When we first met him, his name was Rally. That’s what the rescue organization had called him because he’d rallied back from death’s door after being found emaciated in a barn in Roy, Washington. It was an apt name. He rallied so many times throughout his life. While we fostered him, he was placed in 3 different “forever” homes that didn’t work out for various reasons (thank god). Each time, he put up no fuss, he just gently and dutifully walked away from us and tried to make the most of the new families (he did this going into veterinary clinics and doggy daycares, too. He never stubbornly refused or cried like Bowie did — Riley trusted so deeply, just… “okay, Mama, if you say so.”).
I sobbed whenever he left and wrote letters to the new families, telling them about how he liked to manage the house, how he needed to know where everyone was at all times, checking to make sure each pack member was doing okay. I’d tell them about his Lassie-like communication — he had different barks for play, anger, urgency, a danger bark for when he saw a stinging insect or a spider, a tattle-tale bark for when he was alerting us to Penny’s or Bowie’s wrongdoing (“he’s got his head in the bin, Mama, come quick!”). I told them how sensitive he was to tones of voice, how he would become a boisterous court jester in order to stop an argument, barking and throwing toys around. How he would claw at your chest or lean his weight against you, if he heard crying or a painful moan. Bowie always retreated from negative vibes, but Riley moved towards them, knowing he was the saviour. I told the families that his lunge and growl looked ferocious, but they were just a joke — bravado — so please don’t chide or discipline him. And, even though he was only one or two years old, he had already had a hard life, almost succumbing to starvation, with only a partial tail and an arthritis-bent back, so please treat him kindly. They wouldn’t have understood him completely, we know this in our hearts. We were meant to be his and we finally figured that out.
He became Riley to us — “Little Guy” at 65 lbs because Bowie was such a big guy — but he continued to rally. He almost died of giardia at 3 years old. He broke a toe chasing squirrels and dealt with a cast for months and eventually an amputation. He had two dental surgeries and bounced back with no complaints. He was impossibly fast — he’d run behind the car on the beach like a greyhound, even as his arthritis got progressively worse. He limped more and more over the years, but was always thrilled to go on walks, chase a ball and battle it out with the dangerous heft (and nails) (and tails) of our Rhodesian ridgebacks. His resilience was inspiring, but we had to rein him in and save him from himself.
His sickness was sudden and his death was harrowing, I won’t sugarcoat it. GI trouble led to diagnoses of acute pancreatitis, aspiration pneumonia and an 11 x 10 cm mass in his abdomen. He tried to rally. He was in and out of 3 different clinics and all the doctors were heroes, talking me through my questions in the middle of many nights and grieving with me afterwards. Riley died at home while my husband and I held him. We were telling him his origin story when he took his final breaths: “Remember how you met Daddy and Bowie in the park on December 12th and Daddy called me at work to tell me the good news and I raced home to meet you?”
Riley had the most free, life-loving spirit of any dog we’ve ever known. If we let him off-leash, he was gone — he wanted to explore every inch of this world. I always smile remembering when we took him to a lure coursing gathering for ridgebacks. All of these hounds, focused and serious, torpedoing after the lure in a big semi-circle, not taking their eyes off it. And then Riley… he would chase it about a third of the way and then skip away from the course in a joyous arc, running free into the field beyond because WOW LOOK AT THOSE TREES I SMELL A SQUIRREL WHAT’S THAT CAR OVER THERE SO MUCH GRASS TO PEE ON… I will always laugh-cry thinking about Riley smiling, carefree, freedom-skipping away to his own drum, oblivious to our calls, in between the trained, studious ridgebacks’ runs.
Run free, sweet boy.
“He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are his life, his love, his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart. You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion.”–Anonymous