Over the years, I have been blessed to share my life with a number of furry and feathered and finned companions. They have all made me a better person and I have learned a lot from them. My focus here is driven by a recent event that moved me deeply, and continues to move me deeply.
In reflecting on it, one could say that what has actually moved me so deeply are the things that happened in the thirteen or so years leading up to the event and that the event was simply the trigger that caused me to contemplate those things even more deeply than I had in the past. Perhaps the emotion recollected in tranquility that William Wordsworth spoke of .
Riley came into the world on January 22, 2004 and subsequently came into Kathy’s an my life about 2 or so months later. Riley was one member of a litter of puppies that were born to Smoochy who is a a member of Jordy and Kimberly’s family ( our son and daughter-in-law). Fairly early on, Kimberly became convinced that Riley was intended for us and was somewhat relentless in her efforts to have us take him into our home, something I will forever love her for.
But Kathy and I, after talking about it, had concluded that we just were not ready for a dog at that point in our lives, and certainly not for a small dog, like the three quarter Shih Tzu- one quarter Miniature American Eskimo that Riley was (we came to call him a Cute Tzu).
In early 2004, I was performing construction observation for a fairly large project up in Seattle and frequently spent 4-5 days a week on the site. As a result, Kathy would occasionally come up to Seattle to spend the weekend with me there instead of me traveling home. At the time, the kids lived near Federal Way, which is about 20 or so miles South of Seattle. So, after deciding we didn’t really want a dog, we agreed that Kathy would go past their place for a visit on her way up to see me one weekend , at which time, she would ooh and aah over the puppies and then politely say we just were not ready yet.
When she arrived, Riley immediately bounded up to her, put his little front paws on her leg, and presented his cute little face and wagging tail to her; basically the face you see in the picture to the left. As a result, by the time I caught up with her at the hotel after work, she was speechless – literally.
Meaning she was so excited about the prospect of having this cute little ball of fur in our lives that she could could hardly talk. But, as we discussed things over dinner that evening, we returned to our original conclusion that we were just not ready to have a puppy in our lives. That meant that it would fall to me to break the news to the kids on our way home later that week.
When the door opened on the day of our return visit; I had the same experience as Kathy; this amazingly cute little ball of fur bounded up to me with his tail wagging and his eyes full of unconditional puppy love. And in one or two seconds, I went from …
We really are not ready for a dog yet …
What do you mean we can’t take him home with us today?
The reality then, is that Riley picked us, and Kathy and I are forever the better for it. In the two or three hours that we visited with the kids that afternoon, Kathy and I both bonded with him, each in our own way.
One of Riley’s gifts was that he could make great big people, man or woman alike, pipe fitters and test pilots even, pick him up and snuggle him and talk in little high pitched squeaky voices about how adorable he was. As a result, Kathy spent quite a bit of time doing just that, receiving vigorous tail wags and puppy kisses in return. Between things, she was talking with Jordy and Kimberly about the details of being Mom to a puppy, something she had never really done before, but something she would be a natural at.
I was a big more reserved; scared really. Eight years prior, I had lost my faithful companion, Trixie, as the result of her finding and snarfing down a piece of Kentucky Fried Chicken that someone had tossed out of their car in front of our house before I realized what was going on. The subsequent GI disorders and dehydration triggered kidney failure and other issues that her little aging body could not deal with and she quietly passed away a couple of days later while asleep under my desk. Eight years subsequent to the event, I still teared up at the site of a toy poodle, especially a toy poodle puppy.
So, part of my reluctance, I realized, was not because I didn’t want to have a dog in our life. Rather, it was because I knew how quickly the time with them would pass and how much it would tear you up when they reached the end of the line.
But, at one point on the afternoon that I met Riley, while snuggled up on the couch, kind of like he and I are in the picture to the left, there was a moment when he looked straight into my eyes, snuzzled me, and gave me a little kiss on the nose, as if to say its O.K.; I will love you deeply too. And by the simple magic of that, we were bonded and I lost all reluctance to letting him into my heart.
Now, it was our turn to provide reassurance. After all, this was his first time away from his mom, his litter-mates, and the only place he had ever known. Who wouldn’t be a bit nervous and scared?
Initially, he would hide behind Chris’s CD tower peering out at us and occasionally, emerging to play with us and the toys we bought for him in anticipation of his arrival. But it did not take that long for him to decide that things were pretty safe. So, he proceeded to occupy himself with retrieving underwear from the laundry basket and dealing with errant purses and such.
One of the things Kathy and I had agreed upon (after agreeing that perhaps we actually were ready for a puppy after all) was that Riley should sleep in his own little bed, in our room, but not in our bed.
That lasted about 15 seconds after we turned the lights out that first night. He sounded so sad and scared the we could scarcely resist bringing him up into bed with us. After all, he was really not that big and was extremely cute and fluffy. And at our core, I suspect we knew how he felt and didn’t want any creature to feel that way, He immediately fell asleep curled up between us.
And then, there was waking up and seeing this cute little face peering out at you over the covers with a tail wagging vigorously in the background; the memory of it melts my heart to this day.
Our first family trip together was to Neskowin, a quiet little place on the Oregon Coast; a place where Kathy had grown up camping on her family’s vacations as a child. It was a place where we eventually came to own a share of a fractional, which was and still is our little piece of heaven. But at that point, the fractional was still a dream. So, on the occasional special weekend, like a birthday or Valentine’s day for instance, we would rent a place there and dream of what might be.
Not long after Riley came to live with us, Kathy’s birthday rolled around. Since we had already planned the coast trip and the place we were staying was pet friendly, we figured that it was a pretty good time to introduce Riley to the beach.
He loved it; in the course of three days, he discovered that he loved chasing waves and digging holes in the sand but that he didn’t actually like getting wet. And best of all, he discovered horse poop, which he found on the beach and immediately, upon finding it, picked some up and headed straight back to the place we were staying at high speed. You could practically hear him thinking you told me this would be great but I never imagined anything like this.
One of the hardest things for me personally was Riley’s first haircut (usually, that’s the Mom, right?). Up until that point, he was this little fluffy ball of fur that was softer than anything I had ever touched other than Kathy. At one point, Kimberly had told us that once he had his first haircut, that special softness would be forever gone and I was not quite sure I was ready to give that up. But Kathy’s motherly instincts prevailed, as they should have, and he was groomed.
That led to one of my favorite pictures of Kathy and Riley. I realized today while talking to Kathy about the picture, that part of the reasons that the picture is a favorite of her is that she is wearing what she wore on one of the first evenings we “officially” were living together in our little house. Riley’s presence in the picture just makes it even better.
Shortly there-after the picture was taken, Riley dug his first hole in our yard, an achievement he was quite proud of but which also, to some extent, eradicated the benefits associated with the grooming appointment.
Riley never met a cat he didn’t like; as a puppy, he spent quite a bit of time (along with his litter mates) wrestling and playing with a (very patient) Siamese cat, whose name escapes me at this point. Having said that, when Riley came to live with us, we also had something like four or five cats living with us as a result of Kathy and I each coming with a cat and a number of neighbor cats moving in with us when the neighbors suddenly left with out them.
But while his relationship with them, was quite congenial, it was nothing like the relationship that evolved with a kitten named Hobbes who came to live with us while Aaron, my son, was living here. From Riley’s perspective, Hobbes was his little brother and nobody was going to mess with him as long as Riley had anything to do with it.
Hobbes loved Riley in return. Hobbes is a bit skittish and will be off like a flash at the drop of a pin. Yet, he would sit, with out a care in the world, while Riley, being extremely excited to see him, barked at him at the top of his lungs, only inches away. The two of them spent a lot of time together.
The bottom line is that for Kathy and I, the life of Riley was a blessing far greater than we could have ever imagined. Summer afternoons on the beach were made more memorable, sunsets from the porch swing were made warmer, and family walks, and in his later years when he could no longer walk, wagon rides and bike rides around the neighborhood were made more colorful.
Riley passed on February 23rd, about two weeks ago now, quietly snuggled between Kathy and I on our love seat, playing with his favorite toy while everyone talked about him and pet him and loved him. The thirteen plus years he was a part of our lives went by so quickly I can scarcely believe they are gone. But the place the life of Riley holds in our hearts will be eternal I think, just as it should be.