When you live in a gritty Ohio River town, sometimes it takes a cranky dog to keep you happy.
For 17 years, Toby, a spunky brown and white Jack Russell Terrier, was a life companion to Steve Hummel, star of Moundsville (now playing on PBS) and owner of the Archives of the Afterlife, a museum in Moundsville, WV celebrating the paranormal. The first time Steve met the puppy, with his ex-wife, it was “love at first bite.” (Yes, the dog snapped at him.) Ever after, until he died last month, Toby “was not exactly the most well-behaved dog,” Steve told me.
But something clicked, as it has for many in that part of the world. (West Virginia ranks fifth in the country in dog ownership, with 46% of the state’s residents sharing their lives with canines.)
I admire Steve’s pluck, courage and cheer, because, at 37, he lives in a world with far less opportunity than his ancestors received, but he hasn’t quit on Moundsville, his hometown. Since an early, short stint in the Air Force, he’s owned a gym, a hot dog parlor and now his paranormal museum. He takes care of his grandfather and sells his paintings online. Steve‘s muscle is hustle.
Steve’s marriage, which began when he was 19, lasted only a couple years. The former Mrs. Hummel couldn’t handle Toby. She gave him to Steve and adopted another Jack Russell Terrier. “He wouldn’t listen to her and he would listen to me,” said Steve, calling it a “red flag”.
Toby didn’t always listen to Steve. As they walked around Moundsville, the prowling hound often got loose. If animals entered the yard, he counterattacked. He killed a menagerie, including cats, possums, chipmunks and squirrels. Even a black snake. He even went after bigger dogs, including a Bull Mastiff and an Akita. “Toby was very headstrong, very stubborn,” said Steve, whose grandfather, Les Barker, told him that he had “never seen a dog who so closely resembled his master.”
Toby’s prickly character made him well-suited to his habitat, said Steve. “A lot of folks around here don’t want to give up on their towns, that’s like Toby. He was very headstrong, very stubborn.” In Moundsville, said Steve, “I roll with the punches, that’s the one main option I got, because when you sit back and look at this situation, maybe things aren’t so bad.”
No doubt, that’s what Toby felt every time Steve fed him his favorite foods, Purina and Rachael Ray beef and venison. In a Facebook post this spring, Steve described Toby in more detail:
My name is: Toby
My nickname: Toby the Terrible, Tob-Tob, P.I.T.A., S**t Bird…
My breed is: Jack Russell Terrier
My age is: 17
My favorite human food is: Pepperoni, Chicken, Cheese Twisty Powder,…
My biggest fear is: As a younger lad… NOTHING! As an old man a few things including the sweeper.
My favorite thing to do: Sleep nowadays. As a younger pooch.. RAMPAGE! lol
My favorite toy: Not a thing nowdays, but tug-of-war when he was younger.
What I hate most: Being pestered.
Where do I sleep: With my grandpap in his chair. lol
Do I snore? Nah, not really.
In his 1965 masterpiece “My Dog Tulip”, about his long companionship with an Alsatian, English writer J.R. Ackerley wrote that “if you look like a wild beast you are expected to behave like one; and human beings, who tend to disregard the savagery of their own conduct, shake their heads” over dogs. “’What can you expect of a wolf?’ they say.”
In a post he penned the day after Toby died, Steve wrote: “After 17 years of fun, attitude and destruction this part of our lives path has come to an end. Hopefully we’ll run into each other again when my time comes. Take care old buddy. Rest Easy, Toby.”
In another post, Steve said: “He was a little warrior to the end. He even managed to have a little attitude as he left, lol.”
Steve told me he won’t get another dog “anytime soon.”
— John W. Miller —