An Airedale Rescue Story

The Trials of Toby

On an oppressive afternoon in Bay City, Texas, the shadow of a thunderstorm cloud slides across an older, very modest neighborhood, eclipsing the glaring sun but having no effect on the temperature. In an airless backyard a bone-thin Airedale starts pacing nervously in his six-by-four foot cage. Thunder rumbles and the dog trembles. Thunderstorms have been frightening and uncomfortable experiences for his whole life. And there are a lot of thunderstorms in Bay City.

The dog is almost seven years old. His whole life has been in cages, mostly the one he is in as the storm approaches. His lower teeth between his fangs are worn away from gnawing at his cage out of boredom and frustration. His coat is matted and filthy from living with his own excrement. His owner cleans the cage once a week, and feeds him once a day.

Airedales are very affectionate creatures, and the occasional visits by the backyard puppy mill owner are the highlights of this one’s life. When he hears the door opening to the yard full of cages, he wags his tail with unrestrained enthusiasm, not in anticipation of the low grade dog food that is his daily fare - he hardly touches it on many days - but for the joyous moment when his owner opens the door and gives him a desultory pat on the head, the only affection in the Airedale’s life. He joins in with his fellow inmates in happy barking and howling during the dinner hour.

When the storm breaks, he cowers in the corner of his cage under the warped plywood shelf that is his only shelter, terrorized into making the same mournful puppy squeals he has made in times of fear since he was prematurely weaned a lifetime ago.

This misbegotten creature came into our lives four months ago after a daring Airedale Rescue emancipation of six (The “Bay City Six!) of the puppy mill rats. “Toby” was his name. To us he looked like a Toby.

What a mess he was. Every skin and ear disorder known to vets, bones sticking out all over, rheumy eyes and such marginal teeth that he swallowed most things whole. But, man, was he happy. Never before have I seen a dog who wagged his tale every waking moment.

He had gone from dog hell to dog heaven. At our house, two other Airedales and a fiercely independent male mutt set about “dog socializing” him in a crash course. "Stay out of my food bowl!" was an early lesson that took him a while. After all, the only bowl in his experience was his bowl. But he learned the lesson with the same irrepressible good humor that is his hallmark in everything he does. Well, except how he deals with small boys. We can only think that he was harassed by small boys during his cage days. Not that he would actually hurt a male child, but Toby has a growl and a bark more appropriate to a hundred pound Rottweiler than a skinny ‘Dale who walks with a limp and runs into things from lack of practice in open spaces. Still, he’s pretty intimidating to small boys.

And, of course, there’s “Mom.” A maven of Airedale Rescue, my Dorothy is the classic earth mother of needy ‘Dales. The refurbishing started right away. Toby was neutered by the Airedale Rescue operation immediately and then completely diagnosed and medicated. Years of tangles and mats were gently removed and soon his skin ailments began to heal. A special diet was devised. Food that was actually appealing was so unknown to Toby that it took him weeks to start eating well. Attention from multiple dogs and humans who found him interesting and lovable clearly was the best medicine possible for this concentration camp survivor.

Within days, Toby’s eccentric, naïve, trusting and completely wacky personality emerged, and it was pure Airedale, just a little off-center. All of our ‘Dales get their beards wet while drinking water, then rest their chins in the nearest or best dressed lap; Toby buries half his face in the water bowl and leaves a wet trail to the nearest lap which gets truly soaked. All of our herd like early morning head scratches; Toby learned this ritual by his third morning and immediately moved the head scratch clock back fifteen minutes to 5:45 AM. Our other dogs, recognizing leadership, all accommodated the new schedule. He also shows teamsmanship when our oldest female starts the occasional group howl, joining in the family chorus with his baritone.

Toby still does his puppy squeal during thunderstorms, but now he is consolable with just a little reassuring. He has adopted one of our vari-kennels as his “house,” and retreats there when the social life of the household gets a little much (he doesn’t like the wire crates - wonder why?). He has gained some weight, developed a healthy coat and a huge appetite. His ear infections left one ear a little droopy, but that fits his doofus personality perfectly. He is the Stan Laurel (or Chris Rock) of our household, the goofball of Rockbrook Road. Even his distrust of young boys is gone, after he met a couple who scratched his tummy rather than taunting him.

We are no longer officially fostering Toby, waiting for the perfect owner to come along, one who would have appreciated all of the above and be endlessly attentive and affectionate - turns out that's us. He is welcome here ‘til he moves on to the real Dog Heaven.

That was written seven years ago. Toby is now too deaf to hear the thunder, but he's just as happy and so are we.

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