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.

Toby at 3 months in Santa Fe
Toby at 3 months in Santa Fe

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.

Toby at 6 months with Linda in Carmel
Toby at 6 months with Linda in Carmel
Toby at 2 years
Toby at 2 years

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.

Toby’s Emergency

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.

Toby in rehab after spinal surgery
Toby in rehab after spinal surgery

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.”

Toby recovering with turquoise doggy
Toby recovering with turquoise doggy

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.

Starting Over

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.

Toby showing off his new red sweater
Toby showing off his new red sweater
Toby strong and tall with Blackie the horse
Toby strong and tall with Blackie the horse

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.

Linda's painting of Toby-wan Kenobi
Linda's painting of Toby-wan Kenobi

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,

Toby and Linda Applewhite

 Toby-wan Kenobi singing his favorite song Jessie,
by Carly Simon

Showing 23 comments
  • Diane Clark

    Beautiful story about a great dog!

  • Carol W

    Ahhh. I do have children but I do love my furry children as well. How blessed you are with Toby. What a cutie!

  • Denise Pias

    Love love loved reading this! Thanks for sharing this beautiful story!

  • Jane Henderdon

    Linda what s great story about a great dog. I have 2 little fur babies and they are my best friends!

  • Betty George riebling

    I love your message and am in love with Toby. If I had a third boy baby I wanted to name him Toby. Thanks Linda.

  • Jean Bennett

    What a lucky little guy to have such wonderful and loving parents, I wish him well and I hope he continues to do well 🙂 God Bless you, Marshall and most of all Toby. <3

    Best Wishes to all of you for a Bright and Beautiful New Year too!


  • Linda

    Exquisite blog, Linda! Thanks for sharing the video, reminds me of all those long-ago days with Mr. Squirrel! Life is complete when we have our dogs. xxoo

  • Nancy Lyons

    Such a wonderful story abut your sweet little guy Toby. Thanks for sharing.

    Happy New Year!

  • Lynn

    Linda, what a special story about a remarkable pup! I completely understand; Angel is the center of my life and every day I think how lucky I am to have her by my side. Your story of Toby was so touching, what a sweet little guy he is – the singing is spectacular! Some of our animal friends are “soul mates” for sure.

  • Sarah

    Oh, there goes my heart………..Toby-wan Kenobi is a cutie patootie !!!

  • Matt Weinstein

    Izzy just came over to the screen all by herself to watch Toby sing! I kid you not!!!!

  • Joan Finkle

    I smiled the entire time while reading this (except when you wrote about the discovery of the severity of his injury). What a joy to experience his special soulfulness Linda; you two are clearly destined for one another! Long live your union and bravo to you and Marshall for giving him the chance he needed to ‘come back’. He seems to be thanking you every moment…..

  • Pam

    Thank you i needed this! Blessings on you, Marshall and of course Toby. Happiest New Year to you all.

  • angela carrera

    great story, happy ending, I wasn’t sure it was going that way BUT THANKS to you and Tobi for sharing!!!!!


    Angela from NJ

  • Jessie B

    Oh how I love this story of Toby and his video! Dogs are amazing!

    I have a great big messy Newfie, Jack…and a mischievous Australian Shepherd-Pyranees, Minnie. They have taken over the house. I was a bit overwhelmed and down about it.

    I recently got ‘re-inspired’ by you and cleared out my house of some “extra” furniture…saturated the walls with color….and did some unconventional seating arrangements to make our home beautiful and more big dog friendly. We love it and we are all enjoying our home again!!!

    So thanks for your beautiful story and for being an inspiration!

  • Barbie

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~Lynn that was just the best way to start of the New Year, loved the story of Toby, what a special, loving, strong & big hearted puppy he is! I have known you most of my life, when you love a dog, it is a 100 per cent plus, although I do understand there can be one that is that special one!!! You have taught all your puppies to sing, this Toby is a pretty fabulous SINGER!!! Can’t wait to meet him!

  • Maria

    Thanks for sharing Toby’s story. I love dogs and I love people who love dogs. Toby singing is the best!

  • Kirby Kendrick

    I had the fun experience of knowing Mr. Squirrel, Biff & Joey & now I am a fan of Toby’s. Linda has a big heart for animals & boy, do they love her! I think these animals recognize Linda as a very special lovely human being. And hey…so do we!

  • Molly

    Throughout the many years of our friendship I have witnessed the love Linda has for her “dawgies.” Each has been a constant joy. When Toby entered her life though, a rarefied bond was instantly formed. Each feels lucky to have the other. And isn’t that the way Love should be?

  • Torild Robert

    The first time I met Joey it made me cry because he reminded me of my little dog Tulsa that passed away a year before I met Joey , I had so much fun taking care of Joey and Biff while you Linda and Marshall spend time in Europe
    A couple of years later I was there when you got toby, what a gift –how lucky you are Linda- to have a friend like Stuart–that picked the very Best Pup that could ever land your way — And what a wonderful mom and dad this dog have — Toby all ways makes us feel special when we meet him –he is a little lover boy –and may he stay strong and happy for many many years — aunt Torild loves him

  • Nyla Puccinelli Moore

    Oh my goodness, Linda, that was such a special touching story! I know what you mean when your pet is such a part of your family, especially, if you didn’t have children of your own. They become a very important part of your life.
    One of my dearest friends just passed away just before Christmas. Diana had A.L.S. for nine years. Clark, her husband was there for her but who was always next to her as time went on was her Bey Shizou puppy dog. ( Not sure of the spelling.)Fu Chou was his name. He only left her side to go to do his duty. He was so loyal and great comfort to Diana.
    I had a beautiful, smart standard poodle when I taught in Germany many years ago. When I came back to the states, my parent took care of her until she passed.
    She was such a joy to them and added so much to their lives, especially my Dad.
    He was so proud of her and enjoyed showing her off to his friends on the block.
    Thank you,Linda for sharing your experience with me. It brought back fond memories.
    Warmly, Nyla

  • Jody Serritella

    Hi Linda,
    Thank you so much for sharing the story of Toby! Toby is adorable! My little Brussels griffon (Willy) and I much have watched Toby singing 30 times now! Dogs a very special without them I feel a house is not a home!
    Jody and Willy

  • Michelle Deese

    Oh I love this story of Toby!!! You are a GREAT parent to all your doggies. You see and enjoy their personalities and love them unconditionally. That’s what I Love about YOU! I remember when we visited you and Toby, we left him alone for a while and he got into his doggy treats and when we told you what he had done you couldn’t help but love on him. It makes me giggle every time I think of it. So much love!

    Big hugs and kisses!

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