The first night Walt was gone, Toby waited for him at the gate with such certain expectancy that I found myself watching for the pickup to pull into the driveway. Even though I knew he was two hours away and would be for four days. At twenty months, our gorgeous and loving and huge golden boy believes fully in his power to get what he wants.
This was my first stretch of time home alone with Toby. I figured Toby would miss his human dad, but be satisfied with my attention. It didn't quite work out that way.
Even though we went for a long walk that involved lots of crashing through the brush and swimming for sticks. Even though I sat on the patio and threw the ball for him for hours. Even though I let him in, then out, then in again more times than all three cats combined. Even though all of that, Toby was not about to give up his post by the gate and come in to go to sleep until Walt came home.
At 9:00 I bribed him into the house with a treat and got him up on the bed with me. At 9:10 he got down and wandered whining through the house. Sometime in the next hour he threw himself down on the kitchen floor with extreme adolescent frustration and things got quiet enough for me to fall asleep. Until 1:00 AM. He was whimpering and pacing with an urgency that I wasn't willing to risk ignoring, so I let him out. Went back to bed. Almost fell back to sleep. Until he started barking. I brought him back in. Got him back up on the bed. He decided he'd rather play than sleep. So finally I locked him outside in his crate for what remained of the night.
The second night was a bit better. The third slightly better than that. He gave up the pacing and whining sooner. But it was clear he wasn't happy. I couldn't give him enough attention to satisfy. In fact, he left no room for doubt that my attention was not what he wanted.
It was really hard not to take Toby's rejection and edgy behavior personally. When I'm gone, Walt says Toby searches the house for me every time he comes in. But he's never said Toby refused to sleep, or refused the comfort of the human home with him.
Yesterday afternoon I was sitting on the patio throwing the ball for Toby, happy to be providing some form of pleasure for him. I was also trying to finish a semi-satisfying mystery - fifty pages from the end. Emma, the seventeen-year-old tabby-and-white queen of our realm was sleeping on the stool in front of me. Somehow, in my distraction with the book, and because I am innately clumsy, when I went to throw the ball, I smacked Emma with it.
She came up out of a sound sleep, left claw marks on the fabric of the stool, and was halfway across the lawn before my brain even fully registered what had happened. By the time I got to the gate, worried sick that I'd hurt her, she had streaked along the fence line to the road, across into our neighbor's field, and disappeared into the brush beyond. I called and called and called. The only response was Toby's barking from the yard and my neighbor's concern for my unusual behavior. No Emma.
For the next hour I stewed and worried. What if I'd really hurt her? How was I going to live with that? What if she died alone in the woods? What if she ran so far away she couldn't get home? What kind of pet mom was I anyway?
Somewhere in the midst of all my questions, I realized that Toby might have been feeling much the same way. Perhaps not the sense of responsibility, but certainly the sense of powerlessness. The unthinkable - one of his humans missing - was simply too much for him. No amount of comfort was going to soften that. And so he had focused all of his energy on waiting and hoping and believing.
Walt's return home from his trip interrupted my misery, and ended Toby's. Toby's joy was so profound I know he would have wept with relief if he could have. As it was he wriggled and writhed and grinned himself silly at Walt's feet. For about ten minutes. Then he wanted me to pet him. Seriously. Buried his head in my legs and stood in his I-need-comfort-and-love position while I gave him full body reassurance. He went back and forth between us for a bit, then settled down for a nap. His pack restored, he could finally relax.
Less than an hour later, Emma announced her return to the patio with her standard imperious yows, completely fine. I nearly wept with relief.
Toby and Emma by Walt.