Toby Tuesday


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.

Who is a good boy?

In hind site,  nothing about today’s dogastrophe was unpredictable, except maybe the lifetime ban from the pet store.  Did not see that coming when I left the house this morning.

Last week I stopped in to buy a replacement bottle of Woody’s special, $30 medicated shampoo.  Instead of the clear, lavender gel I was expecting at the doggy boutique today, I squirted something that looked and smelled like Johnson’s Baby Lotion all down Woody’s back.  In big, purple letters, the bottle confirmed my mistake.  I bought conditioner, not shampoo.

I swear to you,  I didn’t even know they made dog conditioner.

I used the gentlest shampoo the shop offers, and followed up with a thorough rub down and rinse with this new conditioner.  At least he’ll still get the antibacterial, anti-allergy, anti-yeast, soothing medication, I figured.  I just hoped the shampoo didn’t set off a new skin allergy.  When we were finished, Woody left the beauty shop smelling fine and as soft as a freshly laundered baby bunny – which would terrify him if they ever crossed paths.  He has an exceptionally low prey drive.

Per our bath day ritual,  we walked down to the Mediterranean restaurant on the corner,  where I ordered Woody a plate of lamb.  We sat on the patio while he did tricks to earn every bite.   The patrons always enjoy the Woody show,  and he loves the attention almost as much as he does the people food.

Still feeling frisky from his bath,  I kept him with me while running errands, eventually stopping at the pet store to buy the correct shampoo on the way home.

Woody loves this store, and in his advanced age and new found calm, I bet I could walk him around off leash.

Well,  I would have.  I’d have been dead wrong, but the outcome wouldn’t have been drastically different.

The one exception to his low prey drive is birds.   I’ve watched him grab them right out of the air in our back yard.  Madi employed him, regrettably, to help get a stuck bird out of her bedroom.   Effective, but disgusting, as he vomited the poor starling onto her carpet.

Today,  hunger wasn’t a contributing factor –  his belly was full of lamb.  I think it was just a case of the after bath friskies, combined with,  obviously noticing for the first time,  the pet store’s delectable selection of Parakeets.  It was the perfect storm, really.

My mindless stroll to the grooming aisle was interrupted by a bark, a painful tug, and then sudden slackening of his leash.  I looked up to see Woody in his signature trick, reaching for the sky.  The full weight of a normally sedentary weimaraner fell against the middle case in a stack of glass bird tanks.  It, and the one above crashed to the floor.  

Woody forged into the broken glass, bird bedding, and feathers to pluck himself a chew toy from the flock; a beautiful Carolina Blue one.

The employees outnumbered the customers at that time by about 2.5 to 1, but everybody appeared at the scene of the crime in time to watch Woody take his first chomp of Tweety.  When the bird squeaked, I knew he was done for.   Woody mistook his cry for help and I said aloud, “Oh my God!  He’s going for the squeaker!”

Each little birdy plea egged him on to chomp again until the guy I’m pretty sure was the manager told me to Get. That. Dog. Out.  Now.

I tugged at Woody’s scruff – his collar lay broken at the other end of the leash I was still holding.  It was then that he seemed to come out of his adrenaline trance.  He stood, head cocked in confusion, with the front end of a feebly struggling parakeet hanging from the left side of his mouth.

I was probably in shock, too.  “Do you want him to leave the bird?”

I think he told me to take it, but I wasn’t fully processing everything yet.  I grabbed the top of Woody’s snout and told him to leave it.

He did.   Begrudgingly.

I took him to my car and rolled down the back windows in silence.  I do not know what you say to a dog who just ate an innocent parakeet in public.  With no way to clip him to his car harness, I hoped for the best and went back inside to ask if I could help clean up.

No.  I could not.

Could I at least pay for the bird?

Yes.  Most certainly.

I was still dragging the broken collar on the end of Woody’s leash, I realized.

Can I just go look for a new collar, real quick?


As I was paying for the ABC bird and Woody’s bright,  new collar, the presumed manager came to me to officially excommunicate my dog from the good graces of the pet store.

Sitting on the back deck, thinking I should really have a word with him about today’s events, but still unable to fathom what that word would be I suddenly realized – I forgot to get the shampoo.