Toby turned seven months old yesterday. He came to live with us when he was seven weeks old. The time between has been nothing like I expected.
In the dreamy time while we were deciding to get another dog, ten months dogless, missing Riley and his tender easy sweetness, I could hardly wait for the adventure and comfort of a new puppy. I longed for the loving companionship, the unwavering loyalty, the reliable I'm-here-to-please-you attitude that Goldens are known for.
Until this morning I didn't realize that what I really wanted was something secure and completely knowable in a life of perpetually shifting landscape that I'm trying to travel lightly on rather than build walls of safety around. I have declared a release of control. I have chosen to stop running. Acceptance, letting go, trusting - ideas I'm striving to embrace, without clinging too tightly. I seek to walk in the uncertain world with a sense of wonder and curiosity. I long to soar in the unbounded sky without the constraining weight of a parachute.
Yet some sneaky part of me thought we could hang on to one little bit of security with a dog. A Golden Retriever - the poster dog for mellow, pliable, affectionate. Surely not too much to ask - one thing in my life that delivers simple, uncomplicated, reliable comfort.
What we got was Toby.
Oh, he's sweet and loving - when he's really tired or has been alone for a time. He's playful, but only if it's a game he's in the mood for. He's obedient, unless another stimulus is more compelling.
Toby is unbelievably single-minded. No amount of bad-dogging, alpha training or time outs have worked to keep him from chasing the cats. He takes off after any one of the four like a greyhound at the track. He is a gorgeous wonder of speed, form and intensity. The cats get away every time, but my heart stops in anticipation of the possibility that they won't.
Of the four cats, our Siamese mix Grace loves Toby the best. She'll hang out with him on the patio, and has recently begun to join him on the lounge that is his bed outside. More than once I've seen her sleeping in the middle of it while Toby sleeps on the concrete below. She twines his legs in bizarre ballroom dance routines. She repeatedly rubs his nose with hers in blissful affection. She brings him mice, a mother cat teaching her kitten about finding food.
He returns the affection by chasing her. He gives fair warning. Butt in the air, tail in full plume, the starter flag at the speedway. A couple of woofs. Front feet bouncing the ground in Sumo-like ritual. And they're off.
I am fully aware that there would be no chase if the cats didn't run. I am fully aware that they have the capacity to hamburger his nose to protect themselves. I am fully aware that at fifteen, with two previous dogs under her belt, Grace can take care of herself without my help. And yet the fear I feel when I watch him chase her, or the other cats, nearly incapacitates me. My fear. Not theirs.
Toby is fearless. He doesn't fear being alone. He doesn't fear anger. He doesn't fear the unknown.
Yesterday at the river three kayakers floated by as we explored the shore. Toby saw them before I did and alerted me with deep-throated full-voiced woofs. He ran back to my side to check in, then turned immediately back to the river. If I hadn't grabbed his collar, I'm sure he would have been in the river with the guys who probably looked like giant ducks to my retrieving dog.
Last week, while retrieving sticks in our favorite riverside eddy, he swam too far out and got caught in the current right at the edge of the pool. I called him, trying to keep the panic out of my voice. He tried as hard as he could to swim toward me, creating a tugboat froth of foam in his efforts. Twice the water swamped his head. Pushing toward him through knee-deep water, hoping to grab him before the current got control, I slipped on the rocks. As I fell, the current carried him around a boulder and out of sight. I kept calling his name, the only lifeline I had to offer, while I dragged myself up and back into the river. Before I could get to the boulder, he swam around the shore side of it, excited to find me in the water with him. Totally unfazed and ready to see how much fun this new game might be.
Having Toby in my life has not kept fear or insecurity or worry at bay. If anything I feel fear with much more intensity than I did before. I do not have the power to control the world to keep him, or myself, safe from pain or harm or uncertainty. I do have this fierce love for him that intensifies the light of my days. I have the gift of his unique and independent being that keeps me walking in wonder. I have a dawning awareness of the possibility of flight - not from fear, but into a sky where fear is just another shade of blue.