Marley and Me: A family that never gave up on their beloved dog

Marley and Taylor

The Ritchey family came together to give their dog the best possible care during her time of need.

Back in 2015, Julie Ritchey’s daughter, Taylor, asked if they could find a Goldendoodle puppy. The family was fortunate enough to come across a post for Goldendoodle puppies: one male and one female. They made the two-hour trip and the entire time Taylor was saying she wanted the boy. When they arrived and Julie’s daughter held Marley for the first time, she was completely in love.

The Ritchey family brought Marley home and she immediately became best friends with their elderly Jack Russell terrier (Madison) and English Mastiff (Biggie). Most of all she became Taylor’s best friend, who was a senior in high school at the time and just learning about the challenges of adulthood. 

marley at home

When it came time for Taylor to choose where to attend college, it didn’t take her long to decide to attend the local campus because she didn’t want to leave her dog. Throughout four years of college, Marley was always there to support her. Marley supported Taylor through many difficult losses, including the unexpected loss of her horse Petey in May of this year.

“To say this dog is special is an understatement,” said Julie.  

Marley was always a healthy dog, besides her bothersome allergies, which the family had tried everything to relieve. They jokingly would always refer to it as “itchyitis”. Finally, in 2021 their family veterinarian suggested they try allergy testing, which revealed an extensive list of allergies including food and environmental. They began treating her with oral allergy drops, without much success. Then they started weekly allergy shots which Taylor would administer, but alas, saw not much improvement.

It was during January of this year that the family noted Marley exhibiting “reverse sneezing.” She was evaluated by their veterinarian, and there were no concerns that she could find, so they continued the allergy shots.

On July 31, the family was at home when suddenly Marley developed rapid breathing. They did not hesitate and quickly transported her to the closest emergency veterinarian, about 45 minutes from home. After her examination, the veterinary team informed the family that Marley had pneumonia. There was not a clear reason for her developing this pneumonia, but she required an overnight stay and could be discharged the next day. She was prescribed two weeks of antibiotics, and the family was advised to follow up with our local vet. We were very diligent with her aftercare, and Marley recovered quickly. It was only a week, and she was back to her joyful, playful self.  Everyone in the family was so relieved.

This is where Marley’s story becomes difficult. After this pneumonia episode, specific discharge recommendations were sent from the emergency hospital to their local vet. These recommendations were not followed through, including the appropriate length of antibiotic therapy. So, three weeks after her first diagnosis of pneumonia, Marley again began showing signs of respiratory distress. She was taken to the emergency veterinarian hospital and again diagnosed with pneumonia. This time, however, the discharge instructions were clearly communicated to both the Ritchey family and their veterinarian.

Marley was prescribed antibiotics and decongestants. She was to continue the antibiotics for two weeks, have a follow-up chest x-ray, and if that was clear continue the antibiotics for another two weeks. Julie followed everything exactly as it was prescribed, and finally, on September 16, Marley completed her treatment and had a clear chest x-ray.

marley on couch

“She was healthy, and we were ecstatic!” Julie said, “We were never given a reason for her condition, but at the time we had no idea what was to come and were unaware of the causes of her aspiration pneumonia.”

In October, they went on a family camping trip for Halloween. On their way home, Julie noticed Marley coughing a few times. She was acting fine, but that first cough was a cause for concern. Monday morning, October 17, Marley woke up and was acting herself. She ate her breakfast and played with the other dogs, but by the afternoon the cough had returned, and by evening the increased respiratory effort had returned. They were very concerned, and this time made the decision to take Marley to The Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center.

“We chose Ohio State because our horse Dakota had received tremendous care at the Galbreath Equine Center just one month prior,” said “Julie. “Marley had experienced two prior episodes of pneumonia with no apparent cause. We were wanting answers and a solution to her medical issues. Ohio State’s small animal hospital was a new experience for us, but we are so thankful we made the choice to bring Marley to OSU that night.”

When Marley arrived at the hospital she walked in and greeted everyone with her tail wagging and happy, although her respiratory rate was also dangerously high at that time. After a complete examination by the team, she was again diagnosed with pneumonia. She was stable but would be admitted for care into the intensive care unit. Within four hours of her admission, Julie received a call that Marley’s respiratory status was critical. That was the first time the family faced the fact that she would at this point require intubation and mechanical ventilation, or euthanasia. They went to the hospital as a family and decided to aggressively treat Marley for her pneumonia.

“She, after all, was a member of our family, and we could not give up on her at that point,” said Julie.

It was seven days on the ventilator.

And it was intensive.

They were hoping and praying, every day.

“And with each passing day, we would experience highs and lows like none other,” Julie said. “Somedays it was one step forward and two steps back, however, Marley did not prove us wrong.”

Marley was quite the perfect patient, and everyone was so thankful when the happy, sweet girl was extubated and conquered the mountain of obstacles she had faced.

“We are so thankful for the care she received that it is difficult to put it into words. The intensivists, residents, students, nurses, techs, and receptionists were invested in Marley’s care, and we are forever grateful,” said Julie.

“We were amazed at the caring and compassion from all of the team. From the residents, especially Dr. Joanna Finstad in Emergency and Critical Care, to the receptionists, many knew Marley by name and were always quick to greet us on our arrival as ‘Marley’s Family’.” remembered Julie. “We have met many of the nurses and students that were personally invested in Marley’s care, and it is a wonderful feeling knowing they are doing everything they possibly can to help our girl feel better.”

Marley was discharged from the hospital on October 27. She walked out of the hospital just as happy and personable as she was the day she arrived, and they are so happy to have her home.

“Having Marley back home makes our family feel complete again. Marley can give you a ‘look’ and you immediately know what she wants. And she is the best big sister to her ‘siblings’ Mia and Raeni,” said Julie.

However, her story is far from over. There is still not a definitive cause for her aspiration pneumonia, which is where the family is today. On November 16, she will have a swallowing study to assess her for possible reflux. After that test, they hope to have more answers and a plan for the future. They want to ensure she has the best quality of life possible going forward.

“She has fought this hard, and we do not want to let her down now,” said Julie.

“Taylor is so happy her girl is back home. The special care that Marley receives now is a family effort. This care has promoted such a bonding experience with Marley, and has really allowed Taylor to appreciate every day she has with her,” said Julie. “She has poured all of her time and resources into Marley’s recovery, and I am so proud of both Taylor and Marley for their resilience and ‘never give up’ mindset.”


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