Toby is always so very happy to see me. It is partly that I have been away from home for four whole hours, partly that no creature has ever loved me as deeply, truly and hopelessly as Toby has from the day he walked up my front walk on Staten Island and licked the backs of my knees.
From about the size of a breadbox that day, too little to know how to climb the many stairs of my house, Toby has grown to ninety pounds of dog. Nobody knows for sure what breeds entered into Toby’s apparently fierce look, but short-cropped black fur and mahogany accents suggest Doberman or Rottweiler, softened by a slight curly ruff and hound-like ears.
Toby has always taken everything hard, and one suspects a tough babyhood. Where German Shepherd Max walks a loose lope, secure in his position in the world, Toby is all coiled spring. In the nine years I have known him, I have never seen Toby live up to the menace of his appearance. On the contrary, he is afraid of wind and loud noises, he defers to most other dogs, and his booming bark covers up a tendency to drool with fear. On the other hand, a happy Toby is a goofy Toby, whirling and spinning in pure joy.
The whole puppy experience has been hard on big dogs, who opine that we had quite enough dogs before we started this whole fostering thing. From the first day, Nell has been reasonably well behaved in my presence, but the skulking, creeping walk of big dogs suggests that when I am not around, she whispers threats in their ears, both upright and droopy. “Touch those puppies, and I will rip your face off. Even look at them. Go ahead, I dare you. Are you eating that? Didn’t I tell you all food is mine?”
Is it any wonder that when I come home for lunch and puppy care that the big dogs are happy to see me? Even happier than usual? Today, I thought Toby would burst with excitement. The spins, the twirls, the expressions of total delight. The grasping of one hot pink Timberland boot…Wait!!!!
In past transports of joy, Toby has taken a variety of items out to enjoy on the lawn: dish towels, socks, yogurt containers, tennis balls, and underwear. I only buy black socks now in packs of six at a time. I lose a lot of socks completely; others I find around the house with a big bite out of them. Sneakers and other shoes are likewise among Toby’s very favorites. Not only do they have a powerful aroma of…well, me…but they also allow chewing of shoelaces and tossing of the shoe into the air, thereby affording exercise to powerful neck muscles. I always know when Toby has been playing with my shoes, because the laces will be pulled up tight so I can’t get my feet in them.
But, no! Not my favorite hot pink Timberland boots. Last year I lost one each of two pairs of sneakers under the snow, as Toby pranced outdoors with them in an excess of delight and buried them in the snow. I suspect that my one of my favorite black maryjanes has suffered the same fate. Once sneakers surfaced in the spring, they were as appealing as ever to Toby, but they had lost any utility to me. Too much wet, too many cycles of freezing and thawing had left them cracked, faded, sprung and generally useless. Toby loves them still.
“Please, Toby, please!” I begged. “Bring the boot back!” And you know, he did. Faithless, I feared he had sneaked it back out in a later trip outside, until I found it tucked into one corner of the living room sofa. Life with goofy dogs can be exhilirating. Now I sit, my feet clad in my “Up-on-the-WOOF-top” Christmas socks, thankful for Toby’s gift of leaving my hot pink Timberland boots at my side.
For this and all our many blessings, may we be thankful in this season of joy.