Friday, March 16, 2007
even though guv didn't like dogs, he did like my affection for toby. after i moved to st. paul, i'd get a package every so often in the mail--a knobby, lumpy thing, addressed in guv's square block capitals. it was always addressed to toby, in care of me, and it was always full of tennis balls.
i'd rip a little hole in the packaging and then set the bundle on the floor and let toby have at it. he could smell the balls through the paper, and he'd gnaw and rip and shake it until a ball went flying free, and then he'd chase after it and pounce. and then, of course, we'd have to go outside and play.
toby was a natural ball-fetcher. when he was a puppy, i had, as a joke, given him a basketball--it was almost as big as he was--and he surprised me by pushing it around the apartment with his front paws. so then i got him a tennis ball, and he discovered his passion in life.
we should all be so lucky, to discover what we are good at at such an early age.
toby was not always good at coming when i called him, but if i held up a tennis ball he was at my side in an instant. his focus was absolute. it was a sure-fire way to endear him to strangers; if i brought guests home, i'd always make them wait outside, and then i'd go get toby, hand the guest a tennis ball, and ask him to throw it. one toss and toby was their friend for life.
often, when i was sitting at the computer in my little book-lined study in duluth, i felt myself being watched. i'd look up, and there was toby, sitting about five feet away from me, head tilted, silently staring. what do you want? i asked, and he cocked his head to the other side. do you need to go out? do you want a treat?
silence. head tilt.
after a minute i figured it out; he had quietly padded up and placed the tennis ball on the chair seat behind me, and then backed off and waited for me to play. it seemed immensely polite of him. so off we'd go, my writing done for the morning.
when doug came to town, we'd take toby over to Old Main, where the shell of a burned building stood in a long expanse of grass. doug liked to toss a tennis ball in the air, smack it with a baseball bat, and send toby running at top speed all the way down the field. his goal, he said, was to make toby run until he was tired. but we always tired out before toby.
after i moved to st. paul, we took toby over to the athletic fields at como park. the law said dogs had to be leashed, but early in the morning when there was no one around we took him off the leash and threw the ball for him. i remember clearly the time that doug achieved his goal; after a few dozen throws, toby lay down. at first we whooped in triumph, and then i felt a little shiver.
toby was 10. he was starting to wear out.