Thursday, September 4, 2014

Matthew Gilbert & Toby

Who is in the photo at right?

Matthew Gilbert, TV critic at the Boston Globe, author of the new book Off the Leash: A Year at the Dog Park, and human Pez dispenser for a male yellow lab named Toby, age 9.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

I can’t function happily without coffee, and I can’t function happily without Toby. So this is double pleasure.

What's brewing?

I’m a paper-cone-dark-blend-with-whole-milk-nuked-for-38-seconds kind of guy. By the way, when did 2% milk become the default milk at cafes? An outrage. Give me whole or nothing at all.

Any treats for you or Toby on this occasion?

Toby gets cookies for coming into the apartment, leaving the apartment, at bedtime, after I fill the car with gas, when he gets on the couch, when he gets off the couch, when he gets on the bed, and basically whenever he gives me a sweet look with his gorgeous brown eyes, including right now.

How were you and Toby united?

He is my first dog, and I researched breeders obsessively. When my husband and I first saw the litter, after choosing a breeder in New Hampshire, we immediately fell in love with the little 5-week-old guy. He gave us a special look, a look that he still has 9 years later, a look that says, “I’m a little prince, now let’s play.” Three weeks after we laid eyes on him, we brought him home and became his entourage.

How did your dog get his name? Any aliases?

We thought we were so original! But everyone tells us they once knew a lab named Toby. He just has always seemed like a Toby. But I call him “Goose” and “Goosehead” and “Gooseface” and “Goosey” and “Goosehead Soup” as often as I call him Toby.

Aside from inspiration, does Toby do more to help or hinder your writing?

He will start tapping my leg with his nose when he wants to go to the dog park. Over and over, until I give up and go. (Have you seen The Big Bang Theory? He’s like Sheldon knocking on a door.) It hinders my writing just a little bit, but it helps in the long run because it forces me to take a break. A good break means you’ll return to the desk refreshed.

Your new book focuses on your and Toby's adventures at Amory Park. Where is Toby's second favorite outdoor destination?

When we visit Vermont, he becomes a country dog right away. He loves the outdoors anywhere, but if there are lots of stinky leaves and long grasses to snack on, he is in heaven.

Since you're a longtime TV critic at the Boston Globe, Toby must be used to that screen in your home with all those bright, colored lights and unusual sounds. Does Toby have any favorite shows? Is he intrigued by dogs--or cats--on television?

I’ve heard of dogs who watch TV. Toby doesn’t, and he doesn’t seem to notice animals on screen either. But what’s strange is that, he always seems to know when a show has ended. We don’t move, but the credits start rolling and he looks up at us, waiting for us to get up. Yes, he is that smart…!

Cat, postman, squirrel...?

Squirrel, 100 percent.

Ball, squeaky-toy, stick...?

Squeaky toy, although it probably won’t remain squeaky for very long after he gets hold of it.

Who is Toby's best pet-pal?

He lost his best friend and older-sister figure about two years ago. She was a gorgeous golden retriever. But the truth about Toby is that he’s easygoing and likes almost all dogs. He’s remarkably tolerant of puppies who jump up at his neck, and he’s respectful of older guys, too. He makes new besties on a daily basis. He is about to visit his three cousins, including a border collie puppy named Somedog, who follows Toby, bites at his neck, and imitates his behavior. Toby loves the little guy.

What is Toby's best quality?

Oh lordy! I love so much about him. But he is just such great, engaging company in the moment. He makes me and others laugh every day.

If Toby could change one thing about Bostonians, what would it be?

He’s the president of the Boston league of supporters of the Treats Amendment, which would force the city and its neighboring towns to put a free cookie dispenser at every corner. He’s quite the local activist. (He also wants Bostonians to be less freaked out by the idea of off-leash dogs in the parks.)

If Toby could answer only one question in English, what would you ask him?

Are you happy overall?

If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which Toby could speak, who should voice him?

It would have to be Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade. That voice! Even though he’s from the Northeast, he talks with a slight Southern drawl and a lot of “mmm hmmm”s.

Visit Matthew Gilbert's website and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue


  1. Isn't it just the best to be so well- loved? All dogs ( any kitties ) should be so, don' t you think?

  2. Toby sounds like one awesome dude! I'll have to check out your's up my alley:)