The third time Toby pestered me with his Kong early this morning, pressing the disgusting chewed-up hunk of rubber into my lap, I knew I was going to have to take drastic action or he would probably shadow me all day. It was a misty Sunday morning, still reasonably early, and I figured if I gave him some exercise, I would have a day in which I wouldn't have to shout "Stop touching me with that thing."
I waited until he had withdrawn with the offending item, and then asked him in an overly cheerful voice "Who wants to go for a walk? Do YOU want to go for a walk?" He hopped around merrily shouting "Yes! Yes! I do want to go for a walk! Hurry up! Hurry up! Why do you need shoes? I don't need shoes." I ignored him as I tied my shoes and put on Peter's nicest rainproof jacket. (Ooops, yep, I borrowed it - you're right - it's a fantastic jacket.)
I instructed Toby to sit so I could leash and muzzle him. As soon as he saw the wire-basket and leather contraption in my hand, he shook his head hard enough to shake his ears. "No way! I hate that thing." I waited for a moment and then, when his guard was down, slid the muzzle over his snout and buckled it behind his ears. "I don't see why I have to wear this yucky monstrosity." He tried to make like he was going to sulk, but the opening of the treat drawer put paid to that activity. He sat up straight and tall, waiting for the treat that he knew I would slide through the side of the muzzle.
We set off and only had one false start because I forgot to grab a plastic bag. We walked up the great big hill, headed for our usual loop, which takes about 45 minutes to complete and passes two herds of cattle and one herd of sheep. The hill is steep and the climb goes on for what seems like forever. I overheated, as usual, about halfway through the trip and made Toby sit while I took off my jacket. "You're so lucky," he said. "There are days when I wish I could take off this coat."
"Yeah, I'm sure there are, but you'd look awfully funny." We set off again and soon were greeting the first herd of cattle, a large group of young bullocks who are a new addition to the neighbourhood. One of the Angus was particularly bold and came rather near the fence, but the uneven terrain kept him from getting right up in Toby's face. Toby sighed in disappointment and politely asked if we could continue our journey.
When we came to the T-junction at the top of the hill, I made a rash decision. We'd turned right so many times, but where did the road to the left go? I had an idea that eventually it would meet up with a road that would go into the village. I turned left to have an adventure and, after looking back over his shoulder once, Toby trotted along next to me.
"We're just going to see where this goes," I told him. "Good," he replied, "No one I know will see me with this stupid muzzle on."
"You know, if you hadn't started kicking up at the vet, you wouldn't have to wear a muzzle at all."
"OK, first of all, that vet was a total imposter. I've never given the Real Vet any trouble. But that was just some young girl. I think she was only 12, in fact, I can't see how she even has a license to practise medicine. She should be playing with dolls or something."
I gave him a sharp tug on the leash to remind himself to watch his manners, but he continued. "Besides, we're not at the vet's now and I highly doubt anyone's going to jump out of the bushes and start moving my legs around and hurting my spine."
"Toby, my parents used to always scold us about table manners when we were at the kitchen table. And we always said 'But what does it matter? We're not in a restaurant now. We'll be good in the restaurant.' And do you know what they said to us? They said that if we didn't mind our manners at home, we wouldn't know how to mind them out in public."
He looked at me and rolled his eyes. "Look, I was fine last time when the REAL vet was there. I don't see why I need to wear this stupid thing."
"You don't have to wear it all the time. Just occassionally, so when we have to put it on you the next time the REAL vet is on holiday, you won't freak out. Besides, you're much better behaved and heel more nicely when you're muzzled."
Toby kicked a stone and pouted. "That's only because I can't smell anything with this stupid thing on my face. All I can smell is metal and the treat you fed me."
"You can pick out the smell of lettuce in a wrapped hamburger, or a kilo of cocaine in a cannister of coffee inside a suitcase. I don't believe for a second that you couldn't smell past the muzzle if you tried."
Toby huffed disgustedly and turned his head to watch the scenery pass as we walked. And we walked. And we walked. We reached a cross-road and I steered us left. Seeing a farm full of fat, contented sheep, Toby picked up his pace and didn't bother to second-guess my sense of direction. We passed the field of sheep and continued walking. And walking. And walking.
"Are we lost?" asked Toby, managing to keep the annoyance out of his voice, if just barely.
"Of course we're not lost," I replied, managing to keep the uncertaintly out of my voice, if just barely.
"Then where are we?"
"Well, see. I don't know where we are exactly."
"Then we're lost," he said, turning to me with accusing eyes.
"No, we're not lost. I know exactly where we're going."
"You just don't know how to get there." Toby doubled his pace and swished his tail behind him, admonishing me like a headmaster wagging his finger in the face of a disobedient child.
I stopped, causing Toby to come up short. He turned around and sat in front of me.
"Look, we're not lost. This road is going to take us to the road the mechanic lives on. You know the mechanic, right?"
"Yeah, nice guy. Pity his puppy is so wild."
Satisfied with my answer, Toby turned to march on and then thought of something. He sat back down. "Do you know how much further it is before we get to that road?"
I pretended to look for landmarks and calculate distances in my head. I couldn't see much, as we were in a bit of a valley, but Toby's vision isn't that great. "Not too much further. Maybe ten minutes or so."
"Wouldn't it be quicker to turn around and go back?"
"No, I think we should keep going. Besides, I think I see a chicken coop up there. You ever seen a chicken?"
Toby shook his head and jumped up, ready to investigate. "I've tasted chicken, it's delicious!"
"Don't get any ideas, buddy. You're not going to taste these chickens. You're going to sit and look. With your eyes, not with your mouth, Toby"
Toby nodded and I suspected he might just be hearing "Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Toby." But when we stopped in front of the chicken coop, he sat and looked.
"They sure walk funny. Why is that one stretching it's neck out like that? Is it asking to have its head chopped off?" Toby gestured towards a rooster who was strutting out of the coop.
"You wish. He's trying to make himself as big as possible so that you won't made any trouble."
"Pu-lease. If you weren't here, he would totally be my lunch. Or maybe that big brown one over there with the orange nose."
"That one? That's a goose. Trust me, you don't want to mess with a goose. Or a swan. They'll hiss and peck your eyes out before you know what hit you."
Toby scoffed, but shifted his gaze back to the rooster. We watched the chickens for a few more minutes and then continued on our walk. We walked for about ten or fifteen minutes before hitting the road I was looking for.
"Whoohoo!" shouted Toby. "We're saved!" He pranced down the road, looking for the mechanic's house.
After walking for two more minutes, we approached a big bend. "The mechanic and the crazy puppy should be right around this bend, right?"
I looked around and swallowed hard. We were on the right road. But we were nearly two miles from the mechanic's house. I weighed my options and decided it would be best to come clean.
"Not exactly?!?" Toby wheeled around to look at me, mutiny shining in his dark eyes. "What do you mean not exactly?"
"Look, we're on the right road, it's just that we're further up that road than I expected."
Toby took the news better than I expected. He squared his shoulders and walked on, resolutely ignoring my feeble attempts to draw him into conversation. About half-way to the mechanics, he started to flag, his nails occasionally scraping the road as his march turned into a trudge.
"Are we there yet? No, don't tell me. I don't think I can bear the answer."
I started to answer, but he dropped to the ground and put his paws over his ears, singing "I'm not listening. I can't hear you. La la la la la."
"Stop making a show of yourself." I tugged on his leash a few times to snap him out of his ridiculous behaviour. We started back up with our walk. As were were passing the sign welcoming us into the village, Toby started to whine, "Carry me, I'm tired."
"You weigh 30 kilos. I can't carry you. But we're nearly to the mechanic's, which means we're just a bit over a mile from home."
"That sounds far," said Toby, a dubious tone superceding the whinge in his voice.
"It's not that far. We run a mile every day. It's nothing."
As we got closer to the village, a steady stream of cars started to fly past, slowing down our progress and making Toby complain again about the muzzle.
"Great, Mom. Now everyone who's passing thinks I'm a dangerous dog."
"Well, technically you are."
"What just because I growled once...okay, on three separate occassions at an inexperienced and, frankly, inept vet?"
"She wasn't inept. She knew exactly what was wrong with you and gave you medicine to make you feel better."
"OK, she did make me feel better. But still. She's going to have to deal with way worse than me. I was just trying to sharpen up her game. But really, I'm not dangerous."
"No, technically, legally, you are. Your breed is one of the listed breeds on the Dangerous Dogs Act. By law, we're supposed to muzzle you every time we take you to a public place."
"You're kidding?! That's totally breedist. They're judging me by my breed, not by my personality."
"Well, if you'd been inspected for temperment in the vet's-"
"Stop! I made a mistake, okay. I chanced my arm but I shouldn't be made to suffer now. What if Harry or Sam see me? They are totally going to laugh at me."
"But wait, I thought you said that everyone was going to think you were dangerous and vicious. Why would Harry or Sam laugh at you if they think your dangerous or vicious? Do you think they're stupid?"
"Well, Harry IS
"Now who's being breedist?"
Toby rolled his eyes and harrumphed, then did a little leap of joy when we turned onto the main road.
"It's just a mile now to our house, right?"
We passed the Irish college and the football field. Near the Garda station, Toby started to get edgy and peer across the street at the row of houses.
"Toby, he's not there anymore."
"He attacked me once. He could attack me again. Just because you can't see him - he could come out of anywhere."
"No, Toby, he's really not there anymore. He's gone to the great farm in the sky."
"But, but, he was so young. What happened? Car accident?"
"Nope. He got caught with a lamb."
"A lamb killed him? But lambs are harmless."
"Lambs are also protected. He had to be put down because he caught one."
"But...I'm sure he was just playing with it."
"With his mouth?" I raised an eyebrow and Toby shrugged.
"OK, maybe not."
Toby became somber and quiet for the rest of the walk. When we got to our house, I unclipped his leash and he trotted half-heartedly around the yard. His cattle friends weren't there to greet him and he had to be tired from our two-hour journey. At the back door, I unbuckled the muzzle and slid it off his face.
"Whooohooo! I'm free! I'm free! I'm free!" Toby took off sprinting, doing crazy figure-8s around the yard, his tongue lolling out of the side of his muzzle-free face. I shook my head. I don't know that I will ever be able to figure out where that dog's energy comes from.