Riley passed away last week. Riley was not my dog.
Riley was, however, one of the best friends I ever had. He was an incredibly special dog, unlike any dog I have ever met. I am amazingly blessed to have known him, and I am incredibly grateful to the people who called him family that they were so open to letting Riley come visit us and spend time with our family. They, too, are pretty special people to know that they “owned” a dog with a heart bigger than anyone could contain. He showed love to everyone.
Riley was 14. He changed my life forever. And now I get to figure out what life without Riley looks like. I don’t like that thought. I’ll figure it out, but right now, I just want to share what an amazing being this dog was.
One day a few months after we moved to Shasta, Riley wandered over to smell things in our yard. Max was horribly afraid of dogs after being attacked by a dog at his dad’s house in Texas, but I sent him outside with a ball. Riley LOVED balls, though trying to get the ball back from him was a challenge. Max and Riley bonded and became incredibly close over the next few days.
It was a perfect set up really. Riley came over to play for a few hours a day. Max got doggie time. I didn’t have extra fur to clean up! Riley was just awesome. One day, Max’s dad started loading Riley into his car as a surprise for Max when he picked him up from school. I had to remind him, “That’s not our dog; you can’t do that.” Riley looked at me as if to say, “What! I was gonna go for a ride!”
Riley started spending more and more time over at our house. He would sleep on our front porch. We put out a carpet remnant and a water bowl just for him. He walked with me and Claire every day. He had some days in which he was obsessive about being with us. Sometimes I felt guilty that he wasn’t with his own family. But then his mom would call him, and he’d go to her immediately. He knew who mom was. He just knew he had work to do with other people.
Like me. When I first arrived in Shasta, I was rather emotionally beat up from our time in Texas. Shasta was intended to be a place of healing and spiritual respite. I didn’t realize Riley was going to work on me… but I am grateful he did.
There was one walk where I went with Riley to a meadow near our house. Riley got the goofy puppy energy going and pretty much tackled me. Then he just looked up at me with those eyes as if to say, “Sorry. I forgot you’re not a dog. But I wish you were.” He just gave so much love to me, to my kids. I loved Riley, I love Riley, more than I can describe.
Yet, he was not our dog.
A few months later, Max cried one day that we didn’t have a dog of our own. I said, “Go out and play with Riley.” He cried, “But he’s not OUR dog!”
I did a quick Craigslist search for golden retrievers and found Alex almost immediately.
Even with Alex in our life, Riley did not feel left out.
Alex and Riley became great friends almost immediately. I walked with them every day for the last four years around our neighborhood. Sometimes other dogs would come pack up with us. We went to the meadow. We played in the backyard. Sometimes we would just sit on the back patio together.
Alex loved Riley. They competed for balls. We walked together every morning. They swam in the creek whether it was 85° or 19°. They would disappear in the meadow chasing smells together. They would take turns rolling in things they shouldn’t have. They would take turns avoiding being turned into a horse by Claire. (Riley was much more patient with Claire than Alex.)
When I would put Alex out to do his business, he would look for Riley. If he hadn’t seen Riley in a while, he would go to Riley’s house and try to find him and encourage him to come over and “pack up” with us.
Riley wasn’t a part of our family, but he was one of our best friends.
I wish had words of eloquence to describe how amazingly wonderful Riley was, how healing he was to us, how full of love and playfulness. Right now I just have words of sadness. I miss him terribly.
I never had enough time or energy to play with Riley as much as I wanted to. He didn’t mind. He waited patiently for me, for Max, for Claire, until we were ready. And when he felt we had enough of him, he moved on to another neighbor who he felt needed him.
A good friend mentioned that there are lots of new dogs in the neighborhood. There is the cycle of life and death, rebirth and we’re just in the middle of it. We always are. Sometimes we can distract ourselves from the cycle of life, but it’s always there underneath the surface.
I’m still grieving, and I guess I will be for a while.
I knew about two months ago that Riley wasn’t doing very well. He came home from a trip with his family after Christmas, and he felt different. By early January, I could feel him slowing us dramatically on our walk around the neighborhood. One day, I just knew.
I cried a lot that day. I put Alex inside and stayed on the back porch with Riley. I told him I knew. I told him it was okay for him to leave, that when he was ready, I was going to be okay. I thanked him for the love and lessons of heart-centered living that he gave me. I told him he would be with me in spirit forever, and he was the greatest dog in the world. (I’m sorry Alex!)
I cried a lot that day. I felt that I had said my goodbyes. We had a few more walks, and I took some more videos of him to keep my memory of Riley alive.
Last week, when Claire was sick, I had a dream that Riley’s parents came to my house to let me know he had died. The next day, he disappeared, dying on his own terms in the neighborhood that was, and is, entirely Riley’s. I knew by Thursday when I hadn’t seen him, that the dream was his way of saying goodbye.
Riley was not my dog. But the Riley-shaped hole in my life is going to be there for a while.