The Story Of Lobo

I was in elementary school when we got Lobo. He was a good dog.

We inherited him from Tad Boyle, the former head basketball coach at our high school. My dad was his assistant.

Lobo was a fat, loveable, black lab; a perfect match for our jovial family. Tad made a good call giving Lobo to us. He was working toward a collegiate basketball career (Tad is now the head basketball coach at CU, GEEZ TAFEL BRAG MUCH?), and Lobo needed a big family of rambunctious, active children to occupy his time.

Considering how fat he was, Lobo had the remarkable energy of a fit chimpanzee. His tail waged at an extensive 70mph and would knock over any known plant or cup of water in its path.

His breath smelled like something died, and his pant was like an obnoxious call to arms on a hot summer day. “Play with me! We need to play now! PLAY NOW! NOW, I SAY!”

You didn’t walk Lobo. Lobo walked you.

And his bladder must’ve had an amazing capacity to hold liquid because damn could that lab mark everything in his walking path.

Lobo never dug holes, but he greatly enjoyed lying on his back a rolling around like a turtle that couldn’t get up.

His farts were nuclear.

He was fantastic at fetch except for the whole giving back the ball thing.

He never begged, but always ate like it was his last meal.

He was a fantastic swimmer and a solid hiking companion.

He could sit, shake, speak, lay down and roll over.  All from hand signals.

Sometimes he would whimper, bark, or run while he was sleeping.

He loved kids and was incredibly gentle despite his massive size.

He snored as loud as my dad.

He would get the newspaper for my mom every morning.

His face looked like it had a permanent smile.

When you pet the right spot of his belly, his leg would go into an erratic thumper mode, and his tail would again knock over a plant.

My cat Fred loved/hated him and would do things like sit on his face. Lobo didn’t mind, because Lobo only had the capacity to love.

He never bit anyone or chewed up shoes or shat on the floor. His biggest offense was he was too happy sometimes and just needed to calm down.

Everybody loved our dog. He was Lobo, the Lobster, the Tafel dog who plopped on his stomach without tucking his feet in. He was a part of our family, in the Christmas card and all.

The backyard to our house had a wooden gate that would occasionally fly open on windy days. There were lots of times I would come home from school and find the gate open, the backyard empty and I’d walk around our cul-de-sac to find Lobo rolling around in the Myer’s or the Zuelke’s front lawn. And though we should’ve had that gate fixed, it was honestly never a sincere worry to us.

Because whenever the gate flew open, Lobo would always come back.

Until one day, he didn’t.

I was ten years old when we lost our dog. It was a typical, “wooden gate is open” windy day and I came home from school, didn’t see Lobo in the back, walked around the cul-de-sac, and for the first time ever I didn’t find Lobo in the neighbor’s yard or the at school or in the park.

It was an awful week, losing Lobo. Just awful. I remember printing out papers to post around town. No picture necessary, just the words MISSING: BIG BLACK LAB! BIG BLACK LAB! Trust me, if anyone saw Lobo they would know it was the missing big black lab from the sign.

We called the Humane Society daily to see if they picked him up. I rode my bike around every chance I could, calling his name, hoping he was just on the next block. We even had a close call once when a little girl called saying she saw a black lab at a nearby park, and me being the little girl who answered, it became the battle of “little girls with bad communication skills.” One little girl was trying to help without having many details and the other little girl was pissed that her dog was missing and annoyed that the first little girl had the audacity to call without many details or with the dog in tow.  I remember asking, “Do you have him?“ and she said, “No. I um, just saw him I think” and I hung up and cried and cried because she had my hopes up that Lobo was found and safe at last. And then I hopped on my bike and went to the park where she said she saw him and I didn’t see our Lobo laying there rolling around on the grass ready to be found. I saw an empty field and my rage toward that little girl still carries on today.

In school we were reading a short story about a kid who lost a dog and Mrs. Sharp was empathetic enough to send me to the library so I didn’t have to relive my hell through fourth grade literature. I greatly enjoyed reading Jumanji instead. It was a nice afternoon. The only highlight of my week.

I couldn’t comprehend that we had lost our dog.  I’m sure I was in the denial stages of mourning but in my gut I knew something was odd about the whole thing. Because Lobo wasn’t really one of those dogs that ran away. Sure, he got out from time to time, but it was never like a fast sprint to freedom, more of a dumb, moseying “Oh! Look a bird!” manner in which he was always found a few feet away and was always eager to come back to his backyard. Lobo loved us. At least, I thought he loved us.

I remember feeling so sad about Lobo that one day while I was on one of my bike searches, in a very Judy Blume-type fashion I said, “Are you there God? It’s me, Alison. Please help me find Lobo. I promise I will do anything to get him back. If you would just give me Lobo back, I will… I will go to HELL for you. I will go to hell for you if that means we can have Lobo back.”

Even ten-year-old Alison’s internal monologue had a flare for the dramatic.

But none of the begging and searching worked, and after about a month or so, my family had to resolve that we lost Lobo for good. We mourned a bit, but eventually moved on. We even found the positive things of not having a dog anymore. (No more dog poop! No more smelly farts! No more spending money on vet bills!)

I also managed to convince my parents to adopt another cat as a companion to Fred, because, you know, Fred really liked having companions. Tessie was a nice addition, albeit she was one of the stupidest animals of all time. She didn’t restore balance, but hey we gave another lovely animal a lovely home so all was well in the world.

The Tafels got through losing Lobo.

And I finished elementary school and began the fantastic middle school years, complete with awkward bodily functions, newly discovered hormones, and a considerable amount of angst. I swear every time I see a middle school aged kid walking home from school today, I have such an urge to roll down my window and shout, “It gets better!” I digress…

Four years went by. I was 14, about to enter my freshman year of high school. My brother Mike just graduated and was headed to college, my brother Brian was embarking on his senior year, and it was summer. The Fourth of July, to be exact. That morning I had my friend Jessica Welter over because I was at that age where having a friend with me was more important than spending quality time with my family. My mom was going to take us to Thompson Park to listen to the symphony play theme songs to famous movies, a Fourth of July Longmont tradition.

Katie Huxford, a family friend and fellow animal enthusiast, was joining us and came to our place for a ride. I think she was holding potato salad. I don’t know why, but my brain is remembering her with a potato salad, as if that has any relevance to the story.  Maybe it was part of the ambiance but yes, yes I see Katie now knocking on the front door in her Katie “Knock knock!” way, potato salad in hand, and I remember seeing the screen door open and with her happy Katie giggle she quipped, “Hey you know, there’s a dog laying at the end of the street. It’s the weirdest thing.”

“Why is that weird, Katie?” said someone in my family or possibly Jessica Welter. No probably not Jessica. I don’t think she knew Katie on a first name basis.  But someone in my family was holding open the screen door for Katie with her potato salad and said: “Why is that weird, Katie?”

“Because the dog looks exactly like Lobster.”

The rest was kind of a blur. Maybe I ran down the street. Or maybe Brian was there with me. Or maybe he just went I stayed behind. But, yes, in fact, there was a big fat black lab at the end of our street laying in exhaustion in the middle of the road, as if he had just finished a tiring and long journey.

I shit you not, this is a true story.

The dog looked like Lobo. An aged version of Lobo. There were now gray hairs under his chin and he looked incredibly dehydrated and sickly. So before any sort of “is this our dog?” comparison, my family walked him into our backyard, filled a Tupperwear bowl of water and someone was sent to the store to grab some dog food.

But then after that, yes, this dog looked like the dog we lost four years ago.

No one wanted to say it. No one wanted to be that hopeful. But I believe that all of us, the Tafels, Katie Huxford, maybe Jessica even though she didn’t know who Lobo was up until that moment; we really knew deep in our hearts that this was our dog.

As this old dog began to regain strength, he confirmed our suspicions.

This dog’s tail wagged at 70mph, knocking over everything in its path.

This dog panted with conviction and almost couldn’t contain his happiness when my dad went over to pet him or my mom brought him more food.

When we rubbed this dog’s belly in just the right spot, his leg would go into thumper mode.

And yeah perhaps this was all coincidence, but the coincidences were overwhelming.

As this dog was able to stand, he quickly wandered into our house, seemingly knowing his way around.

When he plopped on his stomach, he didn’t tuck his feet in.

When we located a leash, he began walking us.

His happiness was becoming abundant; he had that trademark permanent smile.

More excitement now, this dog rolled on his back like an upside down turtle.

He got the newspaper for my mom.

Finally we tried some hand signals, and wouldn’t you know it? This dog could sit, stay, speak, lay down and roll over.

Oh my god. We had found our dog. It had been four years, and we had found Lobo.

I couldn’t explain all of the intense joy, gratitude, and confusion I felt in that moment. But rest assured it was a lot of things and it was a lot of intensity. After concluding that this was our long lost fat lab, we took Lobo to the symphony in the park and paraded him around, telling everyone the story and reintroducing him to old friends. That night he sat in our van as we pulled up to see the fireworks. Lobo may have been the only dog in the world who wasn’t afraid of fireworks. Or maybe at that point he was too old to care. Or maybe he was so happy to be with us again that none of it mattered. Who knows the thoughts of a dog?

We petted, played, hugged, and loved him all over again. It was a day I’ll never forget.

Lobo did have a collar. On the nametag it said “Buck.” My father had called the number early on that Fourth of July day and got an answering machine a few times. When he tried again the next morning, the fun was over and as a family we were prepared to give Lobo up again. After all, it had been four years. Perhaps Lobo was with a new family with new kids who loved him as much as we did. (Though, I will say, Buck? I mean, come on kids. Buck?) It wasn’t right for us to demand him back. At the very least we could be satisfied in knowing that Lobo was alive and well and the happy dog we remembered. We had closure. And, me being the super mature teenager I was, I was willing to sacrifice the final years with the aging dog for the sake of a the hypothetical family that named him Buck.

But, as it turned out, there was no family who named him Buck. As it turned out, the number on Buck’s collar was that of an ex-wife of the man who owned Buck, who explained to us that her ex-husband lived out of an RV that illegally moved to various locations around the town. As it turned out, Lobo was living in this shitty RV with this weird man who was obviously taking terrible care of him. Although Lobo was always a big dog, (“half lab, half cow” I would say) on the Fourth of July Lobo was extremely overweight, with fat deposit balls protruding from his belly and weak legs that had trouble holding up his saggy stomach. He was filthy, with dirt coming off when you patted him and his fur was matted. It was as if he was an after thought in his life as Buck.  The ex-wife didn’t want Buck, and gave us ways to contact the man.

I watched through the basement window when the man came to our house. My dad answered the door and Lobo remained inside. I remember the man pulled up on a bicycle, and though I don’t remember his face I remember seeing his butt crack. I remember that my dad closed the door behind him and began questioning the man on how he acquired the dog. My dad later told us that the man said “he just found him around our neighborhood” around “oh three or four years ago” and “decided to just keep him because he clearly needed a home.” The man never bothered to call the number on Lobo’s collar. He never bothered to look at all the signs plastered around town (MISSING: BIG BLACK LAB! BIG BLACK LAB!). He never even bothered to call the Humane Society where we had reported Lobo missing.  Make no mistake about it, this fucker stole our dog. As if he was a classic Disney-esque villain, this RV man, with his butt crack showing and shitty-ass bike, stole our dog, shoved him into an RV and named him Buck.

My dad told the man to get off our property. Without arguing, that’s what the man did. Never to be seen again.

And just like that, we had our dog back.

A lot of people don’t believe me when I say I lost my dog when I was ten years old and he came back four years later on the Fourth of July. But it’s true. I swear to you it is true. He was in our Christmas card that year and everything.

Here’s the greatest part of the Lobo story. The address of the Buck’s “owner’s” ex-wife was way across town from us, and based on my dad’s brief conversation with the butt-crack man, the RV was parked in about the same area. I always knew Lobo wasn’t one to run away, at least not from us. But he was entirely capable of running away from someone else in order to get back to us. Animals are awesome like that. Lobo got out of his shitty RV life one day and instinctively made his way home. Even in his older, unhealthy, and tired state, and even though he was coming from across town and even though it probably took him a day or two, Lobo found his way home.

By the time Katie spotted him with her potato salad in hand, I’m certain Lobo was laying at the end of street, just smiling and saying “Okay, Family. I made it this far. Come get me.”

Lobo lived for four more years, which is hilarious because in the state that he was in, we were certain he only had a few months tops.  I remember my brother convincing my mom to “feed him the good canned stuff” instead of the diet crap we always had him on years before. “He’s old, give him the good stuff” and then he lived for four more years eating the fucking good stuff.

I, for one, was happy he lived that long.  Though it initially took some adjusting to have Lobo back, (Step 1: Accept the fact that we are a zoo being a family of five with three pets, a feat my mother never hoped to achieve. Step 2: Buy all the dog stuff again that we got rid of four years ago. Step 3: PUT A FUCKING LATCH ON THE WOODEN GATE!) I was grateful to have another ally in the house while my brothers went off to college. Lobo got on great with Tessie, and Fred sat on his face like old times.

His farts were stinky-er.

His snore was louder.

He sometimes had trouble standing because he was always arthritic and excited at the exact same time.

Boy oh boy he was a great dog, and I cannot believe the amazing homeward bound story we got out of our fat Lobster.

Lobo was put down when I was 18 and a senior in high school. At that point, he was so elderly he couldn’t even stand. We probably waited a month too long to put him down, but honestly we waiting for him to show his misery. Then it dawned on us that Lobo had no misery to show. My mom waited for me to be away for the weekend before taking him in, and I know both my parents cried during their final goodbyes.

I sometimes wondered what the years were like when Lobo was Buck. I wondered if he was hurt or abused and all that, but eventually decided not to dwell. The important thing was the butt-crack man didn’t break Lobo’s spirit. And eventually Lobo did find his way home. Like a good dog.

– One L


*Here’s the thing, when I was ten and searching and searching for my dog, I had my Judy Blume moment, remember? I said, “God, I will go to HELL for you if that means we can have Lobo back.” If I were to dissect that promise, and I have, I would note that I never specified when I wanted my family to get Lobo back. So as far as I’m concerned, if in the end there is a God and He is true to his word, then my fate was sealed a long time ago. Pontification will have little effect on me. I’m going to hell no matter what.  Better live it the fuck up.

** I really don’t think Katie had potato salad.


2 thoughts on “The Story Of Lobo

  1. Anonymous says:

    I didn’t see that you mentioned your folks sent him out to fetch the paper the next morning and that convinced your mom it was Lobster!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s