Riley is my dog. Technically, she belongs to all of us, but without me, that dog would not be alive, so I claim her. If I could claim her as a dependent on my taxes, I would. That’s how close we are.
Riley is a rescue pup, and as such, our whole lives revolve around her. She knows it. Also known as the Big Red Girl, Stinky LaRue, and her formal name of Riley Dammit (var. Goddammit, Riley!), she has a beautiful red coat, with golden glitter in her butt fluff (we don’t just stare at her butt; it sparkles in the sunshine and you can’t help but notice it when she’s taking you for a walk). She’s a Golden Retriever/German Shepherd mix, but she doesn’t immediately look like either breed. Because of this, when people meet Riley, they inevitably ask what she is. Obnoxious? A little shit? Yes, she is both, but we assume they want to know the breed. John got tired of the long explanation, so he made up a breed that makes for an easy answer – Eastern Red Retriever. So now she’s Riley, the Eastern Red Retriever, a totally made-up breed for a one-of-a-kind, doofus of a dog.
Now, just because she’s my dog, and I take care of all her wants and needs, doesn’t mean I’m her favorite. Oh no, far from it. Even though I work from home most days and she is with me nearly 24/7, even though I feed her, play with her, walk her, attempt cuddles with her, fill her treat ball and retrieve it from under every damn thing, and so on, her favorite – hands down – is John. He’s That Guy Who Leaves But Comes Back. Even when I leave and come back, it’s just not the same for her. John is that Happy Guy who gives her scratches and then leaves, but miraculously comes back 12 hours later, just as happy and with lots more scratches for the Big Red Girl. How can you not love that?
To Riley, I am That Lady. I get short with her when she incessantly places her wet and slimy toys on my lap when I’m trying to work, or, even better, when I’m trying to pee. I’m the one who disciplines her and tells her to “leave it!” when she wants to eat something just because it’s on the ground, or yells “DROP IT!” when she’s stolen yet another sock (what’s with the socks??). Even though I feed her, I’m the one who limits the treats when, clearly, she would like more. Just one more. One more. And one more. Also, I’m always around. I don’t go anywhere without Stinky. She rides along as I drive the children to and from school – a total of four hours in the car each day. I never go away, so she never has a chance to miss me (I feel this is true with John, also, by the way, but I digress).
Riley had parvo when she was a pup, just before we were to pick her up from the rescue. John and I were positively despondent. Many people told us to just start looking for another puppy, like she was a lamp that had been discontinued, but we were resolute – Riley was ours already, though we’d only ever seen pictures of her. We were not going to give up on her. It was a very long, anxious wait, but finally she was well enough to come home. She was put into my arms, where I kissed and nuzzled her, though she’d never been bathed. I held her in a blanket on the long ride home and cooed to her. She was my new baby.
Even though she’d survived the parvo, she suffered what many rescues animals suffer with – parasites. She had several, and was once again a sick little thing, but we nursed her back to health, sometimes hand-feeding her when she was too weak or disinterested to seek out her food and water bowls. We came up with a concoction of baby food and rice (she couldn’t tolerate even boiled chicken) that sustained her for about three weeks, until she could transition to puppy food. Yes, John fretted and took care of her, as well, but when he was at work, it was just me and Riley. With the kids at school and John working, I cuddled her and took her out every five minutes as she suffered with diarrhea and later, a UTI. I coaxed her to eat throughout the day, until she was able to eat a full meal in one sitting. We played when she had some energy, and snuggled when she didn’t. I sent videos to John, of Riley eating or playing, to help ease his anxiety over her state. Riley and I bonded, but never like she bonded with John. I am her caregiver, but he is her playmate and, in the end, that’s all she really wants.
The children adore Riley, but she is difficult to handle at times. At just over a year old, she is incredibly stubborn and dominant, and still very much a puppy. She’s been through two courses of puppy training, and is very clever, but she prefers her own way of doing things. Though she’s learned that John and I are in charge, she still tries to assert her dominance over the children. Jamie is her chew toy, but bless him, he perseveres.
The Big Red Girl has more energy and enthusiasm than a barrel of monkeys hepped up on speed and Red Bull, and not everyone finds that as endearing as we do, so she is often kept on a short leash. She knows she needs to calm down, and she tries, but she simply can’t contain her excitement when she meets people or other animals. Both John and I literally bear the scars of Riley’s excitability. My hand was broken when all 65 pounds of her knocked me down as she suddenly sprang from a calm, sitting position to full pursuit of a dog that had been well past us while on a walk. And John has a scar on his forearm which looks very much like he was in a knife fight, when really, it was Riley taking off after a cyclist whizzed by, burning John’s arm with the retractable leash in the process.
While I can’t deny my frustration with her from time to time, and John and I have been known to flip out if we have to get one. more. ball. from underneath furniture, she is undeniably lovable and adorable. The kids were hoping she’d be the kind of dog they could cuddle with, a sweet doggie curled up at the foot of their beds. Nope. She will only sleep on our bed (yay…) with That Guy, and she does not like to cuddle. She is decidedly anti-cuddle. In fact, she will be so excited to see us, but as soon as we put a hand out to pet her, she will duck and walk away. “I love you, but don’t touch me.” She will tolerate chest rubs (don’t go for the belly…you’ve been warned), and she only lets you snuggle up to her when she’s really sleepy or if she’s on our bed. We think it’s a dominance thing, but whatever it is, she’s not exactly the dog we envisioned. Still, we adore her and she certainly makes for great conversation. And the stories! Oh, the stories we have to tell!