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 Texas Peek-A-Poos, Biff and Joey. The thought of replacing them was unthinkable. But Stuart decided he’d surprise 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 Muttley Show with the two of us singing “You Ain’t Nothin But A Hound Doggie.” Next, Biff and Joey showed up, with their enormous underbites and curlique tails. They became my CCO’s – Chief Canine Officers who accompanied me to jobsites and appeared 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 Russel Poodle, who makes me laugh out loud every day. He is truly a healer. Plus the little guy can sing! But surprisingly he only likes songs that start with J – Have You Met Ms. Jones, Hey Jude, Jumping Jack Flash, and his favorite – Jesse by Carly Simon.
Other than 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, he sat very still in his carrier waiting patiently in 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 Toby couldn’t walk. I knew instantly something was terribly wrong. 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
Maybe some of you have figured out by now that I don’t have kids. And you’re right, I don’t. And so, 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 the next morning. Stuart and I picked him up at 6 am 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 entered the waiting room with a smile on his face – the surgery was successful. But 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.
Both 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 ninety nine 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 perfect except for the slight swagger he has when he walks which reminds me of John Wayne. When he attempts to kick his feet back like other dogs do, they fly in all directions which makes us laugh. 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 its 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 smell 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’ve learned so much from Toby which has made me a better human being.
The Beauty of Animals
At the bottom of my blogs are the words “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 twelve-year study of three and a half million people in Sweden showed that dog owners live longer than people without dogs.
The study concludes 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 – young, old, man, woman, rich or poor, all agree heartily. Dogs are truly our best friends and that is a beautiful thing.
Happy New Year!
I wish for all of you in 2018 that something beautiful will grace your life each day of the coming year.
Love and Blessings,