I received a comment on my last blog asking for more pictures of Toby, my beloved Jack Russell Poodle. In response, here is a blog from several years ago about Toby and his miraculous story of recovery. I am going through a physical recovery myself right now, so re-reading Toby’s inspirational story lifted my spirits, as I hope it will yours.
And be sure to check out the video of Toby singing Jesse by Carly Simon at the bottom of the blog!!!
Everything I know, I learned from dogs.
– Nora Roberts
A few years ago, my best friend Stuart gave me a Christmas gift. I was still in mourning from the summer before, having lost my two beloved Texas Pekepoos, Biff and Joey. The idea of replacing them was unthinkable to me. Despite my reluctance, Stuart surprised me that Christmas Eve with a black and white polka-dotted puppy with blue eyes and a pink tummy. My heart melted instantly when I saw him. I had never seen anything so beautiful.
I called my husband Marshall who was in New Mexico to tell him the good news. “What should we name him?” I asked. “Toby,” he squeaked softly in the voice of a little boy. “How about Toby-wan Kenobi?” I asked. And so it was. That first night, Toby-wan Kenobi and I snuggled under the covers in Stuart’s ranch house in Sonoma. No crying, no wiggling, no accidents – just pure, sweet, gentle love as I had never experienced.
Pepe, Mr. Squirrel and Biff & Joey
I have grown up with many wonderful dogs in my life – Pepe, the jet-black miniature poodle who I taught tricks including bringing in the morning paper and bowing his head while I said a prayer – after all, we were in Texas. Then came Mr. Squirrel, a handsome, tawny-colored mutt who accompanied me to San Francisco where he found fame on the popular Mac and Mutley TV show, with the two of us singing You Ain’t Nothin’ But A Hound Dog. Next, Biff and Joey showed up with their enormous underbites and curlicue tails. They became my CCOs – Chief Canine Officers – and accompanied me to job sites and had cameo roles in my PowerPoint presentations at design workshops in Northern New Mexico and Northern California.
Every dog was different, and I’ve loved each one with all my heart. But Toby is something special. He is an extremely smart, deeply soulful, unconditionally loving Jack Russell poodle who makes me laugh out loud every day. He is truly a healer. And the little guy can sing! But curiously, he only performs songs that have the letter J in the title: Have You Met Miss Jones, Hey Jude, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, and his favorite, Jesse, by Carly Simon.
Aside from these amazing attributes, Toby is also incredibly courageous and a fighter. When he was three, he accidentally fell off a table reaching for a turkey meatball. He landed on his right side with a loud thud, but picked himself up and seemed to be fine. That night while I packed for New Mexico, Toby sat very still in his carrier in patient anticipation of boarding the plane with me the next day, as he had done many times.
It wasn’t until the following afternoon while I was having lunch with Stuart in Santa Fe that I noticed something was terribly wrong. Toby couldn’t walk. We rushed him to the nearest veterinarian clinic, where luckily a neurologist was on duty with the only MRI machine in the state. The news couldn’t have been worse – Toby had ruptured a disc that would paralyze him for life if he didn’t have surgery immediately. They warned me that Toby’s recovery would be very costly, describing not only the surgery, but the rehab and long-term therapy he would need. The only other option, they said, was to put him down.
Whatever it Takes
As with most people and couples who don’t have kids, our pets are our precious families. Toby was priceless to me. I called Marshall to tell him what happened, and the cost involved to save Toby’s life. Marshall has made his living in the financial industry, and the word frugal kept ringing in my mind. But without delay he said, “Whatever it takes to get Toby well.”
The neurologist in Santa Fe called the hospital in Albuquerque and scheduled Toby’s operation for the next morning. Stuart and I picked him up at six a.m. and drove to the hospital. We were told when we arrived that it may be too late for the surgery to save Toby’s mobility. I was devastated. But several hours later, the doctor emerged with a smile on his face – the surgery was successful. However, Toby would need to stay in New Mexico for eight weeks of rehab in an outside facility dedicated to healing dogs with spinal cord injuries.
Marshall and I took turns visiting Toby in the rehab unit. He had to learn to stand up, walk, go up and down stairs, get into his dog bed, go to the bathroom and wag his tail all over again. The staff at the rehab clinic was fabulous. They said Toby was a fighter and would recover 99 percent of his mobility.
We picked him up after eight weeks and brought him home to San Francisco. We had to carry him up and down stairs for a while and assist him in many ways, but eventually he got better. Toby never moped, cried or complained, but constantly showed his appreciation with sweet kisses and joyful barks.
Today, Toby is almost back to normal, except for a slight swagger when he walks that looks like he’s doing an impression of John Wayne. When he attempts to kick his feet back like other dogs do, they fly in all directions – quite a comical sight. He doesn’t care. He’s happy he can do the things dogs do including running, jumping, kicking, rolling and wagging his tail, even if it’s not perfect.
Deep down, I’m a perfectionist, but Toby has shown me how imperfection has its gifts. He has also taught me to put my cell phone away and be in the moment as he is, noticing the trees, the birds, the wind on the bay, the warmth of the sun, and the feel and fragrance of the grass. He stops to say hello to everyone he meets, and leans on those who may be sad or ill to give comfort whenever he can. Toby loves all people and dogs unconditionally, no matter what language they speak or what breed they are. He almost always makes people laugh and dogs play. I know the lessons I’ve learned from Toby have made me a better human being.
The Beauty of Animals
My vision for the website and blogs is to offer an exploration of all things beautiful. Animals are beautiful. They feel love, grief, joy and are endlessly loyal and true. I read recently in the New York Times that a 12-year study of three and a half million people in Sweden concluded that dog owners live longer than people without dogs.
The study explains that this is due to the exercise people get from daily walks. I think it’s also because dogs make us happy. Every time I stop to talk to a dog walker, I say, “Aren’t dogs great?” Without fail every person – young, old, man, woman – all agree heartily. Dogs are truly our best friends, and that is a beautiful thing.
I wish for all of you as June begins that something beautiful will grace your life each day this summer!
Love & Blessings,