It’s a dog’s life–but someone’s got to live it! Toto Lee’s Story.



This one’s for you, Tiff, and for Toto Lee up there in doggy heaven and for all moms who have had to face the ’empty nest’ syndrome.There’s a little explanation necessary about this post. My daughter Tiff wrote the basis of this story about our dog for an author’s fair when she was in junior high school. I felt the rest of the story wasn’t finished because she didn’t realize how much comfort her dog gave us when she went away to college. I added the last part to express how grateful I was to that little dog, Toto Lee, when our daughter left for school.

It’s a Dog’s Life–But Somebody’s Got to Live It

On September 3, 1984, I was in the impossible position of living at the Tracy Pound located in California. At the age of one-and-a-half many considered me past it, yet I still believed in myself.

Trapped in a dreary metallic room next to my roommate, I knew I was made for bigger things. The loser next to me wasn’t going anywhere, but surely I’d be adopted. From this day on, I’d never be hungry again, because, after all, it was a dog’s life—but somebody had to live it.


As a dog, my breed was M.U.T. (mixed-up terrier). With soft brown eyes and floppy ears, let’s face it, I was adorable. My longish hair was black with just a hint gray and I had a red mustache just below my chin. My body was long and stocky, and while some people might call me fat, it was all muscle. My tail curled up in a handsome way and detracted from my stubby legs.

In the dog pound, I had only one week, and if nobody bought me, then they’d put me to sleep. That didn’t seem so bad since I loved to sleep, except the collie next door told me it meant I’d never wake up again. After my fourth day at the pound, panic set in.

Then, on that third of September, I struck gold when a family came in looking for a dog.  They had a kid and people with kids always loved small dogs. All I needed was to sit back and look adorable. When that plan of action didn’t work, I decided I’d better growl at the dog next to me who was eating all the food, proving to this family that I was no wimp. 

They looked in my direction. 

Thank goodness I could understand “people” talk because the mother asked the young girl, “What do you think?”

I figured the girl must be at least seven in “people” years.  “I like him. He’s cute.”

Results! I thought. I knew my good looks would pay off sooner or later, and I wagged my tail fast to show I was pleased.

“We’ll ask your father.”  The woman turned to the big, tall guy. “What do you think?”

 “I’m not sure. He doesn’t look any too bright.” He checked me out from head to tail.

“Can I have him?” the girl begged.

The father said, “He seems quiet and if he won’t get any bigger—”

“Does that mean I can have him?”

With a deep sigh the father said, “I guess so.”

I tried to contain myself so they wouldn’t change their minds and think I was hyper-active. All I thought was, oh boy, oh boy, I’m not going to die, I’m not going to die, and I won’t have a loser roommate anymore.

On the car ride home, I got nervous and shaky. The girl petted me and tried to make me feel better. She even gave me a new name. It was Toto Lee. It was a good name and it fit me right. When we pulled up in front of a tan house with red trim, I figured we were home. I could picture myself living there. 

At first, I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere in the house except for the entryway, which was by the front door.  Since the tile floor was cold, they gave me a blanket in case I got chilled. But they were out of their minds if they thought I was going to live under such primitive conditions.  All I had to do to get what I wanted was to learn the rules—simple enough for an old dog like me. Who said I couldn’t learn new tricks?

My goal was to change the way things were done. My plan was to be able to sleep in the bed of my choice. The daughter, Tiffany, insisted I see the movie “The Wizard of Oz” because there was a dog playing my part. After much begging, the mother gave in and I got to stay in the family room to watch the movie. The dog was good, but he wasn’t nearly as handsome as me.

The arrangement in the family room worked, except for the fact that the floor was too hard and they still wouldn’t let me on the couch. I whined and stood on my hind legs, doing this cute trick they called “handsome dog.”  Whatever got me my way became my motto and I charmed the entire family; next thing I knew, I was on the couch.

I worked my way into the living room by following any person heading into this room. At first, I got picked up and put back in the entryway. But with my doggy determination, they soon gave up. Now I snuggled on the couch with anyone who entered the living room and I knew, with patience, I’d achieve my next goal.


Finally, I made it to the bedrooms. At first, I slept in the daughter’s room because I knew from experience she was a soft touch. I found with a little more charm and adorableness I was sleeping on the pillow next to the mother or the father—it was my call. I was gold now and sat on any furniture whenever I wanted or went anywhere I wanted in the house.

I had one last hurdle, and that was a tough one, the dreaded family vacation. The first vacation they went on without me was only for a weekend, but it seemed like forever. Their plan was to leave me outside and have the grandparents come over and feed me, and then leave me alone. That was the plan. Right.

Plans never go quite as expected.  When they came back from their vacation, they said I’d been bad, but I didn’t do anything wrong. I just dug up the whole backyard, which didn’t look so great to me to begin with. Didn’t they understand I was bored? 

The father threatened to send me back to the pound.  After a tense silence, I took advantage of the moment and stood on my hind legs and did my “handsome dog” act. It worked and the entire family was putty in my paws. I whined and jumped for joy. I had achieved my goal and now the family knew who was boss.

The next time they went on vacation, they took me over to grandma and grandpa’s house where I got treated like a king, which was much more to my liking. I now knew I had it made.

Eleven years passed and the young girl turned eighteen in “people” years. I still lived in the same house with the same family. Secretly, I’d given them nicknames and the father was “Pop”, the mother was “Mommy”, and the daughter was “Sissy.” Somehow, I realized this particular day was a big day in our family even though I didn’t understand why. 

Sissy was going away to an Air Force Academy, whatever that meant. To me it meant that the house was much emptier without her.

I felt Mommy’s hand tremble as Pop slipped his arm around her waist after Sissy left. I licked Mommy’s wrist, but somehow, I didn’t think that was enough, and so I licked her cheek.

Later that night, I crept into Sissy’s room, but no one was there. It looked the same, but it felt different. The room stood breathless, waiting for her return. I hopped onto her bed, but the sheets were way too cold without her. I leapt down and headed for Mommy and Pop’s room.

I lay my head on Mommy’s pillow and she did something she’d never done before. She pulled me near and held me tight against her. As I licked her face, the warm wetness on her face tasted of salt. At that moment, I knew Mommy needed me even more than I needed her.

I was lucky when my family discovered me at the pound. But when I heard Mommy crying softly in the night, I realized she was glad her family found me at the pound on that day, eleven years ago and I knew she missed her daughter.



It was a dog’s life and somebody had to live it—and I was happy to live it with my special family. I felt proud to help them in their time of need as much as they helped me—because that’s what families did—they helped one another. 

 The End

Thanks for stopping by.



4 Responses to “It’s a dog’s life–but someone’s got to live it! Toto Lee’s Story.”

  1. So sweet and so softly written! Thank you for sharing Brenda… Put me in a sweet mood today!

    • brendastinnett says:

      I’m glad that you enjoyed it, Karen. I have to say thanks to my daughter for helping me write it, and also to Toto for the memories.

  2. Rosemarie Kelly-Cunningham says:

    Hi Brenda,
    What a wonderful story of love that your little Toto brought to your family and what a comfort she was when Tiffany went off to the Air Force Academy.
    Brought back such happy memories of our first puppy “Sugar”. She too was so sweet and that is why we named her Sugar. God bless you and continue your wonderful writings.

    • brendastinnett says:

      Thanks so much Rosemarie. I’m always so glad when my stories can bring back a memory to someone else or make them smile. So you had a Sugar? Steve had a Sugar, too, growing up as a child. My next book is coming out in the summer, and I really need you to read it. You always give such insightful critiques!

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