Wednesday, September 6, 2017

My Travels with Toby

Toby with our Winnebago in the mid 1970's
When our dog Sam passed away there was definitely a hole left in our family as I was growing up. We begged our parents for another dog, but they were not easily swayed, especially my Dad. Our family was already large (5 kids, 2 horses, a cat and assorted chickens) so he was probably enjoying not having the extra mouth to feed. So when we approached him one night after dinner clutching the local newspaper to show him the advertisement for Old English Sheepdog puppies and he agreed to drive out and take a "look", we couldn't believe our luck. Who takes their whole family to "look" at puppies without every intention of bringing one of the little fur balls home? We had him, my dad, the "Old Softy."

We all piled in the Country Squire station wagon and drove out to pick out our new dog. Of course he was adorable, I mean we're talking an Old English Sheepdog puppy. And he was a purebred, meaning he cost money. Another thing that went against just about every bone my dad's body. Pay money for a dog?!!! Who does that? Back then, dogs were a dime a dozen and strays, it seemed, were everywhere. Nevertheless, we went ahead and bought ourselves a dog.

We named him Toby. Because he was a purebred, we had the opportunity to expand on that moniker when we submitted his papers to the Old English Sheepdog breed registry. His official name became "Sir Tobias Distlefink of Somerset County." I imagine this had the folks at the breed registry rolling their eyes for days.

Toby grew up to be a sweet dog, but he was not overly blessed in the "brains department." Once, after cleaning our ponies' stalls, I was making my way to the manure pile with a rather full wheelbarrow when Toby decided to come out and meet me. He bounded over and ran smack into the side of the wheelbarrow knocking over it and me in spectacular fashion. And there was the time when we heard him barking frantically one night outside. Upon inspection, we found him facing off with an empty, metal garbage can that had blown against the fence. Granted, on both of these occasions, the cause could have been the fact that his sight was partially impeded by his sheepdog bangs. Regardless, the family consensus was: lovable pooch but not the sharpest tool in the shed.

We were about to embark on our first vacation with Toby, when it was decided (mostly by Dad) that he would be boarded at a local kennel. Our vacations, back then entailed traveling many days and vast miles in a 27' Winnebago. Now, I know that sounds like a large vehicle, but we were a family of seven and I'm pretty sure my dad felt the addition of an 80 pound sheepdog would make our tight quarters that much tighter.

So the afternoon before our departure, Dad and I delivered Toby to the kennel. As we were checking him in with the owner, my father let it slip his thoughts on Toby's apparent shortage of intelligence. The owner, a kindly looking, older gentleman took great offense to Dad's remarks. He knew of an Old English Sheepdog that had saved his owner's life by courageously dragging his unconscious body from a burning building! My dad listen politely, knowing any argument would only delay our exit. "Make no mistake," said the owner taking Toby's leash. "This is one fine, intelligent animal you have here." "We'll take good care of him." "Enjoy your vacation." With that, we turned and hurried out the door.

We were both feeling slightly guilty as we headed home. Maybe we had been too hasty in our judgement of Toby's cleverness. Maybe he was smarter than we thought, a diamond in the rough or fur as the case may be. After all, a professional dog person had just told us that Old English Sheepdogs were brilliant animals. We would look at Toby in a new light when we returned from our trip.

That evening, after supper, as we were finishing packing up the motorhome, the phone rang. My dad picked up the receiver. "Hello?"  He listened with a look of concern growing on his face. "Alright," he said. "We'll be right over to pick him up. Goodbye." He returned the phone to it's cradle. We all looked at him expectantly. "We have to go get Toby," he said. "He won't stop barking."

So Dad and I climbed back into the car and drove out to the kennel once again. We were met at the entrance by the owner clad in a bathrobe with Toby standing by his side. Toby wasn't barking but he sure was thrilled to see us, whimpering and wagging his entire rear end with excitement. The owner had lost his kindly expression. He muttered, "I'm sorry but we just can't keep him if he won't stop barking." There was no mention of the superior intelligence of the breed or daring canine deeds. Instead, he just looked relieved as he handed me the leash.

Dad was tight lipped as we turned to go. I could tell he was not thrilled that Toby would accompany us on vacation, but he had no other choice. It was too late to get him into another kennel. Secretly, I was pleased. In the end, Toby actually turned out to be a pretty good traveller. He would lay quietly while en route and loved visiting with other people we met at the many rest stops and trailer parks along the way. At night, he bed down with me on the floor of the motorhome. He never set paw in another kennel and joined us on many a rolling vacation. If I didn't know better, I'd have thought he planned it that way. 

10x8 inches, oil on linen canvas, 2017
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For some reason these running ducks remind me of the game we played as children called “Duck, duck, goose.” I don’t know why. There is no goose in sight. Unless…that’s what these ducks are chasing!

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