After our last dog died, I didn’t want another one, but my wife Barbara and daughter Casey insisted.
And of course, Toby became my constant companion.
He was very smart and awfully cute. He stayed cute, in fact, until the end. No one could believe he was over 12. And he was smart enough to know his cuteness would let him get away with almost anything.
Toby was a Shetland Sheepdog who never got to herd any sheep. But in the fall, when the leaves blew, he chased them endlessly. I’ve seen contestants win a million dollars on game shows, and athletes win championships, and neither exhibited as much pure joy as Toby did when herding leaves.
It always made me think that we humans had the meaning of life all wrong.
He trained me well, Toby did. Got me to conform to his schedule, got me to play his games by his rules. He loved playing ball. If you threw a beachball to him, he’d bounce it back to you off his nose. We could keep that going for dozens of throws, an actual game of catch between a father and son, albeit one without opposable thumbs. If a third person came along, Toby loved that even more, directing the ball between the two humans. He loved soccer, or any game in which two or more people kicked, or threw, or hit an object around and he could play defense. However, he steadfastly refused to fetch under any circumstances, as if it was beneath him. If you wanted the ball, he seemed to imply, you shouldn’t have thrown it over there in the first place.
He didn’t respond well to the standard commands. He liked complete sentences, liked it even better when they were in the form of questions. “You want to go to the park?” would be met with enthusiasm or not, depending on his mood and, more recently, the state of his arthritis. He would come when you called him, but he really didn’t feel that sitting or laying down when you wanted him to was very important.
I agreed to his terms.
I’ve owned dogs my whole life, but I never had one get to me like Toby did. I didn’t really know why until, when he was a few years old, we took him for agility training. “I like him,” the instructor said. “He has a sense of humor.”
And, yes, that was exactly right.
I know experts say that dogs don’t really smile, that we are anthropomorphizing, but the hell with them. Toby would beam. At times, he appeared to laugh (whether with me or at me, I was never sure).
But I do know this: at least several times a day, on every day of his life, Toby made me smile.
And is that not the most wonderful thing one being can do for another?
Rest easy, old friend. I will miss you terribly.