the big dog makes his exit

I know it’s been all canine canine canine over here lately, but I hope you’ll indulge me in one more important story of the dog variety (it has to be better than hearing me bitch about match, right? Good god, yes!, screams my mother.)

This one does not star Franny, though she does play a supporting role of the less-than-desired variety (let’s just put it this way: if this little tale played out with humans, Franny would be wanted in several states.) No, this story is all about Toby, my parents’ dog.

Of course, he wasn’t just my parents’ dog, as my friend Amruta noted. Before there was Franny, there was Toby, and he was the only dog I knew.

Actually, scratch that: before him there was Sadie, my family’s real first dog, she of angelic origins and fabled youth.

Sadie could literally do no wrong in my parents’ eyes, specifically, my father’s. (“Sadie, she was a good dog,” he would say after she was gone, mournfully shaking his head at the goofy jerk who had arrived to replace her.)

That goofy jerk was Toby, who came to us in July of 1997. The saga that led to his arrival began on the morning I was to be hauled off to summer camp. In typical Rachel fashion, I was having a low-grade panic attack at the idea of Change! and New Things! Seeking some comfort in the chaos, my mom suggested I track down Sadie so we could bring her in the car to see me off on my four-week stint in Massachusetts. It was one of those “good in theory, not so good in practice” moments: while it would have been nice to have the family dog bid your kid farewell at the bust stop, it was not so nice to have your already-stressing-the-f-out 12-year-old discover said family dog half dead, having just suffered a massive seizure beneath the trash cans at the head of our driveway. Needless to say, it didn’t really make for a calm departure for Crane Lake Camp.

Sadie passed away a few days later – after being hand fed home-grown tomatoes (her favorite food) on her death bed – and it quickly became clear that he who had done the hand-feeding (my dad) wasn’t going to make it a whole summer without the Blessed Saint Golden by his side. So, back to the original Sadie breeder they went, only to come home with…Toby.

I’m pretty sure involving me and my brothers in the dog selection process was what got things off on the wrong foot: Jacob automatically honed in on the one that looked “frisky” and “adventurous” and soon the light-haired puppy (“At least he’s a good looking dog,” my dad would say) was in a cardboard box, being driven down to his new home in Southwestern Connecticut.

I wasn’t actually there for the pick-up. But in return for being denied those first few weeks of puppy pleasure – which, I’ve heard, truly are pleasurable if you’re not forced to take said puppy out at 3 a.m. – I was granted unilateral naming privilages. I picked Toby, which was officially translated as Tobias by my father. (Which eventually made for some great Arrested Development jokes.)

Toby was a different dog from the start. Sadie had been prancing off her leash as a toddler, was trusted to wander the neighborhood on her own and behave like the responsible, semi-human creature she was (dog legit looked both ways before she crossed the street, I kid you not.) Toby didn’t even seem to realize he was in the street until a car was whizzing toward him. He was not so smart. He was very smelly. (“An active dog,” my mom used to say.) His favorite pastimes included eating used tissues, eating your breakfast, pooping on the oriental rug in the fancy living room, and licking dirty plates from the dishwasher.

He would eat anything, actually, including several pounds of gravel that had once lined our driveway in Vermont. That little escapade resulted in a hard belly and many, many rounds of noisy vomit, but he miraculously survived, ready to chow down on a BJ’s-sized bag of chocolate bars the next week. It was things like this that made us truly believe he would never die. I joked about it often – but honestly, really, mostly because I never thought it would happen. Of course we’d be stuck with this one forever, I said. We’ll never be able to get a new puppy.

Alas, it did not come to pass that way. First his legs went, but he hobbled on, undeterred by his lack of mobility, ever-determined to get that last scrap from your dirtied bowl. Then it was his hearing and his vision, both marred by more than 13 years on this earth. And, finally – fittingly, I guess – it was his tummy.

Something strange happened to him the third Sunday night in January. He wasn’t right, and Franny knew it too – she stopped her incessant biting of all of his appendages and instead started licking, my mom reports. His stomach hurt him and it didn’t feel right when my dad examined it. They packed up the pups and put them in the back of the car, my dad even giving up a day of his precious skiing to get home early for an emergency vet appointment, but it was too late. As my mom says, when they arrived in Connecticut and opened up the trunk, only one dog was up.

He was 13 and a half years old, nearly exactly the same age as Sadie was that day I found her behind the garbage cans. Throughout his years, he was nearly always hungry and hyper and a little jerky, but mostly, he was very very sweet and lovable and loving. He was a fixture of some of the most important years of my life. Life in Connecticut is very strange without him.

Of course, we find it a tad suspicious that Toby finally seemed to give up on life after enduring six days of Franny’s torture, but we’re trying not to hold it against her. The show must go on, a new era is dawning, blah blah blah. In a few months, Franny will have a new aunt to play with, perhaps one that won’t mind her biting her tail as much. The new puppy is coming from the same breeder as Toby and Sadie, as my dad attempts, once again, to reincarnate his past canine BFFs.

I’m excited and all, but not in the same way I thought I’d be when I joked, what seems like an eternity ago, about how the big dog would never leave us.

We miss you, Toby.

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