A Family’s Best Friend Gets a Pandemic Pal

A Family’s Best Friend Gets a Pandemic Pal


Betty Noakes has been a proud employee of St. Michael’s College since 2009. She has served as Alumni Affairs Associate, responsible for numerous alumni and community events for many years, and, most recently, as Advancement Associate, responsible for donations processing and donor stewardship. Betty earned her BA in Social and Cultural Anthropology from St. Mike’s/UofT in 2013, crossing the stage at Convocation Hall at the age of 50, finishing off studies that were postponed in the 1980s. One of the greatest joys of Betty’s work has been interacting with and getting to know many St. Michael’s students, alumni and friends. Betty is also one of the human caretakers of Toby, the 11-year-old Newfoundland/Labrador dog and, most recently, nine-week-old Baco the kitten. 


A Family’s Best Friend Gets a Pandemic Pal

Photograph of Toby in the riverToby, our big brown Newfoundland and Labrador mixed-breed dog, came to us 10 years ago when he was just a year old. We found him on Kijiji a few days after our family dog Jake passed away. Losing Jake, our family felt anchorless. We had always had a dog, and we felt so incomplete. Our cat Luke missed having his dog friend to chase around the house, to torment, and to cuddle with during the day when the humans were away. We wanted a dog who was large and gentle and who would enjoy time with our family at our cottage on the Crowe River. A dog who loved water would be best, and we thought love of water would be ingrained into a Newfoundland and Labrador’s DNA. We were right about that!

Toby’s previous home had been in a high-rise apartment in the GTA where, during the day and for most of the night, he was kept in a crate. His previous owner had to move and so put Toby up for sale. Lucky for our us! We like to think lucky for Toby as well. From the very beginning Toby loved us and we loved him. It wasn’t long before he became well known in our neighbourhood from his walks and visits to the local park, as he would greet everyone with a tail wag and a smile and could get along with most other dogs. For the past several summers, Toby has become infamous on his stretch of the river by our cottage where he stands in the water for hours on end “fishing,” often mistaken for a bear by passing boat traffic.

Toby and his cat Luke were best buddies, and often curled up together to sleep in Toby’s favourite chair. After long days at work or at school each of us would be greeted with such excitement! It was as if he had been waiting for our return all day. These greetings and the kisses that came with them were magic, and helped us leave the stresses of our days at the door. Evening time was always a flurry of supper preparations and clearing, homework, chores, and a walk for Toby. Afterwards, when things quieted down for the night, Toby would stretch at our feet and receive pats and scratches, with Luke snuggling in my lap as we read or watched TV.

As the years ebbed on, Toby was always at or under our feet or by our sides. When he sensed we were sad or when things were not going our way, he would put his big chin on our laps or rub against our legs and we would automatically reach out for the comfort of patting him, without even realizing we were doing it. Toby always seemed to know when anyone was sad and needed an extra bit of his gentle, unconditional love.

It’s been 10 years since Toby arrived, and our two sons have grown. One of Toby’s human brothers moved away and Luke the kitty recently went over the rainbow bridge. These changes came in the winter of 2019 and were hard on Toby. He missed the human who grew up with him and he kept looking in the vacated room, sometimes just sighing heavily and lying on the floor of that room, waiting for his brother’s return. When his cat brother passed on, Toby was extremely sad, looking for Luke in all his favourite spots, and cuddling with the cat’s abandoned stuffed toys. Toby was depressed and seemed to lose his enthusiasm for things that used to give him so much joy. We tried to pat him even more and show him extra love, but he just seemed so sad, so despondent, although he went along wagging his tail, likely for our sakes.

Then suddenly, about six months ago, things changed again in Toby’s world. We humans stopped going out every day and stayed home most of the time. All of the sudden there were more walks and more pats on the head! We humans who were left in the house, however, seemed sad and worried to Toby, as we sat more in front of the TV news shaking our heads. Toby became even more attentive to us, sensing we needed to pat him, and hoping we needed to go out for another walk soon. It seemed to help Toby’s sadness having us around so much, and we sure know it’s been a big comfort to pat him, to walk him, and to look into his big kind brown eyes full of unconditional love for us. We pat him and we feel our worries ebb away; worry and concern for his needs takes us out of ourselves a little bit.

Photograph of Baco Though Toby has been busy looking after us the past six months, he still seemed a bit sad, and still went to the same spots looking for Luke the cat. But recently, the opportunity to give a new kitten a home presented itself. We jumped at the chance to give a home to a cute little kitten born in a barn in a vineyard. We’ve named the kitten Baco, after the delicious Baco Noir which hails from his birthplace.

For now, Toby and Baco are sniffing at—and closely keeping an eye on—each other.  Over the past few days, Toby has an extra spring in his step, although for now it may be the prospect of humans leaving open the door to the room where the cat food is, giving him the opportunity to gobble it up before we or Baco know what is happening. Or it may be the realization that in Baco he has a new friend to commiserate with about the humans, to share toys and to cuddle with—and eventually to keep him company when the days return that prompt the humans go back to being away from home for hours on end.

For now, though, Toby is delighted to lie at our feet and let us pat him while he sniffs at the kitten swatting at his nose from my lap.