One year ago today Toby was born - the second of his litter, breach and big. His first family referred to him as Pounder - as in he weighed a pound, when his littermates barely tilted the scale in ounces.
One year ago today Walt and I were wavering on our decision to never get another dog. That decision was made in our grief for Riley who had left us just nine months before. We started talking about maybe getting a pound puppy. Or a rescue dog. Or a different breed that might be hardier than arthritis and cancer prone Golden Retrievers. Or a mixed breed - like Golden Doodles.
The only problem was that when we really started looking, the only dogs we liked were the ones who were red and fluffy and goofy with big ears, big bodies, and broad faces. Golden Retrievers.
And so we found our way to Toby. Who somehow is no longer a puppy, but a grown dog.
He is not the dog we thought we wanted. He is not the dog we thought we were getting. He is nothing like any dog I've ever owned.
He is so much more.
It is said that dogs look like their owners, and that they reflect their owners personalities often. I've always liked that my dogs were soft and gentle and galumphy - fluffy and funny and a little neurotic - friendly, curious, empathic. All characteristics I strive for, and while I don't always think I get there, I've loved the reflected softness of being with a Golden.
Those are not Toby's primary traits. Powerful. Self-possessed. Regal. That's what I see first as I watch our boy bound up the trail, or sit waiting for me to throw a toy, or dive for rocks in the river.
Toby looks us straight in the eye, without flinching. And his eyes are the most intelligent, sparkling, inquisitive topaz lights imaginable.
Oh, he has the other traits. Our morning ritual involves sitting on the floor together while he buries his head in my lap and I pet every part of him, until breakfast becomes a priority. His greetings when we return at the end of a day involve deep grins and pretzel-like contortions and tail-waving of such intensity that dust devils dance in his wake. He looks at Walt with eager adoration during their training sessions, just waiting for a command to carry out.
I never think of Toby as actually obeying anything we ask him to do. He chooses to do as we ask fairly regularly now, and seems pleased with the results. But I never ever feel like he does anything he doesn't really want to.
He is not a subservient dog. When he meets other dogs on the trail, he's happy to see them and not shy about getting to know them in that lovely way dogs have. He's never rolled over for another dog, or cowered or tucked tail.
He is not a dominant dog, either. I've never seen him impose himself on other dogs. It's like he knows who he is and what he's about and has no need to prove it to anyone.
He is incredibly funny. Challenging one of the cats to a game of chase. Jumping up on the bed and looking too cute to be told to get off - even the guest bed with company. Playing king of the hill on dirt mounds in the yard. Going through his entire repertoire of skills in a five second routine in hopes that one of the moves will get him the treat being offered.
Not the easy, pliable, slightly goofy companion we sought. So much more. And so I marvel that if the dog and master connection is true, Toby's owners have somewhere along the line found a quiet, regal power for themselves that needs no proving.
Happy Birthday, Toby One (my favorite nickname for him). There is no gift we could give you - not enough ice cream, not enough new toys, not enough walks - that could even come close to the gifts you give us every single day. Good dog.
Photos by Walt Shucka