Today was my last day with my little friend Riley. Over the past 7 months I have come to really love this cute little pooch that has had such a hard life so far. I will miss him very much every morning when I wake up and every evening when I come home from work. Most of all, I will miss the unabated excitement that Riley displayed whenever he saw me.
My relationship with Riley started on a Sunday on February 18, 2006 but this young pooch had already been through 5 months estranged from his original owners. I recently got a copy of the original email of how Riley came to HART. He was found along with another dog that HART named Remy in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina hit. These were the first two orphan pups to arrive with HART in the aftermath of the devastation of the storm. Riley and Remy apparently paired so that Riley would stand guard while Remy foraged for food or water and then they would share. They were covered with fleas and ticks and neither was neutered. The fellow that saved the dogs brought them back toVirginia
after carrying supplies down to help people out after the storm. He couldn’t keep them and the local shelters were not able to help. HART stepped in and gave them their first post hurricane home. As with all animals that come to HART, the dogs were taken to a Vet and checked over. Riley turned out to be heartworm positive and was immediately put on treatment. From what the volunteers at HART tell me, both dogs were shaking for the first week or so. I am told that in December Riley got neutered after getting his heartworms taken care of.
Not all dogs are wonderful and sweet and that was certainly the case for Riley when we first got him. We already had a 12 year old chocolate lab and a 4 year old black lab. We met Riley and his friend Remy in mid February through HART. When Charlene brought him to our home, we put all 4 dogs in the back fenced yard for them to become acquainted. Riley and Remy smelled terrible and desperately needed a bath. Riley was shy and kept his tail between his legs. Everyone sniffed, and when Riley got near the chocolate lab, it was a case of “hate at first site”. It’s hard to tell who started the fight but the dislike was mutual. The dogs locked on each other and we pulled them apart. Riley had a cut on his ear; the chocolate had a cut on his neck. No bad damage. So, we separated them for a while and let them calm down. We slowly introduced them again and it was nothing but a big fight. The chocolate lab was 95 pounds of solid muscle and Riley was an emaciated frame of 45 pounds at best. Still, Riley held his own.
We took the chocolate into the house and locked him behind a gate. Inside the house the yellow lab (Remy), Riley, and the black lab sniffed. I picked up Riley to hug and he growled but let me hold him. Charlene suggested that I be more stern with him and not be a mush. She expressed concern that this might not work out because of the immediate dislike between the chocolate and Riley so she suggested that we foster the two dogs rather than adopting them.
That day began a very slow journey of rehabilitation for Riley. From day 1 Riley started trying to establish dominance on everything in the house. He marked in the basement on every piece of furniture, marked my bed, marked the hall, and defecated whenever the mood hit him. He attacked the black lab on the second day and we had to pull him off of her. The next day he attacked his friend Remy. In neither case was anyone seriously hurt. Then on day 3, he attacked me. It was a simple morning in my office where we had him pinned to sleep. I was typing an email when he came over to me and sat down. I turned to reach over to pet him and he flew into this rage resulting in multiple piercing bites on my arms and one nice bite through the thick of my hand. I had a time getting him to let go of my hand. I immediately rushed to the bathroom and washed out the wounds and then poured alcohol on them. That morning made me question the decision to take him in but I wasn’t broken yet.
From that point on Riley was kept on a very short leash and had no privileges in the house. He was not trusted to be pet, let alone played with. But, we had to factor in what this dog has been through and recognize that it will take time for him to adjust. He never wagged his tail, and growled at us all the time. He had a bad scar on his right hind leg and we didn’t now it at the time, but he also was missing his teeth on the top right row. He snarled at the chocolate through the gates and we even tried putting muzzles on both dogs. They just foamed at the mouth and fought like crazy.
Finally, one evening about 2 weeks into fostering the dogs, Riley was in my office while I was typing at the computer when he started to snarl at me without any provocation. I immediately stopped what I was doing and charged him, tossing him onto the floor on his back and putting my arm across his neck. He squirmed but I held him steady till he gave up. That incident appears to be the turning point for Riley.
Within a week after that he started wagging his tail when around me and started talking to me all the time. Not quite a bark, but not a growl…”aruu ruu ruu”.
It took a few months for Riley to learn his name, to become house trained, and to really warm up to me. We adopted Remy but continued to foster Riley. We took him to the adoption events every weekend. He learned the pattern and would get so excited every Saturday when I slept in that he would just dance around whenever I got up. Whenever he would see a large blue truck (I have a blue F250) he would run to the truck and want in. By about the 4th month of fostering, Riley had decided that I was his best friend. I could do just about anything to the little dog at this point including cleaning his teeth and manipulating his scarred leg. He pranced around whenever I came home from work or got up in the morning. When I called, he would stop whatever he was doing and come running as if he had just spotted a long lost friend. I frequently hold him in my lap like a small child on his back and pet him while in my office.
Riley and the chocolate lab still don’t get along after 7 months and Riley now weighs 55 pounds without any fat. On Wednesday August 9, we took Riley to an Ice Cream fund raiser for HART in downtown Fairfax. The local fire department came by and spotted the cute little dog lying on his back in my lap. They all gathered around in a circle and chatted while petting on the little dog. In that crowd of firemen was Scott. He didn’t say a lot but he went home and filled out an application that said the reason he wanted Riley was because he fell in “love at first site”.
Riley went to his new home in WinchesterVA on August 21, 2006. He now has his new forever family: Two adults, two children in their teens, a 7 year old female Dalmatian mix, and a 14 pound cat. It will probably take Riley a little while to forget about me and maybe a while to learn to love his new family, but he has come such a long way from the ill tempered smelly little dog. I will miss my little spotted friend.
When I got home, all 3 dogs greeted me as I opened the door. Kira and Bones took off and got their favorite toys while Remy just stood in the door looking outside. I could interpret it as if he was looking for his buddy Riley, but that would be attributing to much intelligence to him. After I closed the door, Remy kept staring out the window and then went to the front door and peered through the glass. I went into the office to check email and he would run from the door to me, bark, then back to the door. He repeated this for a while till I got up and let him out the front door. He paced up and down the front porch looking at the truck and driveway and eventually came inside. Maybe he does miss his only friend from the Hurricane.