On This Day.

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Toby…it seems like yesterday. Photo by Jim Thomason

There’s a nifty little feature on Facebook that gives you a recap of the things you shared on on this day in years past. For those of us who have a tendency toward being memory-challenged, it’s really a fun daily reminder.

11705360_10207560189026489_6028331319248977405_nGenerally, as far as my personal On This Day feed is concerned, the posts are funny, lighthearted reminders of events, jokes, and bits and pieces of my life. I try to keep Facebook fairly recreational. No discussions about religion or politics on my page. Nope, just fun and games…and occasionally shared life events.

Today’s On This Day reminded me that last year I was working to figure out what to do with three German shepherd mix puppies dumped along our road (I’m happy to report that on this day, they are happy, healthy and in loving homes).

I was reminded that I had dinner out with Jim at Louie’s Bar and Grill on this day two years ago. I’m sure we had the fried green beans. Yes, fried green beans. Is this just a heartland/southern thing? We take perfectly good veggies and make them ridiculously fattening and delicious by dipping them in batter and frying them.

I was reminded that today would have been my dear sister’s 63rd birthday. Happy birthday Cindy. I love you then, now and always.

And I was reminded that four years ago on this day one of my heart and soul dogs, Monte, passed away at age 15 years, seven months. Ah, Mont-ster Man…I love remembering you.

Next year, On This Day will remind me of the day we helped our Toby escape a body that was swiftly failing him. This day will apparently always be a day filled with emotion.

It’s funny because I am really not the type to highlight sad anniversaries. I don’t focus on the day someone left. I choose instead to focus on special memories and birthdays. I love to celebrate Cindy’s birthday by doing something very fun and nice for myself as well as for others. I think this is the best way to honor her and share my love for her.

But oh Facebook, you are also very good at reminding us of the not-so-joyous anniversaries. And now I will always know the exact day Toby left.

We didn’t know how very ill Toby was until it was simply too late to react. It’s funny, you can start to come down with a simple cold and you know it two days before the full blown cold takes hold. But it seems the big stuff can hit out of nowhere like a train with no working brakes.

WHAM. “Toby has lymphosarcoma,” the veterinarian said. “The cancer is throughout his liver, abdomen and likely other areas of his body.”  Our brains barely had a chance to absorb this reality before the disease started to take its toll.

Within the span of one week, our bold, bossy, clever boy melted into a weak, tired old man. And all surrounding his 13th birthday. We still have the birthday cake he never felt like sampling.

We learned of the diagnosis late Friday evening. We made plans to meet with a veterinary oncologist on Monday morning. We never made that appointment.

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A cool cloth and a good friend.

Fate had a very different plan. After holding steady through a week of daily hospital care with IV fluids followed by diligent supervision at home every evening, Toby grew increasingly weak over the weekend and developed a very high fever on Sunday. We raced back to the emergency vet to hopefully get his steadily climbing fever back under control.

I will admit that one look into Toby’s eyes told me that we might not be bringing him back home, but that’s not something you admit out loud when you want to cling to the idea that there is still hope. I think Jim and I were both forcing ourselves to be overly calm, bordering on casual, as we carried our boy into the lobby of the ER vet.

We rattled off his medical history as if we had been awarded doctorates ourselves. He’ll get some fluids, perhaps some antibiotics, we thought. They will give him the little boost he needs to feel better and then we’ll see the oncologist in the morning to formulate a treatment plan.

“Really Nancy?” said the little voice inside my head. “Look into your dog’s eyes. Look into the truth.”

Shut up, my brain said back. They will give him fluids and he’ll be fine. This is Toby. He is strong and bossy and the leader of our pack. Shut up, I said and said and said.

But within just a couple of hours the truth could no longer be silenced.

Next year, on July 19, I’ll see a post about the day we chose to ease Toby out of this life. I will be reminded of the amazing outpouring of love and support from friends who knew Toby or who just know our hearts. I will see photos of my spotted boy and I hope I will smile in remembrance.

His life with us was amazing, though admittedly too short. But what would have been long enough? Fourteen years? Fifteen? Sixteen? Forty? Never enough. A good, good dog always leaves you wanting more.

Jim and I came home from the hospital with red-rimmed eyes, heavy hearts, and Toby’s fur and scent from last goodbyes clinging to our clothing.

We did not, of course, come home to an empty house. We share our home with a great number of wonderful dogs, both foster dogs and permanent residents.

We were swarmed with greetings, then quieter investigation as the dogs sniffed our hands, shirts, and even our salt-stained faces. Dogs, and all animals, seem to understand and accept death with so much wisdom and grace.

I think our dogs knew, well before we did, that Toby was leaving. I believe the scents we carried home told them the final chapter to his story. I know they could sense our sorrow.

I don’t think either of us quite knew what to do with ourselves after the week of giving Toby constant care came crashing to a halt. We wandered about the house, going through “normal” motions. We talked here and there about Toby and the funny things he did in life, how well he bossed the other dogs around, how much we would truly miss him despite the herd of dogs still gathered around us.

Toby was a big presence in our world. His void would not be lost in the crowd.

As exhaustion claimed Jim, his best-buddy-in-training, Bernie the pit mix, stretched out by his side on the couch for a nap. I sat and stared at the television, though I can’t really tell you what I watched. Our other dogs were in various stages of settling in for the night, scattered around the family room and overtaking our bed in the adjacent room. The comforting sound of contented snores eclipsed the volume of the TV.

bed partyJust then Kainan, our resident wolfdog, appeared right in front of me, breaking my unfocused stare. In his mouth he carried a large red Kong, a sturdy rubber dog toy that is shaped like a beehive.

This toy was not one of Kainan’s normal favorites. But there he stood, offering the toy to me. I reached out and took it, he backed up few steps with an expectant look in his wise, captivating eyes.

Kainan has never played fetch with me one day in his life here on the farm. Never. But tonight, when my heart needed a little Super Glue, here was my big boy, teasing me out of my funk.

I tossed the toy just a few feet and it bounced crazily on the hard floor. Kainan pounced on it in delight and immediately brought it back and shoved it in my hand.

I tossed it again, giving it a little spin so it would hop and dance away from the wolfdog’s big feet. Again he chased it, pounced on it with great theatrics, and brought it straight back to me.

This game went on for about 10 minutes until the smile on my face, and in my heart, could not be suppressed. Finally I grabbed my big dog and gave him a huge hug, burying my face in his thick woolly coat.

A game never played before, perhaps never to be played again, but just the medicine I needed on this day. Wise Kainan reminded me that where one great story ended, there are others waiting to begin. My heart is certainly big enough and strong enough to embrace them all.

On this day, I am grateful – grateful for the story played out by a spectacular Dalmatian dog named Toby, as well as for the many stories yet to come.

To our dear Toby. You came into our lives during a time of change, uncertainty, and upheaval. You were the perfect dose of spotted joy to help heal our hearts, to help us look forward instead of backward.

90273524.cdPiKRSfYou were the dog who figured out, all on your own, how to use the ice maker in the door of the refrigerator (see video here). You were the clown who tried valiantly to balance on a big rubber ball. You were the flying dog who would leap in the air to bite at a stream of water shooting from the hose.  You were our unfailing foot-warmer every single night. You were the big tough dog who could never hold his licker, washing our faces thoroughly given the chance. You were our resident, unflappable boss dog, even exercising your authority over the wolfdog that was twice your size and a fraction of your age. 

You were, quite simply, our best boy. 

11263005_10153097727529422_2025888387682140569_nI don’t really believe that you are sitting at the edge of a rainbow waiting for us. Instead I believe you are running and leaping right over rainbows, tracking down our loved ones who left before you.

Hey, on this day, wish Cindy a very happy birthday for me, will you? And unleash that tongue of yours to give her face a good wash. Thanks Toby. For everything.

3 thoughts on “On This Day.

  1. In tears for the second time today after hearing the news. What a wonderful post about Toby. We’re thinking of you and Jim. Toby’s such a wonderful dog. Glad Kainan provided a little lighthearted amusement in a time of need.

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  2. Wow. Unabashedly sitting here with tears streaming down my face – having gone through this the weekend before it is still so fresh – and we had time to prepare ourselves that you did not. Reminders of our departeds are everywhere – that Kainan is some critter! Thoughts and prayers remain with you.

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