In the first section of the book, John Gorgan talks about his memories of being ten and getting his first dog. He talks about how he remembers dogs of every imaginable size, shape, age, and temperament. The only thing the dogs had in common was that they were mongrels of unknown and indistinct ancestry. John's dad tells him to take his time about picking a dog because his decision will be with him for many years to come. John immediately runs to the puppy cage, and his dad reminds him that he should pick a dog that isn't timid. John tries the "scare test" to see how the puppies react by rattling and shaking the cage. A dozen or so puppies yelped and jumped back but one. The one puppy charged at the gate yapping fearlessly... and it was love at first sight.
While bringing the puppy home, John decided on the name Shaun. Shaun effortlessly mastered every command and was naturally well behaved. Shaun was a dog that gave dogs a good name. Shaun was always there for John; his first (and last) cigarette, his first kiss, his first joyride in his older brother's car. Shaun lived for 14 years; and by that time, John was in college living his own life. John was still devastated.
"Saint Shaun of my childhood. He was the perfect dog. At least thats how I will always remember him. It was Shaun that set the standard by which I would judge all other dogs to come." (pg. xi)
John goes on to explain his current live. Him and his wife, Jenny; are fairly newly weds who work for rival newspaper companies. John remembers how Jenny was sitting on the front of the house on the porch. She was all teary eyed, and was looking at the Pets-Dogs section of the newspaper. She felt that she couldn't take care of anything because she couldn't keep a plant alive. How would she do if she had a kid? Jenny asked John to think about maybe getting a dog to teach them responsibility. John gave in.
The two went to a breeder's that was selling pure bred Labrador puppies. As they pulled up and met the breeder and the mother of the puppies; John asked where the father of the puppies were. The breeder just replied with a "He's around here somewhere" and quickly changed the subject to the puppies.
John's deal with Jenny was that they would look at the puppies and talk to the breeder and ask questions; but by the end of the night, he knew that they would be bringing a puppy home. The only thing now was which puppy. When they saw the puppies, one stood out to them. The one puppy was the goofiest; doing sumer salts and prancing around the other puppies. The breeder told the two that they could have him for just $350 instead of the rest of the puppies that were $400. Jenny, being a bargainer she is; easily accepted that deal. Looking at the puppy, he was pretty cute, but could the clearance puppy stand the "scare test"?
"He stood up, turned away from the puppies, then swung quickly back around, taking a sudden, exaggerated step toward them. He stomped his foot and barked out HEY!" (pg. 9)
None seemed too concerned of John, but one puppy plunged forward to meet the assault head-on. It was the clearance puppy. They decided that was fate, and bought the puppy. They paid the breeder her $350 and told her they would come back when the puppy was able to go. As they were walking to the car, they noticed noises coming from the woods. The noise was getting louder and louder, which meant closer and closer. A big yellow blur galloped by them not even noticing the two. It was nothing like the mother of the puppies. This dog was huge, with mud up to his belly, tongue hanging from the side of the mouth, and slobbering as he galloped away. John and Jenny looked at each other. John shakily said, "I think we just met dad."
On the way back, they couldn't decide on a name for the puppy. None of them would agree on a name and they were both beginning to get frustrated. When in doubt, drown out your opponent. Jenny cranked up the radio and Bob Marley began to pulse through the speakers. At that instance, they looked at each other and yelled, "Marley!" Marley it was.
As the days went by, the two studied on puppy books, especially for labs. As the days came closer and closer, Jenny got an invite to Orlando. She couldn't say no to this. A week later Jenny left for Orlando, leaving John to pick up the pup, Marley. When John came to pick up the puppy, he couldn't believe his eyes. Marley had more than doubled in size. On the way home, the Marley had managed to get from the back seat to the front console. Apparently Marley hadn't learned the laws of gravity, cause each turn or stop John would make, Marley would fly every which way. The funny part was that Marley was having the time of his life.
When they got home, Marley sniffed around looking for his brothers and sisters. Reality of his new life didn't set in until bedtime. When John put Marley in a different room with his cardboard box bed. Once John shuts the door, Marley wailed a full power howl. John tried to ignore it, but after a few hours he gave up and brought Marley in his room to quiet down. Right after Marley settled in, he went right to sleep.