one Tuesday in December, 2010. One of the Marines in ICU at the time had been unconscious since he was wounded two weeks or so before, losing both his legs in an explosion. Things did not look well, and with his wife and parents at his bedside the doctors had done all they could. It’s very rare to lose someone who has made it that far, but the staff and Marines at Bethesda had reluctantly prepared the family for the worst.

I had been on duty all night and slept fitfully on the office couch for an hour or two, ignoring the beeps from my own phone and trying in vain to get some rest before getting up and preparing to do it all over again. Just as I finished shaving, checked my uniform, and went looking for coffee, one of the other Marines walked into the office. The look on his face said it all.

“We lost him.”

Even when you know it’s coming, you hate to hear news like that. No words, just a sigh as my shoulders drooped a bit. I stepped out for a quick cigarette and checked my phone just for something to keep my mind otherwise occupied. Text messages from home. Pictures. We had puppies now. Annabelle had started her labor around 2am, and the first puppy had come just about 20 minutes before. I looked at the picture, and the message: “This is the first one – it’s missing a leg! And no, Annabelle did NOT do that – it’s just how it was born.”

For weeks, I sort of pigeonholed the thoughts and emotions that went through my mind just then. We had all done our best to take care of that Marine’s family while the doctors did their best to literally save his life. When that battle was lost and his life ended, another life began. That meant… well, something, though I wasn’t sure what. I was sure that nobody else would really understand, and that it wasn’t something to bring up right then and there. I just left it and went back to work.

When I did finally return home, I met our little tripawd for the first time. I wasn’t back for even 24 hours and I knew that there would be one from this litter that wasn’t going anywhere. After spending some time together, we hit it off pretty well. I didn’t want to go anywhere without her for a day or two. By then, her stump had developed as fully as it ever would. There was no more yelping or tenderness when she tried to use it as a normal leg, and she was just used to it. She’d play with he other puppies and fight back a bit harder when they’d give her a cheap shot on her good leg, but she could run around and chase another dog with the best of them.

In a moment of inapproriate Marine humor, I decided to name her Marjah. It’s a beautiful name for a girl, and it also happens to be the name of one of two villages in Afghanistan (the other being Sangin, which is a crappy name for a girl) where a Marine infantry battalion lost several killed and wounded during my time at Bethesda. Most wouldn’t pick up on that unless they’d been there, and it’s sort of my own secret tribute to the men of that unit and a way to remember their valor, service and sacrifice in those dirty little towns.

Anyway, that’s the ‘short’ version of Marjah’s story. She’s the first “special” dog I’ve ever had, but I somehow doubt she’ll be the last.