Behind every good dog, there is a larger, quirky, more photogenic dog, and for years I’ve been using cheese to bribe Good Dog to get out of the frame so I can take my Woody Wednesday shots.
I’ve not been a good mama to Good Dog. I could have pet him more. He would have liked that; he isn’t touch averse like Woody is. But he is smaller and it’s a further reach to pat his head or tickle his chin. What’s two more feet? I wish I’d made the effort. I know he does, too.
He was a replacement for something we never should have let go. We lost Mushroom, TallGirl’s Siamese cat, to mental illness – the collective mental illness that was my marriage. That year, it was the mere existence of the cat that made Him unhappy, and I believed it was possible to fix someone else’s unhappiness. I wasn’t a very good mama to TallGirl, either. The cat – her cat – found a new home. Oh God, she was so sad. This fluffy, white puppy would surely stem the flow of sadness bleeding out of my eleven year old. He didn’t. He couldn’t. How could he? Especially from the laundry room, where he lived his first two years because he might pee on a carpet and there would be unhappiness again. Or still. Best not to find out. She still bleeds for Mushroom, and I am bleeding for her. And now for Toby.
I did not want a dog named Toby. Eleven and a half years ago, we drove home from the puppy mill that wanted to put him down because of his defect – the one blue eye – trying to guess what he wanted to be called. In hindsight, I don’t think he cared. We rejected names like Rex, Jared, Fluffy, DogDog, and Snowball. We couldn’t use Snowball because that’s what TallGirl wanted to name her little brother before he was born, and she might someday decide to use that name for her own child. I won’t stop her. TallGirl and her dad decided they were going to turn on the radio and name him after the next song we heard. Please don’t judge me for where the radio was tuned.
How Do You Like Me Now by Toby Keith sealed his fate. I was limited in how much I could protest. Toby was my shortest boyfriend, ever. He didn’t want me to wear heels to prom. In our photos, what you can’t see under my full length dress is that even in flats, I still had to bend my knees just a little so that the difference was not obvious. Embarrassingly, he was also my cousin. Somebody could have mentioned that sooner, and I feel they should have. Articulating my objection would not be worth the embarrassment. My suggestion that we name him Keith instead was voted down, and that was that.
Is that why we never bonded, Toby and I? He sure liked me. Have I subconsciously neglected the four legged one because of the shortcomings of the two legged one? It was benign neglect, I assure you. He had food and shelter and veterinary care. I gave him other people that would adore him. Mike thinks he’s the bee’s knees. But while I never wished him gone, I did sometimes wish he wasn’t here.
He likes wearing stinky things, noisily licking himself while we eat dinner, and snoring against my bedroom door late at night. He licks walls and appliances and scoots his butt on the hardwood floors. But he is a Good Dog. And he has been Woody’s companion animal for the last decade. They are the odd couple.
He’s not been feeling very good lately; vet trips, a couple of routine surgeries, and four different antibiotics. Last night I climbed into the bathtub with him. Did he trust me, or was he just too tired to fight? As the warm water enveloped him, he stopped shivering and relaxed into me. I rolled him onto his back, cradled in my lap. He looked me right in the eye and spoke to me in a language I know well.
Wheeze. I can’t breathe
Cough. I can’t breathe.
Whimper. Help me.
The vet – our kind, caring vet, says there is no amount of money we can spend to change what is now inevitable. There is also no end to the amount we could spend to delay it by a day – maybe two. Many times over the years, we have been prepared to lose Woody, but Toby? I can tell you we never imagined he would go first. Or at all. Toby was forever. There is a twenty-five year old notebook that says so in a box somewhere in our basement.
I made the appointment for seven o’clock tonight so that family can say goodbye. There will never be enough time for me to tell you how badly I wish I had been a better mama. There should have been Toby Tuesdays.