March 24, 2009
Life of Riley
On May 4, 2002, we went to Indiana pick out a new puppy for my birthday. And despite wanting a two dark-eared brown-eyed dog (I would learn that he would come later), I ended up with an all white-headed one-brown one-blue eyed Kleenex stealer, because, well, he picked me. Seriously, he did. He relentlessly followed me around until I picked him up and declared he'd be mine. And there began our Life with Riley. Relentless, unpredictable, and full of thievery. Once we were home, we slept on the floor for weeks to help him adjust. We read books, took him to puppy classes and went to the dog parks daily. Everything we did and thought about involved this little puppy. Because after all, he was our first baby. Through the years, we spent an unmentionable amount of dollars on obedience training. In spite of this, he still swallowed countless socks, dishrags, and underwear. He underwent countless hours of grooming (and groomers) and still licked his legs raw (which is how we later ended up with Harry). After 3 tries, we finally found a solid daily dogwalker because we didn’t want to leave our baby alone. At around a year, we invested a ridiculous amount of money on a
doggie shrink an animal behavioralist, because he was an aggressive teenager. As a result, instead of doing what any normal household would do, we ended up buying whole organic cows, a new meat grinder, and fish and flax seed directly from North Dakota growers and spent ridiculous late-night hours making him the raw diet. He barked whenever we even thought about going in the pool. He howled at the coffee grinder, the Saturday noon whistle, and the answering machine. He was completely neurotic in the car, barking until our ear drums bled. He suckled blankets, and if you weren't looking where you were going, you'd step on a soggy one, making your sock all wet and squishy. He stole food (whole loaves of bread at a time, plastic wrapping included) off the counter like it was his business. He threw up his socks/rags/rocks/toys/God-knows-what on a regular basis all over the carpet. (We went through two carpet cleaners in the process). When he wanted to play, he would relentlessly push a toy in your face until you'd give in. He could and would boss Harry around with a mere look, and continued to do so even during his last minutes at home. In other words, he did whatever the hell he wanted, absolutely whenever he wanted, and nobody was able to convince him otherwise.
But he could run like the wind without tiring, and catch a Frisbee in the air no matter how high or recklessly you threw it. His herding skills were so intrinsic, we always felt it was a shame he didn’t have a sheep nearby. When he was naughty, you'd just have to point at his timeout spot (the bathroom), and he'd hang his head and walk in and sit down. He taught Harry how to be a dog and how to play play, and to stop being the cowardly, abused dog we met him on that sunny, May, South Dakota day. Riley’s kisses were gentle and sweet and kind and so very genuine. He loved to lay at your feet and sigh his loud, satisfying sighs. His hair was fine and soft and beautiful. When we brought C-man home the first time, he treated the new baby with reverence and protection. When Beerman was away on a work trip, he would stand guard at the front door, letting no one even think about coming inside with his big white head and low, loud "WOOF!". And he was smarter than any dog I’ve ever known, and you knew it with certainty through his eyes. Because his two-colored eyes were certainly never dog-like. (I always suspected he was actually a person trapped in a dog's body, like an old fairy tale.) He had an incredible sense of pack order and obeyed it without condition. And he loved us and wanted nothing more than to be with us, with his paws of ownership on us, protecting us.
It's been almost 8 weeks without him now. And to talk about Riley in the past tense has taken some getting used to. I'm not sure it'll ever seem right. I still tend to grab two bowls to fill at dinnertime. Beerman and I are always going to harbor the physical scars on our body from his rebellious teenage years. And I don't even want to think about the amount of money we spent on him and his craziness. Because it was never about that. It was about his loud groans as he'd settle in for a nap. Or his big pink belly with little black freckles that would lay exposed to the world as he slept upside down. Or his unadulterated excitement over getting a chunk of the stinkiest salmon we could find for dinner. Or how he insisted on sitting under the table while we ate. (Harry has now taken over that position of honor, leaving Beerman with the understanding that he'll never be able to ever sit with his feet in front of him during a meal). Or how even on three legs, was strong enough to pull any vet tech over. Or how he'd stretch his head and neck up in glee as you scratched his snout. (Oh, how he loved the snout scratch). It was about how he hated when I sang to him (I'm not kidding, he'd actually get up and walk away after a loud protesting groan). Or how he happily howled that low bass howl in concert with Harry's high-pitched soprano whenever he got the chance. Or those soft, sweet, cool ears that I could never give enough kisses. Whenever I see a picture of him, it's those the very most of all.
Today would have been Riley’s 7th birthday. It was such a short but amazing life. And while he was so special to us, it was incredible how many people were so touched by his life. The numerous cards and letters and emails we got from so many after his passing were a bit overwhelming, but so touching.
We miss you a lot, buddy. I think about you every single day. Because there will never be another crazy, loveable, best friend quite like you. I still expect to see your giant, fluffy head waiting at the door when I get home at night. And somehow, I think you still are.
at 6:00 AM