Toby was lying by the side of the road when Mac found him.

“Oh no, boy,” Mac said, kneeling by Toby’s prostrate form. “What happened to you? We gotta get you to a hospital.”

So saying, Mac gently cradled Toby in a blanket, placed him in the car, and then drove as fast as he could to the local vet’s. Toby whined softly, but was mostly silent.

“I found this dog by the side of the road, he doesn’t look good. I think he was hit by a car,” Mac said. “He wasn’t moving when I saw him.”

The vet shook his head. “I’m afraid this isn’t a hit-and-run,” he said. “See this mark here, and here? And the way he tries to draw back when my hand gets too close? It looks like this dog has been abused.”

Mac clenched his fists. “What?!” Then his face softened. “Will he make it?”

“Hard to say,” the vet replied. “I will do my best. But he will need a lot of nursing afterward.”

“I’ll do it,” Mac said. “Whatever it costs, I’ll pay it.”

Mac was as good as his word. When Toby was released from the hospital, Mac took him home. Toby was fearful at first, but as Mac spoke to him gently, fed him, and petted him without screams or blows, Toby came to trust his new master, who was the one who gave him his name, Toby. His old one had been a mean old drunk who never named him, tied him for days without food or water, and came around to kick him, calling him an “ugly sack of bones.”

It was only Toby’s good luck that one day, after a particularly brutal beating, old Master Dick forgot to tie him back up. Toby had limped through a hole in the fence and made it a mile down the road when he collapsed. That was where Mac had found him.

In time, Toby grew sleek and healthy and more loyal to Mac than a dog had ever been to his owner.

Then one day, he heard a familiar voice. It was Dick, arguing with Mac.

“Look, boy,” Dick was saying. “I don’t care what the papers say. That land has legally belonged to our family for years. You can’t just sweep in and start planting on it!”

Toby started growling.

“Actually, sir,” Mac said, “my father purchased the land from you years ago. We’ve been using it as farmland already for nearly a decade.”

Dick sputtered. “Yeah, well, I want it back. I’ll give you the thousand bucks your pops gave me.”

“I’m sorry,” Mac said. “Even if I wanted to sell the land it is worth far more than a thousand now. And I’m not planning to sell.”

“You better take it or leave it, boy, if you know what’s good for you. Here! I just have a couple hundred on me, but I’ll give you the rest next week.”

Toby barked, loudly, straining against his leash. How dare that man scream at his master?

“Sir,” Mac said. “I’m not selling the land.”

“Yes you are!–What’s that, you got a dog?”

“Sir, sir, you can’t enter private property, you weren’t invited…”

In the next second, Toby was face to face with his old master.

“Well, well, well, if it isn’t ol’ Bones. You’re not only a land thief, you’re a dog thief. That there is my dog Bones.”

“I beg your pardon,” Mac said, his face red with anger. “This is Toby. I found him on the side of the road and nursed him back to health.”

“Well yeah, before that he was MY dog. You better give him back, him and the land or else I’ll sic the sherriff on you.” Dick started to undo Toby’s leash. Mac moved to stop him, but Toby was faster. He sank his teeth into his old master’s arm. Not hard enough to pierce through his sleeve, but Dick yelped and jumped back. “Cursed old mutt!” he screeched.

Then he whirled on Mac. “I’ll be back this Friday with the money, you better have the papers drawn up and this stupid dog ready to go with me.” Then he was gone.

Mac sat down next to Toby and rubbed his head. “What a nasty man, huh, boy?” Mac said as Toby nuzzled his nose into his lap. “I can see why you needed to get away from him.”

The next day, Mac consulted the sherriff.

“Ah, don’t worry about old Dick,” the sherriff said. “Legally, he has no rights over the land. He can’t force you to sell. As for the dog, well, unless he can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the animal is his, I’m not lifting a finger to help him get him back.”

“But…if he comes up with some evidence of former ownership, he might get Toby back? He’s an abusive master!”

“I’m sorry Mac,” Sherriff said. “Like I said, I can only do my best. But if he does bring in papers, well…”

“I see,” Mac said, looking worried.

“We’ll do our best, Mac.”

“Thank you, Sherriff.” Mac said, shaking the man’s hand.

“Anytime, Mac. See ya, Toby.”

“Well, we’ll see what happens on Friday, eh, boy?” Mac said to Toby as they walked out of the Sherriff’s office.

But things happened a bit faster than that.

On Thursday night, Toby was sleeping in the kitchen when he heard a noise. Suddenly alert, he looked around in the darkness. Something was wrong…suddenly he smelled something delicious. Meat. Raw and fresh. Toby’s mouth watered.

He stood up and walked toward the smell. There it was, a piece of meat in the middle of the kitchen floor. Toby didn’t wonder how it had gotten there, but if he had looked, he would’ve seen a hole in the window screen, just big enough for someone to throw in a hunk of meat.

Toby sniffed the meat, licked it…then stopped. Something was wrong. The meat smelled great but tasted bitter. He whined, and backed away.

Then he looked up and started barking. There was a figure in the window, trying to open it.

“Shut up, stupid dog!” the figure said, it raised a stick-looking object, and then suddenly disappeared. There was the sound of a crash, and then silence.

Toby barked and barked, until Mac opened the window from the outside. He was in his pajamas.

“Good boy, Toby!” Mac said. “I got him, don’t worry. Dick’s down for the count.”

“He tried to break into your house by poisoning the dog?” the Sherriff said, as he took Mac’s statement.

“Yes sir. I heard Toby whine and came downstairs to investigate. Then he started barking and I saw that there was a person pointing a gun at him. So I tackled him and as he fell, he hit his head on a flowerpot and was knocked out cold. I went inside and saw that he’d thrown in a piece of contaminated meat, at least I think it was contaminated.”

“It was,” the sherriff confirmed. “Our lab techs discovered rat poison in it.”

“That lowlife!” Mac growled.

“Well, based on what’s happened this week, we’re pretty sure Dick must have been trying to get the deed to the land, that’s why he attempted to break in. As for the dog, well, after doing what he did, there’s no way we’re giving custody of the dog back to him. He’s going to be locked away in jail for a good long time.”

Then Sherriff turned to Toby, who was sitting at Mac’s side. “You hear that, buddy? You helped save your master’s land, and you will never have to worry about old Dick anymore. We’ll make sure of it.”

Toby barked, and wagged his tail.