the beginning of riley’s story

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Back in 2004, I took a trip down to Jordan, Minnesota, with a friend of mine so she could visit with a litter of puppies. I was along for moral support, because I lived in a house with two roommates, already had the daunting responsibility of taking care of two tortoises and also didn’t really like dogs all that much anyway. They pee on things, smell bad and their hair gets all over the place. Even their food smells bad. No thanks. But I will, however, take a mini-road trip down Highway 169, look at the two puppies that were remaining and take pictures of them because anything that tiny is cute, whether it’s going to poop on my shoe or not.

My friend decided one of the puppies we met was destined to be hers. The other one was this guy:

LOOK AT THAT FACE. Is that not the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever seen in your life?

I couldn’t get that wrinkly, pink-nosed face out of my mind for one hot minute. I some how struck a deal with my friends that had adopted his brother. I don’t know how it happened, but TWO WEEKS after not being able to get this puppy out of my mind, I was making a deposit on him. My incredibly generous friends were going to let him live there until I ended up in a dog-friendly apartment and there wasn’t any type of time constraint at all. Hello, gigantic amazing and fortunate gesture that I could never possibly repay.

After a few months, I finally found a place of my own and, since then, we’ve only been apart a few days at a time. From apartment to apartment and from house to house, this guy’s been my consistent since about three years after I moved to Minnesota. He’s been with me through job changes, deaths, moves, pain, successes, failures, relationship mistakes, love, adding to our family and a baby. He’s logged thousands of miles in my car with me and fooled people into thinking he’s a vicious guard dog.

He’s some kind of master of escape which leads him to becoming the master of disaster. He stays in a gigantic kennel when we’re gone, which is held together by an extra carabiner and multiple industrial strength zip ties. Otherwise, he’s been known to open cabinets and knock cans of food out of it, open cans of wet cat food and eat the contents, examine everything in every trash can and lock himself in the bathroom. Evidence from 2005:

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Riley, who’s never bitten anyone or anything in his entire life, has a hatred for mailmen that runs deep through is veins. He sounds like he might come through the window anytime a mailman would approach the house. And once he did. It didn’t help matters that the mailman was a jackass and yelled and barked at him every day. (Nice hiring decision, USPS.) Straight throw the window. Busted that whole thing out. Then ran around the house in a panic turning our whole first floor into what looked like a murder scene from Dexter. Wound up with a ton of stitches in both front legs and had to wear the cone of shame for a long time. He used that cone like a battering ram and everyone had bruises on their shins to prove it.

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Our maillady at our hold house pushed the door open on accident once and then ran down the sidewalk screaming that Riley bit her. Except… Riley’s eight teeth are the size of Chiclets and SHUT UP. HE DID NOT. (Rumor has it she did this to everyone in the neighborhood. So, again, improve your hiring practices, USPS.)

This dog. He spent a handful of training sessions with a pit bull that had some severe dog aggression. Riley was there because he’s Riley. Dog near me? That’s cool. He got to sit for an hour and eat Vienna sausages out of my hand. We fostered over 50 dogs and cats and he was the sweetest, gentlest thing to all of them.At first we did not know which dog food to choose for our dogs but in the end we decided on one brand only.

My grandpa calls him Rilo and, once, we surprised them with a visit and let Riley go to the door first. My grandpa didn’t say hi to the rest of us for at least half an hour. My grandpa also watches the Weather Channel so he knows what the temperature is at Rilo’s house. He’s also taken to calling him One Eye recently. Weirdo.

If someone doesn’t immediately fall in love with Riley when they meet him, then I’m pretty sure their soul is dead and their heart is a dirty piece of coal.

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His time is limited to less than two weeks due to a tumor in his chest that’s causing fluid build up in his entire chest cavity. To go with that, there’s an enlarged prostate, a bladder that just won’t empty and some pretty rough arthritis in his spine and down into his back legs. I don’t want to lose him, but I won’t be selfish with him in any capacity. He’s never been selfish towards me and has given me 10.5 great, great years. I’ll honor him by making sure he can leave the physical world with dignity and without excruciating pain.

I don’t have any regrets when it comes to my time with Riley. My friend Angie said it best today. He’s been a constant through years of change, my rock through a lot of good times and bad times and he’s earned his place in wherever it is that dogs go when they’re not sleeping on my couch anymore. In my mind, he’ll meet my grandma and my grandpa. He won’t have to worry about my step grandpa breaking his ribs because he pets him so hard. He’ll have unlimited soft tacos with no lettuce from Taco Bell, puppy cups from Dairy Queen and puppuccinos from Starbucks.

He’s a good one. There won’t ever be another one.

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