For eight happy years, Evergreen Township, Minnesota, black Labrador Retriever Toby was just a lovable family dog. Toby was friendly, smart, and playful; the dog’s owner, John Wacker, tells Pioneer Press how much his dog loved to sneak off for fun visits with the neighborhood children.
But in late May, Toby became much more than just a loving family companion — the loyal Lab became a hero.
On May 21, Toby joined John Wacker’s son Chris, 45, on a mushrooming expedition in the 25-acre woods close to his home. The Wacker family often had luck collecting edible mushrooms and morels in those woods, and Toby had accompanied them on these trips many times before. This particular mushroom hunt started out like many others, Chris says.
“I was getting them pretty good. I had a bagful,” Chris remembers. “Then I heard something in the woods in front of us. I thought it was a man, standing by a tree, looking at us.”
But the sound he and Toby heard wasn’t a person at all, and when Chris spotted two bear cubs scrambling up a nearby tree and a large adult male bear walking in the distance, he knew he and Toby were in some serious trouble. That’s when he realized a large female bear was staring at him from behind a tree.
Before Chris could even move, Toby dove into the brush toward the bear, seemingly leading the 300-pound animal away from Chris. Chris took off running, the growls of the bear and Toby’s cries loud behind him. Chris lost his hat and dropped his bag of harvested mushrooms as he ran, hoping the bear wasn’t on his heels. But moments later, the bear had chased Toby right into Chris’s escape path.
“Toby stopped when he got to me and turned and faced right into the bear,” says Chris. “It actually overran him and just kind of caught him in the hind end.”
Chris fell to the ground as the bear came closer. But just before it could tear into Chris, Toby sprang into action. As Chris scrambled across the forest floor, he watched in horror as Toby lunged toward the bear, giving Chris just enough time to escape.
Ten minutes after Chris made it safely home, a gravely wounded Toby did, too. Though Toby’s injuries were severe, John rushed Toby to the veterinarian in the hopes that his dog could be saved.
“I should have put him down. I was brought up that way on the farm, but because of what he did to save Chris, Toby just needed to have a chance,” John explains.
Although the veterinarian fought tirelessly to help the dog, Toby did not recover. John plans to place a marker over the spot where Toby is buried, a marker that reads, “Here lies Toby, the dog who saved my son.”
“She would’ve killed Chris,” John knows. “Toby saved his life. I’m convinced of that.”
John says he will never forget Toby or what he did to make sure Chris made it home alive.
“You don’t know how much I miss that dog,” he tells the Fergus Falls Journal.