Our little family became a little littler today. Riley was our problem child–a ball of energy, mischief and perpetual hunger wrapped up in 79 pounds of fur and just about the cutest face you ever did see.
I wish I could share with you stories of her stellar behavior or talk about how she brought out the best in everyone, but that’s simply not this golden retriever–not by a long shot.
I remember when I was 19 years old going with my mom, dad and sister to a house very far away in a rural area to look at golden retriever puppies and maybe even to bring one home. The breeder whose home we were visiting had numerous litters of golden puppies. Some were prancing in the yard. Others were yapping at our ankles to be picked up. I vividly remember taking this sight in and saying to my sister, “This must be what Heaven’s like.”
We picked one. A little female with a stripe down her snout. We named her Riley.
Riley grew up hyper, as many goldens do. But her hyperactivity never seemed to lessen with time. Riley lived with my parents for several years, and then my sister took her in. We all thought that was a great idea. As a runner, my sister could help Riley expend some of that overwhelming energy on long jogs.
A few years later though, Riley changed hands once again and became mine. The country dog turned city dog when she moved into my brownstone apartment in Chicago, where I was living single and enjoying the bustle of urban life.
We bonded. I loved having a companion when I was living on my own–someone to welcome me home after a long day. Someone to alert me when a stranger was at the door. And someone to make me feel secure as a single female living alone in a garden floor apartment that my friends affectionately dubbed the “crack house.”
Riley loved to be petted. Many evenings as I typed away on my laptop while sitting on the family room floor, she’d saunter over to me, pause and then plop her hiney directly on my keyboard. She’d nudge my wrist and wait for the petting to begin.
I remember my first car trip home to Michigan with her. In my naive way, I had assumed she’d spread out in the backseat and take a nap. But oh no. Riley wanted to be up front. No, not in the shotgun seat. She wanted to be on my lap, as I drove. Yup, I almost died as this 70+ pound fur ball finagled her way on to my lap on I-94. Needless to say, a kennel was quickly purchased to keep her contained on future five-hour drives home.
But perhaps Riley is most well known for her eating habits. The stories of “What Has Riley Eaten Lately?” have made many people laugh and left many others astounded that she actually was still alive. Among the non-edible items Riley has eaten are a highlighter, a copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, my Northwestern vs. Michigan football tickets, an 18k gold bracelet, a wad of cash, a full baseball mitt (yes you read that correctly), a size 18-month dress and accompanying bloomers, numerous dish towels, the linoleum of my parents’ kitchen floor, and way too many socks, wash cloths and bibs to count.
If any of this sounds vaguely like a dog you know, let me help you out. Marley. You know, from Marley and Me? Riley is Marley’s female counterpart. She could eat and eat and eat and eat until the cows came home. She can (and has) pulled people over while running on a leash. And while she earned numerous blue ribbons in obedience school, she rarely listened at home.
But she loved me–I have no doubt about that. And she had a great heart.
And this morning, she died. And I am so sad that this troubled, goofy, adorable dog is gone. Mandy, our 12-year-old yellow lab, is feeling it too. She hung her head as I cried with my face buried in my husband’s shoulder this morning. My 17-month-old daughter won’t quite get where her other furry friend is, and I suspect it will sting in the days ahead as she walks around the house calling for “Wiley.”
There’s nothing quite like watching your dog struggle to take in her last few breaths. While I am the first to admit Riley was far from perfect, I am so glad I was the last one to own and love her. She really did better my life.
As I attempted to regain composure this morning after my husband washed off Riley’s red collar and tags so I’d have a memento of my friend, I decided I needed to say one last good bye to the Riley dog. I went out to the garage where she was lying on a soft green blanket and touched her one last time. The waterworks unleashed once more. And ever one to provide comic relief, my husband said, “Babe, she’s already in Heaven eating Jesus’ sandals.” And, you know what, I wouldn’t doubt that he is right.
So long my friend! Thanks for the memories–good and bad. You are already missed.