A puppy, worm-infested, vomiting blood and starving to death on a porch in Topeka.
Two creatures born to misery worlds apart but brought together to teach each other about love, family, faith and, above all, about trust.
“It’s OK,” the little girl would whisper in his floppy ear the first time they meet. “Marvin, I got left behind, too, once. But sometimes, God does that so you can end up in the family you’re supposed to be in.”
When Kathryn and Kirk White brought their 9-month-old baby home from China in August 2005, the 33-year-olds decided to name their second daughter Eden.
“As in the Paradise,” Kathryn White said. “Because she was so beautiful.”
The early years were a breeze, compared to the stories the Whites had heard about other abandoned babies. Eden was all smiles, even with Kirk — likely one of the first men who had ever held her.
It wasn’t until she was about 3 years old that she started waking up screaming in sheer panic.
White had read that for some children, night terrors were the manifestation of the abandonment they knew as a child. But that didn’t make them any easier to handle.
“She was in a constant state of being afraid, of being left,” White said. “She couldn’t calm down enough to get a good sleep.”
Sometimes, Eden would be sleep walking, repeating the same phrase — “I don’t want you to leave.”
This went on for years, progressively getting worse and more frequent until it was just about every night.
“No one was sleeping,” White said. “You don’t realize how important sleep is until you stop getting it.”
The Whites tried everything, from taking turns sleeping with her to waking her up every time someone was going to leave the house. She would want to give her dad and sister, Peyton, tons of kisses, in case they didn’t come back.
Last summer the couple, firmly against the idea but at their wits’ end, finally started to cave. It was time to look into getting Eden what she always wished upon a star for: A dog.
Meanwhile, a 1-year-old brindle mix, then named Pork Chop, laid starving and vomiting blood on a porch across Topeka.
He had been abandoned by his former owners, left as a neighbor’s problem. The neighbor, out of money, phoned who people call in such instances: Maureen Cummins, co-owner of Second Chance Animal Refuge Society in Auburn.
“This dog is dying,” Cummins said when she saw Pork Chop, noting to herself the dog had never even seen the food of his namesake.
She immediately took him to the nearest veterinarian, who diagnosed him with three types of worms, possibly a bleeding ulcer and acute diarrhea, which was compounded by starvation. He weighed less than 20 pounds.
Marvin was given the OK to leave one week later, but he wasn’t out of the woods yet.
The next two months were a blur of feeding, antibiotics, vitamins and exercise, Cummins said. And she renamed him Marvin — as in Starvin’ Marvin.
By August, Marvin was up to 50 pounds and, while still shy, he was more energetic and active with the other 50 dogs at the refuge.
“Someday,” Cummins assured him, staring into his gentle eyes, “you will be strong, and you will be someone’s hero.”
Then, the Whites called.
All Cummins knew about Eden was that she was adopted and she needed to feel safe — not that she had been abandoned as an infant or suffered horrific night terrors.
With that information, the refuge workers came up with a list of qualities Eden needed in a dog: Calm, good with children, never shown any sign of aggression, no accidents, big enough to intimidate strangers, but safe and loving.
Marvin fit the ticket.
But when he bounded out of Cummins’ vehicle that fateful August day last year, White was having second thoughts.
“I was thinking something small she could put bows on,” White said. At 50 pounds, Marvin weighed more than Eden, and he had a face like a pit bull — White had heard the stories.
But Eden took to him immediately, and the two started playing and running around in the backyard while both women watched with careful eyes.
Cummins hadn’t known Eden’s background, but as White described it, she started to cry.
It was then Eden pulled Marvin aside, when she told him bad things happen sometimes so God can bring the right families together.
“To me, that is what rescue is about,” Cummins said.
In the past nine months, Marvin has become an central figure in the White family, despite breaking all of Kathryn’s rules about being inside, sleeping on the bed and sitting on the furniture. Family members describe him differently: For Eden, he is a best friend, a baby, a cuddle buddy. For White, he is her child’s protector. For Peyton, 13, he is a brother.
But as much as everyone loves Marvin, there is something special between him and Eden.
“They’ve been like this from the start,” White said, nodding to where her daughter laid on top of Marvin, showering him with kisses. “He loves all of us, but he and Eden have A Thing.”
Eden, now 9, knows exactly why they get along so well.
“Because we’re alike,” she said in the soft, shy way she has. “We don’t like to be alone.”
Each morning, Eden takes time to explain her day to Marvin: Why she is leaving and when she will be back — something she used to require of her own family. That doesn’t keep Marvin from trying to stop her, by grabbing onto her backpack or lying in front of the door.
Eden said she doesn’t like how Marvin was found and would rather he forget it. On one trip to the veterinarian, as the doctor was going over Marvin’s history — the worms, the bleeding, the starving — Eden quickly cupped her hands over her friend’s ears.
“I don’t think he remembers much of it,” she chided the vet. “I want to keep it that way.”
That was a mouthful for her little girl, White said.
Another change: The Whites can’t remember the last time Eden woke up screaming.
Marvin’s initial jitters at the slightest noise have subsided, too, White said.
“The point was for him to make her feel more secure, but I think she’s done that for him, too,” she said. “When you’ve got somebody who needs you, you’re not so focused on what you need anymore.”
Marvin has become a security blanket for her daughter, White said, the embodiment that everything will be OK, that she can count on someone.
“He’s a symbol of trust,” she said. “And vice versa.”