June 1999

 

My name is Toby. I have just had my fifth dog birthday on March 19th.  I'm a proud Sunshine Golden Retriever, and I come from a family of champions and loving pets just like me. My dad, Sunshine's Four on the Floor, better known as Casey, finished his show career with four majors, and I am told that I look a lot like him.

Well, enough about me. What I want to know is, what's going on at my house? I know something is up because my folks don't go to work anymore. They are very busy doing this and that, and I am carefully observing them, trying to figure out precisely what is going on. I miss sleeping on their bed while they were gone all day. Now that they are always home, I can't do that anymore because it is against the rules. And not only that, they have begun putting me in the big cage with the wire windows and a door that locks. I go in for about an hour every day. They used to put me in there years ago when I was a puppy in training. Does anyone know why they're putting me in there again?

 

One day later.

 

Have you ever wondered how my dog friends and I know what's going on? It's the doggie network. While you sleep at night, we operate the network. It's an undetectable wave link between canines. Anyway, I finally found out last night, through my friends on the net, that my family is going to Europe on an airplane, and that this time they're taking me. I've never been on a plane before, and I am a little nervous. But that explains why they have been putting me in my cage every day. I'm practicing for my plane trip. 

 

Oh boy, I have a feeling that this is going to be quite an adventure.

.

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January 2000

Whoa!  What an E-ticket ride that was.

One day our family and friends came over to our house. They helped my folks load up a couple of cars with our suitcases, and we all went to a place I have never been before.  It turned out to be an airport. I've heard about airports and planes through the Doggie Network, and from my brothers and sisters who are show dogs, but I never imagined it would be so big and so busy, Wow! I was nervous, and when my folks asked me to get in my cage, I ran away. Everyone help to catch me and they finally coaxed me in there and shut the door. Soon I was on the plane.

Once I figured out what was happening, I made close friends with one of the flight officers. She checked in on me every 30 minutes. She was real nice. I lost track of time, and I think I fell asleep. Soon I was awakened by a loud noise and everything around me started vibrating. Then there was a bump that gave me a bounce. The next thing I knew, new friends were giving me a lift onto a little cart, and soon I heard the comforting voices of my folks. We all waited in line for a while before a nice young woman in a uniform gave me a pat on my head and said, "Welcome to France, you beautiful guy."  I was weak in the knees and feeling faint, I gave her a kiss.

The next few days I spent a lot of time in the back of a car. Someone I didn't know was driving us around. We drove and drove and drove. Everyone would hop out, go look at something called a boat and then rejoin me in the car talking away about what they had just seen. I didn't understand. It was all so fast. When I was allowed to hop out, I found all kinds of new smells,where am I? 

Now we're all back to the farmhouse where we started, and I am beginning to feel at home. I know something is up, and though I'm not sure what, I have been taking swimming lessons, as I keep on seeing water everywhere we go.

Boy, it's cold here. It's near freezing every day. What's this white stuff covering the grass along my morning walking path? I have never seen that before. Some passing dogs have little wooden kegs around their necks. What's that for?  When will it warm up? I come from California, I'm used to warm weather, please!!

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May 2000

People think that dogs are dumb, but we are not.  We know exactly what is going on at all times.

My folks put me on a strict diet before we flew over here, just to save a couple of hundred bucks on my airfare. Now that we're in France, you can tell that they are feeling guilty. You should see all of the special treats that I am getting now. It almost makes up for the diet.

I am living in this great old farmhouse in the country.  I love it here!! I can romp all over the giant backyard, and chase Moustache the cat.

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Moustache lives in the house next to ours, and when their door is open I often pop in for a visit. There are great smells over there at mealtime. I go over just to see what's up or more realistically what's down. They have lots of company, and I have learned from experience that the more company there is, the more food that ends up on the floor.

The same thing is beginning to happen at my house. I have noticed that when company comes over and the wine comes out, that people start talking with their hands. Soon food ends up on the floor. What's on the floor is mine, that's the rule at our house. I'm so happy to see friends stop by, and if I could, I would start serving the wine myself.

I have developed a real taste for French cheeses and patés.  I prefer, of course, the strong cheeses, the smellier the better, and in patés, so far my preference is for the paté de lapin.

 

Even though I am eating all of these fattening treats, I still look slim and trim because I take a long walk every day. I like these leashless walks. I can sniff my way across the fields; the smells here are finely aged, and when the mood strikes, I can roll on my back and kick my legs in the air.  La vie est belle!!

 

My folks are city people, and boy, do they ask dumb questions about the farm animals. It is so embarrassing when they talk loud enough for the animals to hear. Can you imagine anyone asking, "Is that a goose? Do you think it can fly"? Or "Is that a cow or a bull" and the other one always says the same thing to these dumb farm questions, "I don't know." Boy, what they don't know about farm animals could fill a book. Maybe I should write one.

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We just went on a neat vacation.  It was way cool. We went to Spain and stayed on a sailboat in the Barcelona harbor.  At night I sat at the helm while everyone slept to make sure we didn't run into anything. 

During the day, we walked all over Barcelona, and I met lots of Spanish dogs.  The Spanish dogs are really laid back, and I met dogs everywhere we went.  They were all cool, just a quick sniff and adios, no hassles at all. 

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All of their folks really liked me, I know, because I heard everyone say "Que Guapo." That made me hold my head higher and wag my tail more. I hated to leave Spain. 

But don't get me wrong, I love my life in France.  Since we flew over here, I go everywhere with my folks. And the best part is that when they go into a store, I get to go in too.  No longer am I tied up to the parking meter out in front of the store. It's a great advancement in civilization.

 

October 2000

As you may have guessed, I am a good little eater, or as they say in France, "Je me tiens bien à la table." I am beginning to consider myself sort of a food critic.


The supermarkets in this country are huge, and I've never seen so many shelves in a market devoted just to my taste buds. It's a dog's dream come true. Vive La France!

It's not like it was back home where dogs are content to eat the same thing day in and day out. American dogs always say, "Oh boy, dog food again." But, non, non, non, not in this food-loving country! Here in France, we can choose from an almost endless selection of dry or canned foods, including such gourmet items as duck, foie gras, veal, lamb, pork, salmon, and tripe. I had never even heard of some of these foods before, and I like all of them except the tripe. Then, as if those choices were not enough, there is also a refrigerated butcher section right there on the dog food aisle with a complete selection of fresh meats, sausages, and that old standby, fresh, meaty dog bones.

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I love French restaurants. They let me come in and sit under the table. If I were a little smaller, they would even let me sit in one of the chairs at the table. It almost makes me wish I were a miniature poodle. But I guess I am happy just the way I am, and lots of food ends up under the tables anyway. I have nothing to complain about.

Another great thing about France is the trucks that have a pizza kitchen inside.  Whenever the pizza guy is in the neighborhood, I love to sit in front and smell the pizzas cooking in the oven. It makes me think that I died and went to Heaven!! If only the guy would drop a sausage, pepperoni, and ham with double cheese pizza out of the truck. Maybe someday he will.

I will sit and wait.

November 2000
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Oh Boy!  Another train trip. I use to be a little nervous on the trains, but I get along fine now that I understand all of the rules.

On one of my first trips, I got in trouble. My folks didn't know that the French train system charges half-fare for dogs of my size.  It was embarrassing when the conductor asked to see my ticket. I didn't have one. What did I know? The conductor scolded me, and then we had to buy a ticket.

This last month we went to the train station to purchase train tickets in advance. This time the trip would be to Paris on the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse). My folks' tickets had seat numbers, but mine did not.  Where was I supposed to go? I hoped it wasn't in that airplane crate again. We boarded a local train for an hour, then we hopped off and got on the TGV. In each car, there are a few seats that face each other with a table in between.  Perfect, four seats for the three of us. Lucky for us, no one was sitting there. We moved right in, and I made myself comfortable under the table. In just two hours, traveling at speeds of over 180 miles per hour, we zoomed from Lyon to Paris. In Paris, we walked through the hustle and bustle of the Gare de Lyon. With suitcases and me in tow, we entered the taxi line. Then it happened.

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Rejection! Four taxis wouldn't take us because of me. I thought the French loved dogs. This never happened to me before, rejection for the first time in my life. I'm a pretty dog with long flowing hair, and everyone always loves me. It was humiliating. I wanted to run and hide. Thank God; finally, a really nice taxi man said that if my folks wrapped me in one of their raincoats so that my fur did not get all over his cab, he would take us. It was a mortifying experience.

I have been listening to my folks talk about this taxi problem, and they are hard at work trying to come up with a solution for me. Since we have been back home, they have been trying different outfits on me to see how they fit. The latest goofy idea is a white painters' suit made out of paper, the kind you can buy at the hardware store so that you don't get paint all over yourself when you paint the kitchen. Since I'm long in the body and short in the legs, the body fits a bit tight, and they have to roll up the arms and legs. They decided not to cut a hole for my tail and other important parts, and I'm not sure that's a good idea.

I worry that they are going to make me wear this out in public! I don't know which is worse, the embarrassment of rejection by the taxi drivers or the humiliation of wearing some silly taxi suit. That's what they are calling the paper outfit.

My folks are really nice, but sometimes they're a bit strange.

 
 
January 2001

I had heard about how daring the French dogs were through the Doggie Network, but I really had no idea.  This was surreal, beyond my wildest dreams. I was in the Vet's office for a check-up, and right there where everybody could see, there was a cork bulletin board with advertisements for relationships all directed at me. It was all so blatant, I blushed. I didn't know what to do. My folks were right there. Oh no, I hope they didn't see what I was looking at. Weak in the knees, I sunk to the floor. I was panting. I tried to look cool, but I wasn't.

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While they were called to the desk, I did some quick note-taking.  Can you believe this: "Looking for a friend of the same breed, for sentimental relations and more," signed Sophie. More! Just imagine!

What could that possibly mean? I was working up a sweat thinking about that when I read the next ad. "Looking for fun and excitement on New Year's Eve, if interested, call Fifi." Both listings even included photographs, and the girls were adorable. I haven't called. I'm not sure I want to because I already keep company with an English dog, Korri, who lives here at the port.

 

What would happen if my folks found these notes? Maybe I should start the New Year right and get rid of them. What to do?  Oh là là!

 

I tucked the phone numbers away in a safe place, and we took the train to Paris.

 

It was a good diversion because I found that I love Paris. It is a lovely city with lots of cute dogs and friendly people. We went to great cafés where the waiters brought me a bowl of water, and everyone patted me on the head.

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Because it was New Year's Eve, everyone was in a party mood. We were there with our family, and while we were in Horse's Tavern, they got busy talking and forgot about me. A young woman across the room kept smiling at me, so I went over to say hello. She started to pet me, and she said sweet things to me in French. I think she really liked me. Yes, this could be love. How do we look together?

I hated to leave Paris. I was beginning to learn my way around. I had already found many favorite spots. I love Paris, but the real reason I didn't want to leave was that I knew we had to take a taxi to get to the train station. I had hoped that maybe we would stay and that I wouldn't have to deal with the taxi suit issue. I am, after all, an optimist

The morning of our departure, everything seemed okay until at the last minute, when they started coming toward me with the suit. I know my folks mean well, and I'm a gentle soul, so I let them put it on me again.

When the taxi came to take us to the train station, the driver hopped out and almost doubled over in laughter when he saw me in my taxi suit. The hotel staff had come out to wave goodbye to me, and everyone was smiling. Unlike other times when cabs have come and refused to let me get in, this man held the door open for me and said that I was welcome to ride with him anytime.

I might look silly in my suit, but because of it, I can hop in any cab in Paris, pas de problème.

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February 2001

My mailbox has been flooded with notes from friends and neighbors.  Everyone is wondering what happened to me. People have seen my bandages, and it seems that there are rumors, rumors, and more rumors about my health. I haven't seen rumors like this since I went to the firehouse in San Francisco. Now that's a place for rumors, one of the best. 


Last July, I took a tumble off a 38-meter barge. I fell into a little boat and injured my left leg. I was working in my friendly and loyal companion's capacity, following my folks everywhere they go when this accident happened. Now I have been placed off duty, and I hope that I am on a paid disability leave.

They took me to the local vet in Saint-Jean-de-Losne.  He gave me some pills. I felt a little better after a couple of vet visits, but my leg still hurt, and my folks noticed that I was walking funny.

When we reached Roanne, I visited a new doctor, a very kind and gentle lady. She spoke French to me while she examined my leg. It was nice. One day I went to see her, and she gave me a shot that knocked me out. I was woozy when I woke up, and I saw my folks and the doctor looking at black pictures of me in skeletal form. Was I OK? It was hard to know because they were speaking in French.

Next, we went to Lyon to see a specialist. What now? On January 11th, a little camera was inserted into my left knee, and photographs were taken.  Oh my!  They knocked me out again, and I learned later that I had an operation to repair my torn ligament.

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April 2001

Je vais de mieux et mieux. (I am getting better and better). I am recovering well from my knee operation. I now have a skip and a hop back in my walk. I almost feel like a pup again.

We have another new car, and the luggage was out, so I knew we were going on a trip, but I never know where. I hopped in the back seat and stretched out, I had the whole seat to myself, but I would have preferred to share it with Lauren again. She is so much fun, and I was sorry to see her go back home.

After a couple of hours with my nose pressed against the window, I began to experience the feeling of déjà vu. Then things began to look more and more familiar, and I knew that I had been on this little road before. When we pulled into the courtyard, I saw my old cat friends, Moustache and Pistache. Yes, we were back. 

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On a walk through town, I knew right where to go. It was déjà vu all over again. I headed, tout de suite, for France Décor, our old hardware store. Nellie, is that you? Mark, are you here? Yes! I squeezed in with them behind the front counter.  I know where they keep the cookies. The best dog cookies in all of France!  An unlimited supply! Nellie never stops with one or two cookies. She sometimes gave me five or six. What a gold mine! I never met such generous cookie givers. How nice of my family to drive all the way back here to Saint-Jean-de-Losne so that I could have more of these delicious cookies. My folks are the best. 

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November 2001

This summer, I cruised to Belgium and back, and I learned so much about barge travel.  It's really cool once you get the hang of not falling overboard.

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When my folks find me begging, they always say the same thing, "You would think we never feed him." They should know by now that food is my life. I am always happy to stay at one port for at least a couple of days because then I can learn which boats will feed me. The following day I am back to those boats in a flash. I have honed my hungry look this summer. It works like a charm every time now. 

 

While traveling, we often go out to lunch, and the tables in small cafés are usually pretty close together. This gives me a chance to meet people. One time I met this nice man who was sitting at the table next to us. He liked me a lot. He gave me bread soaked with gravy. I gave him my best look, and he gave me more food. He said he wanted to take me home, and I think he thought it was friendship for life. After his lunch, he went to the bar for coffee. My attention went to another table near me. They had treats for me too. Wow! A few minutes later, the first man came back, saw me giving my best hungry look to the other table, and said to my folks, "Il est infidèle." He left, looking a little disappointed.

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Paris was one of my favorite stops this summer. We were there for a while, and we often went to a café on the Champs Élysées, where they always served me water in a champagne bucket. I felt like a movie star as I sipped from my fancy bucket. People kept pointing at me and smiling as they walked down the boulevard.

On our trip north, we entered one lock where we met a friendly French dog named Luc.  His master was the lock keeper, and he showed us that Luc could do several clever tricks. 

My folks began putting me through my paces to show how smart I was. I could do almost every trick that Luc could do, but he won the contest with donne la patte. When my folks tried to make me do the same trick, I did not know what they wanted. They had never taught me to shake hands in English, let alone in French. 

As soon as we left the lock, my folks began to teach me this trick. We worked on it during the summer, and on the way home this fall, we entered the same lock, and there was Luc. The lock keeper told Luc to sit, and so my folks told me to sit. Then Luc was told to lie down, so I was told to lie down. Suddenly it was the International Dog Olympics, the United States against France, trick against trick. I heard my folks chanting, U.S.A! U.S.A! 

This time I vowed that things would be different.  I took a couple of deep cleansing breaths and imagined myself performing perfectly. I pictured myself winning. I was focused.

Luc was good, and he looked confident. He thought that he would win again with his hand-shaking trick. When I was told in English to shake hands, I did. I looked at Luc and saw that he looked a little worried. I listened carefully for the donne la patte command, and when I heard it, I gracefully lifted my paw and shook hands. I did it. I had concentrated and understood the command in French. Luc's master threw in the towel when he saw that I was bilingual. I won because of my French language skills.

I was proud to win for my folks and my country.

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April 2002

I may be just a dog, but I still lead a pretty cool life. How many dogs can say that their folks took them to lunch in a foreign country for their eighth birthday?

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That was the birthday surprise that my folks had for me on March 19th. They took me to Italy for the day.  We went with my old friends Jim and Beth. They stayed with us for a while at the gîte way back when we first arrived in France. We stayed with them for a few days in the house they were renting for the winter. It was in Antibes, so it wasn't too far to drive across the border to Italy. When we all piled in our car, I called dibs first for the back window, so I jumped in the back of our station wagon. Everyone else had to take the seats.

When we opened the restaurant door, my group suddenly realized that they couldn't speak any Italian. They all stood in the doorway, pointing at me. For a moment, I thought that they expected me to take over, to ask for a table, order, and everything. That set my heart racing because I have never learned to speak. With great relief, I realized they were only asking in sign language if I could come into the restaurant.  Since the Italians are experts at talking with their hands, the waiter knew right away what they meant. He smiled at me and led us to a table. 

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My people didn't have any trouble reading the menu since they are all from San Francisco. There are so many great Italian restaurants there that everyone learns menu Italian. But for me, this was a totally new and exhilarating experience. San Francisco might have great restaurants, but they don't let dogs come inside. The only time I got to go to a restaurant back home was when they had outdoor tables.  

Before I came to France, I never knew how delightful a restaurant could smell when all of those delectable food aromas are trapped inside the walls. In this Italian restaurant, the smells were deliciously intense. I found that I enjoyed them even more than the much more subtle and delicate French restaurant fragrances. I didn't need to look at a menu; I just wanted to order EVERYTHING!  

I couldn't wait for our food to arrive, so while my folks were busy talking, I edged over to the next table. Two Italian guys were in the middle of their meal, and I was optimistic about my chances for a taste of their food. I knew from my many experiences in French restaurants that my hungry look would probably win them over. But still, this was a new challenge for me as a traveling dog. How would the Italians react to my pleading eyes? 

Like an actor, I took a little time to focus on the feelings and needs that I wanted my face and eyes to express. When I felt ready, I sat up tall and presented them with my best look. 

My biorhythms must have been in tune because it was my birthday, or maybe it was just that Italians are perceptive people, but whatever the reason, I was ever so pleased with the results. They started feeding me right away. First, they gave me breadsticks. Crunchy, yummy breadsticks. My tail wagged so fast that napkins were flying off the tables behind me. This made them recognize me as a true gourmet, and they started handing me the good stuff right off their plates.   

In the middle of my scrumptious meal, when I was savoring some veal scallopini, my folks decided that they wanted to take my picture. Honestly, sometimes they are as bad as the paparazzi. I tried to ignore them, but the man I was dining with saw them jumping around trying to get my attention, and he made me pose so that we could dine in peace.

After our plates were clean, I began dreaming of tiramisu for dessert. I was sending out tiramisu vibes, hoping that someone would think to order me some, when I saw the waiter bring some to my folks' table. I said ciao to my new friends, and ran back over there.

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Like many people who get taken out to a restaurant to celebrate their birthday, I was so full of pleasant experiences that I don't even remember the ride home

As soon as we crossed the border, I noticed that all of the signs were different, there were more cars on the road, and the houses were closer together. Once we got out of the car, I could tell that everyone was speaking a different language. It sounded to me as though they were singing.

 
April 2003

My folks did it again, for the second time in my life, they surprised me with a party for my birthday.

The last time they surprised me with a party was on my 1st birthday. Since I was still just a pup, not only did they surprise me, but they scared me too. I had been napping when they called me into a kitchen full of our friends who yelled, "Surprise!". I was ready to run away when I noticed that everyone looked at me like they loved me and wanted to give me something to eat. I love that look, so I stayed, and I enjoyed myself.

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How did my folks pull this off? I was so surprised. Even my dog friends kept this party a secret, and they usually blab about everything that is happening on their boats.

 

It was a great party. We had hot dogs (saucisses de Toulouse served on baguettes), chips, and plenty of beer and wine.

My friends Malcolm, sweet little Kali, and Murphy were all wearing party hats that said, "Happy Birthday Toby." We sat still for a picture, and Kali's folks made a toast to me for my birthday. They said it in French, but since Kali has become my petite amie, my French has improved, so I understood what they said. It brought tears to my eyes.

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Fortunately, just then, my folks brought out my cake and lit the candles. Everyone sang Happy Birthday, and they helped me blow out the candles and started serving the cake. Malcolm, Murphy, Kali, and I lined up with everyone else, but we just watched plates full of cake going over our heads. We were swiveling our necks around, trying to find a dish that might be for us. Suddenly everyone was sitting down eating. I was beginning to feel pretty sad that all of the people had big plates full of chocolate cake, while my dog friends and I were sitting around with sore necks and hungry-looking faces when all of a sudden, we were each served a big bowl of French vanilla ice cream.

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We all dove in. After a minute I looked over and saw that like me, all of my friends were slurping up the cold but delicious treat. 

Malcolm, Murphy, and I had ice cream all over our faces, and our ears were wet and sticky. Only Kali ate daintily, or maybe you just couldn't see the ice cream because she is kind of a pretty vanilla color.

I thought about that for a minute, then I stuck my face back in my bowl.

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Toby
March 19, 1994 - May 7, 2003
An American dog who loved his life in France

This year on my 9th birthday, I heard people calling my name, and I came upstairs still sleepy from my morning nap. No one was there. I looked out the front door and saw that my folks had created an outdoor café on the boule court just ten dog steps away from our boat. There were tables and chairs, a barbecue, and even a refrigerator to keep the beer cold. And not only that, a whole bunch of my friends were there saying, "Surprise Toby!". Now that I am nine and I live in France, I have more savoir-faire. I wasn't scared at all. I just hopped up the stairs and became the center of attention.

 

How did my folks pull this off? I was so surprised. Even my dog friends kept this party a secret, and they usually blab about everything that is happening on their boats.

 

It was a great party. We had hot dogs (saucisses de Toulouse served on baguettes), chips, and plenty of beer and wine.

Toby was a once-in-a-lifetime dog. Friends always told us, "If I could have a dog like him, I would have a dog." 

 

He had a gentle nature and good manners, and because of that, we could take him anywhere, and we did. 

 

In France, Toby was our goodwill ambassador who let the French know that we were Americans living in France, not just tourists. He charmed everyone with his happy, easy-going demeanor and his good looks. 

 

Toby was a good boy who cancer took from us before his time. His French doctors helped him make it to his ninth birthday with loving care. 

 

We are grateful for the years he kept us company, and we will miss his expressive face and the way he always looked at us with adoring eyes.

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