Several years ago a New York Daily News reporter called my office and asked what I knew about the world’s richest dog, a poodle named Tobey Rimes. His inheritance was passed down from generations of poodles descended from the original Tobey of the 1930s, owned by Ella Wendel, the last surviving heir to a vast Manhattan real estate fortune built up over two centuries alongside the Astors.
Wendel never married and lived her entire life with her siblings in a Fifth Avenue mansion, at 39th street, build by her father in 1856 surrounded by a large yard. By the early 20th Century the house had been dubbed the “House of Mystery” since the front door and first floor windows had been shuttered for more than a quarter century. By 1930, all her siblings had died and it was just Ella and her dog living in the aging four-story brick and brownstone mansion.
An Urban Legend
Intrigued, I checked AKC pedigrees to see if there was any truth to these Tobey Rimes rumors, but without current Tobey’s owner’s name it was impossible to track. But the proliferation of misinformation still haunts online:
From MNN.com – “Ella Wendel’s dog: $92 million – Poodle Tobey Rimes inherited a staggering $92 million… he is “the poster dog for the benefits of trust funds and compounding interest” since he descended from a poodle who got his millions from a trust of $30 million set up by Ella Wendel.”
From vice.com – “Toby Rimes: Worth $80 million – Toby’s great-great-great-dogfather, the original Toby, was the pampered poodle of crazy rich lady Ella Wendel, who left him all her money when she died in 1931. The endowment, passed from dog to dog ever since…”
From PetPlan.com – Toby Rimes the dog – £30 million – Ella Wendel originally left her pet poodle Toby £15million in 1931. Since then there have been a succession of pampered pooches, with the current heir being Toby Rimes.
What’s The Real Story
According to press reports as early as 1915, Ella Wendel’s little dog occupied the yard of the mansion. “In that lot are on old tree and a dog house and the sisters wait until the dark so that they may take their exercise” and not be looked upon by prying eyes from the new skyscrapers. The vacant lot used to be their grass-covered yard and some newspapers called it the “million dollar dog run” since many a developer offered that sum to purchase it, with Miss Wendel always refusing by stating that her dog needed an exercise area.
By 1930, her attorneys advised her to move since it was costing her $1,000 a day in taxes and expenses to live there. She told them it was her home and Tobey “needed a place to run around in.” So not only, did she maintain the million dollar dog run for her beloved pet, but kept an aging mansion without electricity or modern comforts just so the dog could have an indoor space as well. In addition, she had a small replica of her four-poster bed made for him as well as a dining table covered in red velvet, just like hers.
The Wendels maintained a summer home at Irvington, New York. According to the 1938 book, “I Remember,” by Jennie Prince Black, her neighbor Ella Wendel lamented to a neighbor that she was upset because, “The little dog has a stone in his foot.” He suggested that she get her driveway paved and then the stones would not be a problem to the dog. A local business did the work and presented her with a $20,000 bill for the driveway work from the house to the gate.
On March 15, 1931 Ella Wendel died. The next day The New York Times reported that “Tobey, a fat white poodle, lay beside the coffin” in the House of Mystery. At one point Tobey followed the clergyman into the dining room where he went to put on his vestments, studied him for a while, decided he was friendly and went back to his post at the bottom of his master’s coffin.
“What will become of the dog. Tobey, who was not settled last night,” the reporter asked. Later The Times stated, “His little bed and little table were removed. He had been assigned to the kitchen, where three servants, left as caretakers in the bleak house, took care of him.”
The Passing of Tobey
Tobey lived another 18 months while the executors probated the will and readied the mansion for demolition. His death was widely reported on Oct. 5, 1933. Reports said he had become ‘snappish’ and ill. The statement from the executors read, “It was necessary last week to have a skilled veterinarian bring the dog’s life to a painless end. In natural course, he could not have lived much longer.*** The executors have followed Miss Ella’s wishes as to the disposal of the dog, and he now sleeps peacefully alongside his predecessors.” He was buried in a green plot, behind the summer home in Irvington, N.Y. along with his predecessors, all poodles and all named Tobey.
The Medina Daily Journal read: “With the closing of the Wendel Mansion on Fifth Avenue recently, that the “richest dog in the world” is dead. Toby, a French poodle, occupied a prominent place in the spotlight when his mistress, Ella Wendel, died in 1931, leaving an estate of $100,000,000. It was said Wendel lavished more affection on the dog than any other living human.Toby had his own bed, a velvet-covered dining table, and a plot of ground to play in, which his mistress declined an offer more than one million dollars, “because it was Toby’s exercise place.” Painlessly destroyed, the little dog sleeps in the grounds of the Wendel summer home in Irvington, NY. in accordance with the last will of his mistress.”
It seems fitting that Miss Ella was the last of her line and well as her poodle Tobey. I think the modern day Tobey Rimes is made up by mixing historical fact with rumor. Whatever the truth, there is never any mention in press reports of the day that the dog got any money, but perhaps that her mansion was made available for him to live in until he died before it would be given to Drew University, one of 14 major beneficiaries. Here’s one clue: Mrs. Black in her memoir claims it was the same dog (with the stone in his foot) that held up the sale of the Fifth Avenue property because, “Miss Wendel insisted that her pet must have a place in which to exist.”