Lhasa apsos as Therapy Dogs

Tribute to Tobalina-Grace and Sandy

Sandy Spencer and her Lhasa Apso therapy dog, Tobalina-Grace. Lhasa apsos make great Therapy dogs. Lhasa apsos make great agility dogs.  Lhasa apsos make great watch dogs.

Every Lhasa apso has a special ability to touch lives. There are not enough pages in the longest book to cover all of the heroic stories surrounding these loyal dogs.

For me, Tobalina-Grace’s life is one of the most inspiring of these stories and I have chosen it to represent what this breed is all about! Much like Tobalina-Grace, her owner Sandy Spencer was a selfless individual and totally devoted to her loyal Lhasa apso partner. This bond was as deep as it was mutual.

On Friday, October 11, 2003, Sandy Spencer arrived at Absosengkye Kennel to meet our Lhasa apsos. She chose an almost 10 week old little party color girl, a ball of fluff and full of life. She named her Tobalina-Grace. It was love at first sight and Sandy enthusiastically brought her home to begin their journey together.

Thanks to Sandy’s husband Steve I have learned what a gift Tobalina was to them both as well as to so many others.

So, here we go back in time as Sandy’s husband recounts the story of Sandy and Toby, and how Toby became a therapy dog:

Sandy had complete kidney failure due to a blood disease that was only present when there was renal function. The onset of this was at the birth of her daughter. She was put on dialysis treatment three times a week for fourteen years. This was an almost unheard of length of time for renal patients. During that time she had also received two kidney transplants of which neither were successful. I (Steve, her husband) was present for her second transplant and was just as devastated she when the kidney would not function. Despite all of the disappointment Sandy’s outlook on life was that even though she had this “issue”, it was not going to stop her from living her life like everyone else.

Sandy refused to stop working a job, going places she wanted to go or helping others however she could. Every year she would do volunteer work for the Make a Wish Foundation, her favorite Charity. Her daughter and I were often volunteered to participate in her charities. We did not mind because it was something she believed in with all of her heart.

Sandy decided she wanted another child but due to her medical issues this was not an option. We had even looked into fostering and adopting, but ran into roadblocks there as well. Sandy, was a little discouraged by all this, but her being the person that she was, made up her mind she was not going to be defeated and after a short time decided to do the next best thing and get a dog. We did a lot of looking but she just didn’t find the right one for her. She knew what she was looking for and I knew that when she found it she would know. This brings us to October 11, 2002.

Now that Sandy had chosen Toby or maybe Toby chose Sandy, the training for both of them began upon. Sandy was so proud of her precious “Toby” and took her everywhere, showing her off to everyone she encountered. Sandy began purchasing clothes for her princess shortly after bringing her home. Her purchases included Pajamas, a denim shirt, hoodies and various other items that soon added up to an impressive collection. I thought it was sort of funny but if that was what she wanted it was fine with me. Sandy even enrolled Toby in puppy socialization classes as well as obedience training classes, both of which Toby took to eagerly.

Sandy had trouble with dialysis access from time to time and would need to go to the hospital to have things corrected. This was the same hospital that Sandy worked at, so she would often bring Toby there with her and the staff got to know her well.

During one of her “procedures”, Toby & I had been waiting near Sandy’s room when she was given a new drug to which she had an adverse reaction. Suddenly Toby became very restless and started growling and barking as if something was around that she didn’t like. I realized something was wrong and it didn’t take very long to figure out that she had picked up on Sandy’s reaction.

After Sandy was released, we discussed this and following some testing and training Toby became a Certified Seizure Awareness Dog. It became the highlight of Sandy’s life. This was early in 2004. Toby had a zest for life and now she had a purpose, which she carried out very well. While Toby would run and play, chasing squirrels and kids around the playground, once her service vest was put on her, she became a very different dog. She was very well behaved wherever she was and would only listen to her master. It was really amazing to me as I had never been around such a well behaved animal.

Sandy passed away on September 3, 2005. Toby attended the wake with her service vest on. It was very sad and hard to watch, but I remember it well. Toby sat next to Sandy’s casket like a statue, not making a sound, waiting for motion that never came. There were many in attendance and almost everyone came to me and commented on how well behaved she was. It took Toby a good while to adjust to her “mama” not being there for her, but eventually she became glued to my side.

Toby had now taken on the role of my comforter and companion and she played the role well.

Shortly after, Toby & I relocated to Arizona. After some time we met Tracy, my present wife. The first time I took Toby over to Tracy’s house, Toby greeted her and instantly, took over. She made her way to the living room, grabbed Tracy’s fleece throw which was kept on the couch and pulled it over to a spot and curled up on it. After that first visit, every time we went back over, it was the first thing Toby would go look for. Tracy learned very quickly how intelligent Toby was.

Tracy was employed at an assisted living facility and would take Toby to work with her quite often. Toby would be waiting at the door to go with her in the morning and on the days she went, she was in her glory. There were a few residents that did not want to get out of bed in the morning and Toby quickly learned which ones they were. Tracy would tell her to go get them up and off Toby would go. From room to room she would jump up on the bed and as soon as that on would get up, she’d go to the next room and do the same. She loved it. She also learned that certain rooms were “off limits” and after being told “NO”, she would go as far as the doorway but no further. She was truly amazing to watch.

Through the years Toby learned the noise of airplanes and came to understand that they were up in the sky. Whenever she heard one she would look up for it and follow it across the sky until she could not longer see it. A more intelligent dog I have never seen. I know this may sound a bit biased and I am sure I am, but this was my life with and amazing creature that taught me many life lessons. Toby truly changed my life. After Sandy’s passing, I can truly say that if not for Toby, I would most likely not e here today. She saved my life.

Tracy often asks, “if Toby could talk, what kind of accent do you think she would have? I laugh but it gets me thinking …. I am still not sure how to answer that question. Toby crossed the Rainbow Bridge on January 26, 2016.