Toby’s Golden Years

This spring our dog Toby’s been suffering from senior moments. He is a middle-sized beagle mix, but he used to jump like an Olympian into the truck or onto the bed or couch.

Now his face is grey, he sleeps fitfully, and his back end is so stiff that he has to use doggy steps to reach the soft places he prefers.

I never believed the thing about “man’s best friend” until Toby. He sleeps on his dog bed in my study. He’s heard every keystroke of every word I’ve written in the past five years. I take his soft snores as approval, something every writer needs near the beginning of a new project.

Toby hasn’t always been my best friend. He started out as Betsy, Rob, and Russell’s dog, a pound hound snatched from the jaws of death and named by consensus off an internet list of popular dog names.

He was only a year old when Betsy and the boys brought him home, and right away he slept in Russell’s room on his bottom bed. He was the perfect dog for two boys. Back then they called him the Bunk Bed Beagle.

The early myth of Toby includes so many stories of escape from the backyard that he was also known as “the Marco Polo of beagles.” Once fully outfitted with a “radar dish” around his neck (to keep him from licking his neutering incision) Toby wandered around Converse Heights until captured and brought back home.

His quest for food was always a part of the myth as well. Once Toby jumped up on the counter and ate a half-dozen fresh blackberry muffins. Another time ate a birthday cake, and after we moved out here he ate three tiny wild rabbits in one gulp.

I had my own dog, Ellie Mae, a beagle-basset, and she was the thick- bodied alpha, fiercely loyal and protective. She carried herself like a potentate. She knew who was boss and it wasn’t me.

Ellie would stalk a squirrel for hours, and once she chased a UPS truck all the way down Church Street. She had this thing about people in uniforms.

In her middle years Ellie Mae was a media star when she appeared in a Perception kayaks catalogue. Anytime she was around the white water boating community someone would stop us and say, “Hey, is that the Perception dog?”

While Ellie Mae was still in her prime, Toby was her second fiddle. Even after we consolidated our families in marriage five years ago, Ellie Mae kept her position of queen of the hill. She slept on the couch and Toby curled in a chair across the room. When we disturbed her sleep in later life Ellie Mae would lift her head and acknowledge we had entered the room with a simple slap of her tail.

When Ellie Mae died, Toby came into his own. The couch was finally his to rule. He could eat whenever he wanted, not worried about Ellie Mae’s fierce defense of her bowl nearby. Toby had become Top Dog.

It was three years ago when Ellie Mae passed, and now Toby’s no pup. He’s stiff and a little plump, and those “Your senior dog” cards keep coming from the vet.

In that human-to-dog years conversion of one to seven, Toby’s pushing 90, so his decline shouldn’t surprise me. After all, beloved dogs remind us of our own mortality because they arrive where we will all be so much faster.

Sometimes Toby can’t sleep at night. Neither can I. We get up together and shuffle around the house like geezers, and last time I looked in the mirror my chin was grey as well.

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