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A heart wrapped in fur TobyHe was a year-old shelter dog. But even an animal deserves a second chance in life, so we adopted this shaggy, skinny mutt along with his behavior baggage from possible abuse and neglect. For more than 13 years he brought calamity, chaos, character and charm into our lives.

Finding an appropriate name for this unkempt, untrained, over exuberant canine was more difficult than naming our four children. While perusing a Bible for an appropriate handle we came upon the Book of Tobit. My wife, Marty, and I looked at each other and said aloud together, “He’s a Toby!”

Unaccustomed to being indoors, couches and chairs were challenges he enjoyed hurtling. If there were people in them, he became their 85-pound lap dog. Toby once jumped from a table and over a davenport with an assembled quilt rack behind, turning it into a collapsed “trampoline.” The dinner table became his easy-to-reach snack.

Toby’s insecurity prompted Marty to lay beside him nearly every day for a year to build-up his trust in us. He was impossible to hold still for trimming, even by a professional. When we did manage to brush him, an immediate hardy shake on his part returned his look back to shabby chic.

Toby was fast for his size and weight. Just walking him was vigorous exercise for the human on the other end of his leash. Despite his exuberance, Toby had a gentle side. He joined our household about two weeks after my 90-year-old cousin, Carl, agreed to live with us for care and companionship. Carl had never lived with a dog and was a little hesitant, but they became good friends. Toby would sit next to Carl’s chair and turn so he could pet and talk to him. Carl’s gentle voice seemed to calm Toby’s enthusiasm and the dog’s willingness to listen allowed Carl to talk about his day. “Dogs know instinctively how to get us out of our emotional doldrums,” (Dogs & Devotion, The Monks of New Skite).

Whatever his origin, Toby had a pure-bred heart of love and loyalty wrapped in fur. His devotion inspired Marty to volunteer weekly at Animal Care & Control for the past 16 years. And, we’ve fostered hundreds of puppies – not all at once – and dozens of kittens for the shelter until they are old enough for adoption.

All dogs possess an indomitable spirit for life that teaches us up to their last day. That unfortunate day came in 2011 when we had to make the difficult decision to put Toby down due to crippling arthritis and failing health. His absence left a large hole in our household which we are attempting to fill with Toby’s successors, currently named Taffy and Sadie.

Vince LaBarbera
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Vince LaBarbera

Vince is a Fort Wayne native. He earned a master of science degree in journalism and advertising from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. LaBarbera is retired but continues to enjoy freelance writing and serving the Radio Reading Service of the Allen County Public Library. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer