Some years ago, our family expanded to include a one year old Shiba Inu named Princess Misha. Like all Shiba Inus, Misha had an innate love of the outdoors, and of course, the cooler the better. She would lie curled up in a ball on top of a snowdrift on the coldest of winter days with her tail flicked over her only vulnerable spot — her nose. When fresh snow fell, she would lay so still that she soon disappeared under a blanket of snow and became a part of the landscape. Every so often, she stood up, shook off, turned in a few circles, and then laid back down to keep watch over her domain.
On warm summer days, she found the coolest corner in the house and spent her days napping. Then after her nightly walk, she’d spend the rest of the evening stretched out on the cool cement of the front patio. All through the hot summers and into the fall, this was her nightly ritual.
One summer evening, as we sat out on the front patio relishing a late-evening breeze, we saw a small toad hop out of the grass, then down the sidewalk to a few feet away from where Misha was lying. Suddenly Misha stood up, walked over to the toad, picked it up in her mouth and then walked back to her resting place and lay back down. She then put her chin down on the walk, opened her mouth and let the toad hop out while we watched in astonishment. The toad sat there in front of Misha’s eyes, the two seeming to stare at one another for some time. Then the toad hopped down the walk and back into the grass.
On other nights that summer, we noticed this same ritual. We commented on the fact that Misha seemed to have a fondness for toads. We worried because some toads can be poisonous, but since she never experienced any ill effect and never hurt them, we didn’t interfere. If she spotted a toad in the street on one of her walks, she would actually run over to it and nudge it with her nose till it had safely hopped off the street and back on to the grass, out of harm’s way.
The following summer was the same. Misha enjoyed cooling off by lying out on the front patio after nightfall. Many times, we noticed a toad within inches of her face. At other times, we watched as she walked into the grass and came back to her resting spot with a toad in her mouth, only to release it. The toad always stayed near her for some time before hopping off into the night. The only difference from the previous summer was that she spent more nights in this manner, and toads were bigger. A toad always seemed to be close at hand.
One night early in the third summer, after letting Misha out, we watched as a large toad hopped out of the grass and over to her, stopping inches in front of her. Misha gently laid her head down so that her nose almost touched the toad. That was when it finally dawned on us — perhaps there was just one toad! Could Misha have shared the past three summers with the same toad? We called a local wildlife expert who told us that toads can live three to six years, so it was entirely possible. Somehow these two unlikely companions had formed a bond. At first it seemed so strange to us. But then we realized we were very different from Misha too, but the love between us seemed completely natural. If she could love us, we marveled, why not a toad?
Misha had a minor operation that summer, and we kept her indoors for a while afterwards to recuperate. Each night she went to the front door and asked to be let out, but we didn’t let her. Instead, leash in hand, we took her for short walks. One evening a few days later, I went to the front door to turn on the porch light for guests we were expecting. When the light came on illuminating the front stoop, there, to my utter amazement, sat Toad (as we came to call him), staring up at me through the screen door! He had hopped up the three steps from the patio, and we supposed he was looking for Misha. Such devotion could not be denied. We let Misha out to be with her pal. She immediately picked the toad up in her mouth and took it down the steps where she and Toad stayed nose to nose until we brought her in for the night. After that, if Misha didn’t get to come out soon enough, Toad frequently came to the door to get her. We made sure that the porch light was turned on before dark and posted a big sign on the porch, “Please don’t step on the toad!”
We often laughed about the incongruous friendship — they did make a comical sight, gazing into each other’s eyes. But their devotion sometimes made me wonder if I should regard them so lightly. Maybe it was more than just a friendship. Maybe in her stalwart toad, Princess Misha had found her Prince Charming.