Tuesday October 30, 2012

I'm heartbroken to share that my beloved Toby, the Airedale terrier, left us Saturday morning.

After 13 years of tail-wagging love, furry snuggles and the occasionally muttered "darn dog," my four-legged best friend is no longer experiencing the kind of old-age pain a well-loved dog with a full life of taking care of his family feels.

He was, quite simply, the most perfectly imperfect dog any family could ask for. He was my dad's nap buddy and his co-surveyor of our giant backyard. He was my mom's baby, when all her babies had left the nest, the sharer of her morning peanut butter and toast, and her helper in the kitchen when the floor needed cleaning -- or licking. He was my sister's little brother, who sent the best care packages to her in Arizona and who always remembered what a good back scratcher she is.

He was my best friend and my first love. That crazy, fun dog pranced into my family's life shortly after my 16th birthday -- a present from my parents. I like to think fate gave us this bouncing jelly bean of an Airedale, who shared my birthday and my love for running through piles of leaves and snow drifts. He never met a potato chip he didn't like, or a cat he did. He snored like an old man and always seemed to find the perfect spot under my father's feet to make him trip.

He was mischievous, stubborn and downright exhausting. The only thing that seemed to slow him down, besides the vacuum cleaner he dreaded, was when he went blind at the age of 8. But even then, he'd crash into the wall snout first, tail wagging, while trying to get to the action as fast as possible, no matter what table, wall, or even my dad's knees, stood in his way.

I worried when I moved away at 19 that he'd forget me, that I'd no longer be his favorite human. But the thing I loved the most about Toby was he never did forget me. Every time I walked through the door, it was as if he'd been standing there, waiting for his "master" to get home the whole time. Even when he lost his sight, the sound of my voice sent his tail into a frenzied wag. And when he lost his hearing this year, one sniff of my hand was all it took to know it was his Lindsey.

I'll always remember the afternoon I found him nose-deep in a hole of mud in our backyard. He'd been digging so furiously that all I could see was flying grass and mud and the white of his eyes. Birthday pictures will never be the same without his snout making a guest appearance, tongue dangerously close to the cake. Christmases will be tame without him bouncing through the presents, clawing at the wrapping paper thinking every box contained a squeaky toy for him.

But it was his time to go. He hasn't been himself since the husband and I got married, and I often wonder if he knew his job was done -- he didn't have to watch over me anymore because he knew a good man would take care of me.

They say all dogs go to heaven, and I know this one did. It gives me some comfort knowing he's up there, digging holes in the clouds, making the saints mutter under their breath. He's probably sitting next to my grandfather sharing a ham sandwich as my grandfather's giant hand lovingly pats Toby's head so hard the sleepy Airedale's eyes close.

Rest in peace, my "bubby." Your work here is done. We're forever grate ful and blessed for having shared wet-nosed kisses and the crusts of our toast with you.

Lindsey Hollenbaugh is The Eagle's online editor. Email her at lhollenbaugh@berkshireeagle.com.