Normally, I go out of my way to avoid allowing my personal feelings to enter and be the focus of a particular article. Today, however, will be an exception as I share my personal thoughts and feelings surrounding the loss of a special family member.
He was born in Oxford, Michigan on October 21, 1999 and came to live with my wife and I shortly before Christmas of that year. Through the years that followed we would often joke about his legally registered name – “Kelly’s Lord Tobias of Oxford” given to him by us to recognize the breeder and the town in which they resided. “Lord Tobias” seemed fitting given that his parents came from a long line of thoroughbreds and were champions in their own rights. To us, however, he was just “Toby,” a rambunctious, long-legged yellow, almost white, Labrador Retriever.
The year Toby came to live with us we acquired a home on 10 acres of land in the Northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan. Eventually, this property would be the wonderful place that Toby would forever recognize as home.
As a young pup, Toby was quick to learn, easily housebroken, with a ravenous appetite and what appeared to be a thorough understanding of the English language. His one major failure was that he did not pass Obedience School as a pup.
Among his favorite things to do was a romp in the snow, dashing through the woods, chasing chipmunks and an unending craving for food.
He loved to run and play, running though the woods among tall ferns that obscured his body among the fall colors as autumn approached. He found joy in pulling our grandchildren by the collar of their winter coats as they attempted to sled down a hill or our long driveway.
His nose was always pointed upwards in the soft country breeze catching the million scents that travelled on the wind. Mostly, he loved to wander throughout the countryside visiting our neighbors for a short time for a distance of about a mile from the house.
He possessed an inquisitive spirit within his large frame but carried not one mean bone in his body. He loved chasing chipmunks but upon catching one carefully placed it on our front porch in order that we might tend to an unintended injury.
Toby was a constant companion content to be with us in our travels as well as while at home. He loved other animals as well. He and our neighbor’s cat became fast friends and could often be seen touching noses in some ritual greeting between canine and feline understood only by the two of them.
Toby, like all young labs, seemed to learn life’s lessons the hard way through experience. This was the case when it came to skunks and porcupines. Even while enduring the painful removal of quills from his muzzle or the humiliation of a tomato juice bath after a chance meeting with a skunk, he never displayed any aggressiveness.
Toby’s love for us was given unconditionally and without reservation. His loyalty and faithfulness unquestioned, and notwithstanding his gentle nature, I would defy anyone to attempt to bring harm to us in his presence.
Some people say a dog is man’s best friend. Friend – No. Family – Yes! Some people comment that dog spelled backwards is God. God – No. Godlike – Yes, in their unconditional love, devotion, forgiveness and loyalty to their family. Notice I don’t say to their owners or their Masters; I say to their family.
Mankind can take a lesson or two from creatures like our Toby. He was just 12 years old and that equates to 93 years on the canine calendar. The past two years Toby became our resident couch potato, content to spend the day in view of us and his night asleep in a nearby room. He still enjoyed playful moments with our other dogs and cats or with a toy until the pain from arthritis in his weary old joints became too painful.
The last few weeks he experienced difficulty standing and walking although the medication and pain pills did provide a minimal relief for him.
Last evening as he attempted to stand for us to allow us to assist him outside for his nightly relief, he collapsed and was unable to regain his feet. At 1 a.m. this morning he barked for us to attempt to help him. Again, he was unable to stand and so we spent the night on the floor comforting him until we could see his vet in the morning.
As I lay beside him with his head against my arm, he seemed to feel some comfort and his eyes seemed to convey his thanks for our presence. I knew then in my heart that his condition was much more critical than we thought and a heartbreaking decision awaited us. Toby weighed close to 100 pounds and was large framed, making it difficult to lift him without causing pain. We constructed a stretcher and were able to transport him from the house to the car and finally to the vet’s office in a comfortable manner.
The diagnosis was devastating and the prognosis for recovery for any animal his age and physical condition next to non-existent. He looked at me with his beautiful big brown eyes and seemed to be pleading for help. There was no help that assured recovery but only prolonged pain and suffering. I sobbed at the decision I knew in my heart must be made.
My wife and I held Toby as the vet administered the drug that took him into a silent painless sleep. As I held his head in my hands, I felt a light tremor as he drifted into the never-ending sleep and his neck relaxed, lowering his head to the stretcher. “He’s Gone” I whispered, knowing that he rested in the hands of God.
We brought Toby home and laid him to rest in a quiet spot in his beloved woods where he may roam free of earthly pain for an eternity.
Now, there is an empty spot, a void in our home and hearts that must be filled with memories of “Kelly’s Lord Tobias of Oxford,” our Toby forever missed, forever loved, never forgotten.