“What is your pet policy?” I asked.
The interviewer replied, “No pets allowed except for service and companion animals.”
“Companion animals?” I brightened noticeably, thinking, Toby’s a companion animal. He’s my constant companion.
She went on to say a doctor’s note was needed to obtain the proper certification. I got so excited, I went back to Redwood City with a happy heart. “Lynn, guess what?!” I attacked her as she walked through the door at midnight after working her late shift. I could barely wait to tell her the good news.
She broke into a laughing fit. “Toby, a companion dog, in a tiny apartment in a complex filled with elders? Yeah, right! You know how protective he is around you. The minute he hears a strange noise his hackles rise, all hundred and five pounds of him expands and he looks like a grizzly bear. I don’t think so. Your neighbors would be having strokes and heart attacks.”
As the reality washed over me like a blanket of fog, I got quiet. Very quiet. I took Toby for a long walk the next morning and thought the whole thing through. In my mind’s eye, we were romping through Roca Verde’s hills in Costa Rica where Toby chased birds and iguanas, devouring the occasional possum. He suffered through the airplane crate for the twelve-hour shipping process to California from San José, Costa Rica. He was happy romping through the forest behind the Green Valley Lake cabin, and he adjusted to walking on his leash and being set free in the Redwood City dog park.
How would it be for him to be confined to a small apartment with only a balcony? I would be so nervous trying to keep him from barking at every sound, neither one of us would have any peace. The harsh reality hit me – I had to re-home Toby. I had rescued him from a terrible life in Costa Rica where he lived in a concrete dog-run for his first two years. His second two were spent with me where he was loved, cherished, well cared-for and free to romp the fields. It was time for him to be in a stable, “forever” home with a proper environment. We were no longer a good fit. It was time to take immediate action.
I walked him to the dog park and started talking to people. Just as I was about to leave, I caught the eye of a perky young lady who appeared to have a half dozen dogs under her auspices. I smiled at her and she bounced over to admire Extra-Large Toby. What a beautiful dog!” she said.
“Yes, he is. Sadly, I need to re-home him. Know anybody?”
She became serious, cocked her head, looked me in the eye, and said, “Are you prepared to give him up today? I work for a rescue society, one of the largest and most respected in the Bay Area. We are having an event in Palo Alto today. You can drop him off there this afternoon. We have a bunch of dogs we rescued off the Korean Dog Trucks. Here’s my card. You can check out our website and decide.”
I was stunned speechless. My eyes went wide and the lump in my throat prevented me from speaking. I nodded my head, and the flood of tears started streaming. I turned away and walked in the direction of home. I walked with wet cheeks and I heard a muffled mewling sound. It took me a few seconds to realize that sound was coming from me. And then the dam broke. I was walking and sobbing on the dirt path that ran alongside the marsh where the only witnesses were the egrets, geese, and of course, Toby. I chanted in my head, it’s best for the dog, it’s best for the dog, it’s best for the dog. Now I could relate to unwed teenage mothers who give up their babies for adoption.
I gave Toby a bath, snapped on his best leash, loaded him in the car and we headed for Palo Alto. I was relieved nobody else was home to see me in my grief. I drove in a trance to where the pleasant GPS voice sent me. I saw the big Dog-Event Tent from down the street and rotely parked a fair distance away. I wanted that one final walk with my doggie. The silent tears that slipped down my face were like a separate entity. I walked toward the display table with an imposing figure sitting behind it. She seemed to dwarf the folding chair. When she spoke, I heard Nurse Rached’s voice from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
The friendly lady from the dog park spotted me and rushed over with her hand outstretched to take Toby. “Hi! You made it!” she chirped. She turned to the head lady and said, “She’s here to surrender him to us today.” And the avalanche started again. I could not speak, only nod my head.
Nurse Ratched handed me a clipboard and said, “Fill this out. Sign at the bottom. Where are his papers?”
I croaked, “In Arizona. I will send for them.”
“One week. You have one week to produce his records. One week. Do you understand? You don’t want him to be over-vaccinated, do you? Well, DO YOU?!”
“No, no, of course not. I’ll get them to you.” And I walked away, dogless.
I promised myself I wouldn’t look. When perky dog-lady took him, everybody made a big fuss over him. I will say, he was the best looking dog of the lot. I just couldn’t look. I walked to the car in a zombie-like state. I just walked away. Best not to look back. Tears rolling. Don’t look. Walk to the car. Don’t look, don’t look, don’t look.
And then I just couldn’t help it. I looked! I didn’t see him under any of the tents. Or any of the cages or fenced in areas. I took a deep breath. Time to go home. My work is done here.
There’s a hole in my heart. I have released Toby, but I will never forget him. Never. I can’t think too long or hard about it. I do not want the hole in my heart to expand. I will fill it with OPDs (other people’s dogs). I will walk doggies, pet-sit them and love them as though they are my own. Yes, I am a dog person.
In a weak moment, I went online to see if Toby was still up for adoption. Nope, not on the website. I can picture him happily romping through fields chasing squirrels, ducks, and the occasional possum with his new family. God Bless Extra-Large Toby! He’s famous, you know. I didn’t have his papers with me, but I did send along a copy of “Toby to the Rescue,” my bilingual children’s story, for his new owners.
Dear Toby, sending you doggie love and light, wherever you may be!
I will move forward with joy in my heart, will myself to get over it, but I will never forget.
More coming … Part 5. How to furnish a vacant apartment on a shoestring.