Toby, a Golden-Retriever-Yellow-Lab mix, loved to eat. As a matter of fact, Toby loved to eat anything. Dog food was fine, but what he really liked was food left unattended by a family member who was doing something like, oh, answering the telephone or getting up to refill his milk glass. Toby would stealthily move from his position on his blanket in the corner of the family room, nonchalantly wander over to the dining room table, and make his move the second he spotted the opportunity.
Toby’s thieving ways didn’t go over too well with my husband Mark.
“That dog is impossible,” Mark said whenever Toby nabbed something off his plate. “When’s he going to learn that there is people food and there is dog food?”
I didn’t have an answer for him but it seemed pretty clear that not only was Toby never going to learn, he also didn’t have any interest in learning. Dog food might be okay, but people food was clearly better. Besides, Toby seemed to truly enjoy his life as a food felon.
Eventually, we all grew a little wiser when it came to protecting our meals. Someone in the family was appointed Guardian of the Dinner Table so Toby was no longer able to sneak a hamburger or a hot dog off anyone’s plate. We learned not to leave bowls of potato chips unattended on the coffee table. We especially learned to keep all food scraps in the garbage, which went under the kitchen sink behind a sturdy door.
Toby didn’t like our vigilance, but we knew that it was good for his digestive system and also good for our nerves. Mark was especially happy that Toby was no longer stealing food from us, his exasperated, hungry owners. After a while, we no longer had to be quite so vigilant. Toby seemed to be content with the food in his bowl. Family members were able to leave peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on the kitchen counter, leave the room for longer than ten seconds, and return to find their snack still intact. Our kitchen kleptomaniac was apparently cured. Or so we thought.
One night, Mark was making a sandwich to put in his lunch for work the next day. Toby sat watching him, his big brown eyes following Mark’s hand as Mark slathered on mayonnaise and sliced some roast beef extra thin. Mark looked at Toby looking at him.
“This looks good, doesn’t it, Toby?” Mark said more than a bit smugly. “Well, I’m sorry but it’s for my lunch. I’m going to put it in the refrigerator and eat it tomorrow and it’s going to be delicious.”
Toby thumped his tail in response, drooling just a bit.
“You may have a small piece of roast beef,” Mark told him, tossing him some meat. Mark wrapped his sandwich in foil, put it in the refrigerator, cleaned up and then left the room. Toby watched him the whole time.
The next morning when he got up for work, Mark went to the refrigerator for his beautiful roast beef sandwich. He opened the refrigerator door, reached for the foil packet and his fingers met… nothing. Mark leaned down and looked into the refrigerator. His sandwich was gone. After checking every shelf, bin and container he realized that his roast beef sandwich was really and truly gone. He decided that someone else in the family must have eaten it so he grabbed an apple and a cheese stick and shut the refrigerator door.
The subject of the missing sandwich didn’t come up for a day or two, not until I was making a sandwich with the last of the roast beef.
“This looks good,” I commented as I sliced what was left of the beef into thin slices.
“You should know,” Mark responded. “After all, you ate my roast beef sandwich the other day.”
“I did not,” I responded, shocked.
“Sure you did. It was wrapped in foil in the refrigerator and it was gone the next morning. Didn’t you eat it?”
“Not me,” I said. “Maybe one of the kids?”
But both of our sons denied touching their dad’s roast beef sandwich and I believed them. Neither of them had ever been big fans of roast beef. Later that same evening I found a ball of foil crumpled on the floor of the living room. The moment I picked it up, Toby left the room looking somewhat guilty.
I looked at the ball of foil I was holding. Was it possible? Had Toby managed to get the refrigerator door open, find the roast beef sandwich, and devour it without our knowledge?
Mark and I agreed that it had to be what happened. “I can just imagine what he was thinking,” Mark said ruefully. “I was making that sandwich, telling him how wonderful it was going to be, telling him how he couldn’t have any of it and he was thinking, ‘want to bet?'”