When Florida resident Gisela Shore decided to adopt a dog she named TobyKeith, she had no idea that 21 years later, Guinness World Records would proclaim him the world’s “oldest dog living.”
She just knew the puppy in a box needed a loving home.
An elderly couple had contacted the nonprofit Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League in West Palm Beach, Florida, to surrender the Chihuahua puppy. Shore, who volunteers for the organization, went to their house to assess the situation and try to find a way for them to keep their pet.
“The woman told me that she was in very bad health and she just couldn’t take care of the puppy. Her husband had just been diagnosed with cancer,” Shore, 54, told TODAY. “She was too overwhelmed. She had the puppy in a box and he was itty-bitty, maybe 2 pounds max. After hearing her story, I said, ‘OK, I’ll take him.’ So I took him — and it was love at first sight.”
Shore adopted the pup she renamed TobyKeith — she’s a fan of the musician, and also thought it would be funny for a little dog to be named for a big guy — and he has been a “rock” for her for more than two decades. The dog has seen her through good and bad times, including a divorce and, happily, a new marriage.
TobyKeith welcomes all of the puppies and dogs Shore fosters for Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League — more than 150 pets so far — as well as other family members, including Shore’s husband, Bill; rescued dogs Lala and Luna; and parrots Coco and Coqui, an African grey who tells the dogs “Come on in!” after they potty outside.
“I call him my bodyguard. He’s always with me,” she said.
Though TobyKeith is of legal drinking age, since alcohol is toxic to dogs, he didn’t celebrate his milestone birthday on Jan. 9 with libations in a red Solo cup as his namesake might — he did proceed to party. He feasted on his favorite treat — a bit of a carrot muffin — and got a bath and a pedicure before taking a car ride.
“He loves car rides, so that’s how he celebrated,” Shore said.
He got to do it all over again a few months later when Guinness World Records named TobyKeith the world’s oldest dog living. He even got a framed certificate to recognize his achievement.
“Even my family’s shocked at how physically, he looks great,” she said. “He looks like maybe a 10-year-old dog.”
Remarkably, TobyKeith still has all of his teeth. He was recently diagnosed with heart disease due to his advanced age, so he takes medication to manage it but is otherwise healthy.
So what’s the key to helping a dog live a long and healthy life? Shore — who also had a cockapoo named Lucy live to be 18 — says the secret recipe includes quality veterinary care, a healthy diet to maintain a healthy weight, exercise, genetics, luck — and of course, plenty of love.
Shore feeds TobyKeith prescription kibble for small senior dogs from Hill’s Science Diet, which she tops with a vegetable puree since a veterinarian years ago suggested incorporating vegetables like carrots into his diet.
She emphasized the importance of regular veterinary visits to develop meal plans and other care strategies to help pets live longer. For instance, she never leaves out food for the animals to “free feed” throughout the day — instead, she offers meals to make sure she knows exactly how much they’re eating.
“If people are going to talk about TobyKeith, I hope it could get someone to look into adopting — or look at their dogs and say, ‘Gosh, my dog is maybe a little overweight and I need to get them on a diet and the right type of food so they do live a little longer,” she said.
TobyKeith’s longevity is also highlighting the fact that shelter dogs can live long, healthy lives — and the crucial role of fosters and adopters in giving them that chance, according to Rich Anderson, CEO and executive director of Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League.
“We’re excited that TobyKeith is bringing more attention to rescue animals that are in shelters needing new homes,” he told TODAY. “TobyKeith has turned out to be one heck of a spokesperson for all the shelter animals around the country.”
He said it’s a misconception that all shelter animals are “broken” or unhealthy. Often, like TobyKeith, they wind up in shelters through no fault of their own, such as when people face financial difficulties, health problems or life changes like divorce.
More than 1,000 volunteer fosters like Gisela Shore help the organization save more than 7,000 homeless pets each year.
“TobyKeith truly does reflect the importance of foster homes,” he said. “We only have so much space in shelters to care for lost and abandoned animals, and fosters allow us to expand our impact and save more lives.”
Jen Reeder is a contributor to the Pets section of TODAY.com and former president of the Dog Writers Association of America. Bylines include CNN, BBC News, Woman’s World, Inside Your Dog’s Mind and many other publications.
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Rescued Chihuahua TobyKeith, 21, is the world’s oldest living dog – TODAY