The Flip of a Toad

Can a dog hear a toad through an exterior wall? Can she smell it? I wonder about that because last night Coco jumped off the couch around 10:15 and gave me the let’s-go-out look. She does not normally do this. Normally I tell her It’s time, c’mon and she gives me the do-I-have-to look.

I oblige when she asks because she knows her own needs. I soon realized that if she had a need, it was not a need to do business but a need to play. Either that, or the need to play immediately commandeered the need to do business.

Right outside the door, in the inner corner of the front porch against the wall of the house, was Mr. Toad. We can safely assume it was the same fellow as last time when we found him next to the planter box, which from a toad’s point of view is just as much a wall. He likes walls.closer eyeing (2)

Coco did not waste time but went right up to him and began the whole domination thing again. Do you see who’s bigger, Mr. Toad? I am bigger. Make no mistake about it.

domination (2)

Poor Mr. Toad. Trapped and timid, he stayed glued to the spot for a few moments, then did a remarkable thing when Coco leaned in a bit too far. He flipped himself over! (Okay, maybe toads do this routinely and I am as clueless about them as I am about backhoes and biscuit joiners, but it seemed pretty remarkable to me!)

flipped 1

Coco couldn’t stand it of course. She had to get closer.


In case you have never seen what a toad looks like upside down, up close and personal, this is it. Complete submission. Please don’t hurt me. I’m just a little toad. I mean no harm.

flip close up (2)

This toad got me thinking about submission. Generally it gets a bad rap, but we do it all the time.

Submission: the action or fact of accepting or yielding to a superior force or to the will or authority of another person.

Life doesn’t work unless we yield to forces and authorities beyond ourselves.

  • Someone else designed and built the vehicle you willingly drive. You trust that it’s not going to fail or crash. Driverless cars will add another level of trust.
  • Someone else grew, harvested, transported and prepared the food you willingly eat. You trust that it’s not going to make you sick.
  • Someone else built the house you live in. You trust that the roof isn’t going to cave in and water won’t leak through the window seals and the electricity is safe.
  • Someone else guards your neighborhood or steps in when there’s serious trouble. You trust that you and your family can sleep safely at night.
  • Someone else cleans your teeth, prescribes your medications, oversees your medical situation. You trust that they will not hurt you.
  • Someone else watches your children, your dog, your elderly parents. You trust that they will take good care of those you love.

We are all a little like the flipped-over toad. His eyes are open, as ours should be. He is protecting himself as much as he can (limbs drawn in to cover his soft belly), as we do in our own way (whether we have soft bellies or not!). Why he chose to be on my porch instead of a potentially safer spot in the first place is another point we could ponder, but since we cannot ask him, and maybe it’s none of our business anyway, we will assume he exercised his best judgment at the time and that’s just where he landed.

Clearly this toad also understands that despite his open eyes and shielded belly, he is still highly vulnerable and, if toads can hope – a big if, I grant you – must hope for the best when the situation is precarious. So must we and should we, for we know that we in turn are watching someone else’s children or prescribing their medications or making their food or building their houses, and we know that we are doing it to the standards we would want for ourselves.

Remember not to be like the master builder who was at the end of his career and couldn’t wait to retire. His boss said to him, “I just need you to build one more house for me.” Reluctantly the builder agreed but because it was the last one, he didn’t care anymore. He went as fast as he could, took all kinds of shortcuts and did sloppy work. He knew there would be major problems with that house, but he didn’t care. It would be someone else’s headache. All this time, his boss did not see what was going on – he had always been able to trust this builder to do outstanding work. When the builder told his boss he was done, his boss reached into a drawer and handed him a key. “Enjoy your new home,” he said. “My gift to you for all your years of service.”

Coco would have stared at and possibly pawed at and tormented that toad for a long time, but at 10:15pm we are not out there for playtime. I tried getting her attention, but she just looked at me like Hey, busy here.

looking at me

I picked her up and brought her to the grass. She did her thing and back up on the porch she trotted. I was a little disappointed in her nose because she did not head straight for the toad that, same as last time, had not used his window of opportunity to make a mad dash for a place of safety.

Where is it? I know it’s here somewhere!

looking for it

There is no place to hide in the inside corner of my porch (unless you are a blue-tailed skink of course, in which case you have all kinds of options, plenty of cracks to slide into). The toad was still there, but had gotten braver in that half minute, had decided to forget the whole upside-down, evoke-pity thing.

He had flipped himself back over and was going to stand up to the giant.

right side up

Coco got closer. Here we go again. What is it?

The power (domination!)?

The smell (yum!?)?

The intrigue (hmmm….)?

The weirdness (what the…??).

closer eyeing (2)

Coco doesn’t know it, but sometimes she’s the toad. So she better watch out! (And I had better watch her!) Just yesterday morning, my Airbnb cottage guest said to me as they were leaving, “Look, I have to show you what we saw last night.” And she pulled out her phone and showed me a photo clearly showing…

owl 7.29

… an owl in a tree just next to my house. It is not a small one. It has a powerful grip and very sharp eyes. I suspect it would not dominate Coco in the toying, tentative way that Coco dominates the toad. It would simply eat her.

Is it altogether safe in the country? No. Is it altogether safe in the city? No. It is altogether safe nowhere. Are we always strong? We are strong only sometimes, and often only for a little while. Do we always have to yield to forces and authorities beyond ourselves? No. Like the toad – even when we are upside down – we keep our eyes open and our self-protection mode in place, and usually things work out. We do our best. We eat well, stay healthy, put our best foot forward, make good choices, associate with good people and contribute our bit to the well-being of our family and our community. We believe that (and for the most part it is true that) others are looking out for us as we are looking out for them. Like the toad in his vulnerable position, we sometimes just have to hope and pray for the best. I don’t know if toads pray, but I’m sure they would do that too if they could.

“C’mon, Coco. Leave the poor toad alone! We’re going inside.” Given the choice of staying outside by herself in the dark (not that I would leave her there!) or coming into the house with its cushy couch pillows, she made the smart choice. Good dog.

Domination, Pug Style

Last night when I took Coco out for her nightly, she didn’t make it past the brick walk because a toad was sitting there next to the planter box, just minding its own business. This was not the first time I saw this toad (I assume this same toad) on the bricks like that. It was nighttime, just like the times I saw it before, dark enough to need a flashlight. Maybe the bricks retain the heat of the day and the toad likes it. Whatever its reason, if it has reason, it sits there. From my height I might easily overlook it or mistake it for a leaf blown in or a rock that got kicked there. We are outside for one purpose only. Toads are not on the agenda.

Coco instantly fixated on it. Neither dog nor toad moved a muscle.

Toad: If I just sit here, maybe that gigantic creature will go away.

Coco: Now what am I supposed to do?

Coco toad 4

The toad appeared to rely on its ability to camouflage itself here the way it does when it sits in the dirt. Very often you pass by such creatures and never see them at all. Dogs, even pugs with a comical faces, need no lessons, no direction, no encouragement. Dogs have dog noses. They know a toad when they smell one.

“No,” I said matter-of-factly, “this is not why we are out here.” It was late and I was tired. Coming out here so she could do her business was the last thing before bed. Coco, however, does not understand English beyond five simple words, including her favorite, “treat!” At that moment, except for this toad, nothing else in the world existed for her. (I’m sure I could have said “treat!” and she would not have moved.)

I picked her up — we don’t need a leash where I live, and she wasn’t about to come of her own accord — and relocated her to the fallen leaves at the edge of the yard, this apparently being enough of a signal and change of scenery to remind her of the purpose of the outing. She obliged, good dog. Off she trotted back toward the front door.

Lo and behold, the toad!

Coco toad 3

It’s a toad all right. Not a very smart one. Clearly it did not realize that I had removed a much larger creature with teeth. It had not used the window of opportunity to find a hiding place.

Instantly Coco fixated on it again. I wonder: Did she forget about the toad when I physically removed her from its presence (“oh, look, leaves, I know what to do in leaves”)? Did she refocus her energy to the business we went out there for and then discover the toad anew when we came back toward the porch? Or did she acquiesce when I picked her up (“fine, I’ll go do my thing, that toad isn’t going anywhere”)? Did she humor me knowing she’d get no peace to enjoy her prize until and unless she obliged?

I have evidence of the toad’s intelligence, but just how smart is the dog?

Coco toad 2

Whether she thought she was lucky enough to discover a toad twice in one night or was simply glad to get back to it after humoring me, this was an unexpected thrill for her. I grant that. I gave her a moment to relish the domination or fascination or whatever might be in her pug brain. I see it from both sides.

Toad: Uh… this is a rather dangerous situation.

Coco: It’s my turn to be the big, strong one.

I let the toad feel its vulnerability. I let Coco feel her power. I watched as she moved closer. One could rightly say she towered over the little toad.

Coco toad1

Those paws remembered their ancient job. Harass the object of domination. See if you can get it to move. Sure enough, one little tap and the toad jumped. I gave this game about ten seconds to play out, watched the toad (finally!) hop to a safe spot under the porch, then had had enough. I was tired. It was time for bed. “C’mon, Coco.” She knew she was beaten and followed me in.

This morning it was still dark at 530. Once again I needed the flashlight to take Coco out. Don’t you know, there was that toad again. The bricks couldn’t still be warm, so perhaps there is another reason it goes there. The same scene played out: Coco fixated, the toad froze, I got impatient and relocated Coco to do her business, she obliged, we walked back to the house, same toad still there, Coco assumed domination stance.

This could be interesting, I said to myself. I left the flashlight on the railing pointing toward the dog towering over the toad and went inside to get my camera. It didn’t take me more than 30 seconds to do this.

When I got back, no toad. Slobber hanging from Coco’s mouth — not her prettiest moment. Considerable licking going on. Pugs do that sometimes. They stick their too-long tongues out over and over again. Like a broken record they repeat the curling motion. The unique sound that accompanies this habit sometimes gets annoying. It’s gross even when you aren’t wondering if they just ate something they shouldn’t.

What just happened?

She is not, as a rule, a slobbering dog. The licking did not make the slobber go away. I used a paper towel and wiped it off. She did her where’s-breakfast dance as usual and I made her sit and stay as usual. Still the licking. More slobber. Another paper towel. Should I feed her? Did she already have breakfast? Outside? In the form of a toad? Could she really have eaten it that fast? Toads have bones. Did she swallow them too? Toads have blood. The slobber didn’t. Do I want to think about this?

I gave Coco a little less food than usual. She inhaled it as usual and found her spot against the pillows on the couch as usual.

Coco on couch

I decided that this comes into that category of things we don’t know, we can’t know and maybe, sometimes, we don’t want to know. If there is a toad on the walk when we go out tonight, I’ll assume I saw the slobber of hope, the slobber of anticipation, the slobber of disappointment. If there’s not, well, what would you assume?

My son Samuel said to me just last night – on a completely different subject – that to him, a person’s ability to know the limits of their intelligence, their understanding, their abilities is an impressive marker of their development. To know that you don’t know everything, to be able to admit this, to be open to learning something new – these things set you apart. They indicate humility, a far more admirable trait than arrogance. They portend success because people who see themselves realistically and who are willing to see a new perspective or try a new approach are going to be nicer to be around and going to stretch and strengthen their intelligence, understanding and abilities, i.e. going to know more in the long run.

Did the dog eat the toad? I don’t know!

Somehow  I don’t think this kind of not knowing is what he had in mind. I don’t think it qualifies as impressive.

Uh-oh. More licking is happening…