Over the past 10 years, when people have inquired about my dog Toby, they’ve always made reference to my last beagle, Barney, who accompanied me on more than 2,600 TV shows between 1992 and 2004 on WISH-TV. “There will never be another Barney,” folks often say. Their comment was not intended to diminish the importance of my present canine companion, but to celebrate the memory of one of Indianapolis’ most famous TV personalities.
They are wrong. Toby is exactly like Barney, and could have easily assumed the role of media star in the shake of a beagle’s tail. But there is more to this story that deserves to be told. Toby never made it on the small screen. As I explained in my 2009 book, Mornings with Barney, television changed after 9/11. The prevailing thinking in local broadcasting was that people wanted hard news—no fluff and less chit-chat. To me, that was counter-intuitive. If you ever needed a goofy guy on TV with a dog who stole food off the table, walked out on a high-dive board, chewed up a lady’s handbag or dug up a rose bush, was there a better time?
So, yes, the two beagles share identical behavior and appearance. In fact, when people ask how old Toby is, I should say 28. That’s the way it seems. In a way, I’ve had the same beagle beside me almost three decades. Barney died in 2004. Rambunctious to the end, he spent his last day at the State Fair with adoring fans. He died that night at home. He was 14. It was time.
I’m not sure Toby knows what time it is. More than a year ago, I rushed him to the animal hospital when he displayed the most troubling of symptoms for a beagle: he wasn’t eating. The veterinarian was compassionate but direct, informing me that Toby had cancer on his kidney, then asking if I still wanted to take the aging 13-year-old dog home or make final arrangements there at the clinic. I wanted to spend a final day or so with him, so I put him in the car and off we went. Three days later, he was up and about, and knocking over trash cans. I was screaming at him to behave. This was a good sign.
But this past August, new signs of cancer had become evident, this time in his mouth and on his lymph nodes. At 14, he is way too old for invasive surgery, so I was told “it wouldn’t be long.” That was 50 walks and 100 car rides ago. He has lost his hearing, so maybe he didn’t fully understand the diagnosis.
What I face now is the hardest decision a pet owner must make. His tail is still wagging, he is eating like always, and he even wants to go for a walk every day. His energy is somewhat diminished, but that would be true of a 14-year-old hound in perfect health. Heck, that’s true of me at 67.
Because his neck and jaw are swollen by sizable and disfiguring tumors, people I love and respect are telling me that I shouldn’t put off the inevitable.
So far, no clear word from Toby.