Dear Riley,

Riley, the first time I saw you I thought – what a pretty dog. You were so friendly too. I loved your almond eyes that looked up at me so innocently. Your black coat with the white paws reminded me of a dog with a pair of socks on. What a cutie pie. You laid your head on my lap and insisted that I pet you, nuzzling me with your cold little nose.

We found each other in an animal shelter. You were homeless and I had just lost my old dog Duke. After Duke died, I decided to volunteer at the local shelter walking the dogs there. I really had no intentions of getting another dog. My decision was based on the feeling that I didn’t want to go through loving and losing another dog again. Plus there were all the little inconveniences of owning a dog. Picking up dog pooh, brushing the dog, walking the dog, dog hair in the house, dog hair in the car, buying dog food, Vet bills, toe nail clippings, what to do with the dog when one wishes to leave town, etc, etc. I loved my old dog Duke, but I just didn’t want to do it again. I wanted to be dog free for once in my life, not have to think of a dog.

You came to the shelter in the month of October about the same time I started volunteering there. We hung out together in the dog park. You had a thing for squirrels and I was developing a thing for you. A month went by and you were still there. You were such a pretty dog – but you were black. Black dogs don’t get adopted that quickly. You were becoming depressed staying at the shelter and my heart sank.

I must have been out of my mind that day, but I decided to apply for your adoption. The very next day, someone else applied for your adoption. I should have waited. A few days later I got the news – I had been approved and I could come get you. It was November just before Thanksgiving. I had 14 people coming for Thanksgiving dinner. I had not planned on inviting you, but your depression and those innocent, lonesome eyes made me bring you home right away. By the way, you were a perfect gentleman at that first Thanksgiving dinner.

Shortly after bringing you home though, I discovered that you had a whole series of doggy issues that I knew nothing about. My old dog Duke, I raised him from a puppy. He was a normal dog. Riley, you were not normal. You had some serious fears, like coming into the kitchen, noisy streets and slippery floors. I will never forget the first time I took you into Petco. You acted like you had forgotten how to walk.

That thing that you had for squirrels in the dog park at the shelter was actually an obsession with you. On our walks, you tried to chase and attack every squirrel and bunny you saw. You snatched a squirrel right off the sidewalk one day and killed it in front of my eyes. It happened in a split second, you saw the squirrel behind the light post and I didn’t. You lunged, grabbed it, shook it and blood squirted on my off-white shorts. I was freaked.

When you weren’t trying to kill critters, you were trying to attack people on their bikes and kill other dogs that came within 50 yards of you. You even lunged at people that walked pass us. Finally, you bite a nice lady that I use to stop and talk with on my morning walks when I had my old dog Duke. That lady crosses the street now when she sees us coming. She hasn’t spoken to me since.

A month later, I left you for three whole hours unattended for the first time. When I came back, my couch had been shredded and eaten. That was Ok though, I need a new couch anyway. Afterwards I tried to crate you, but you busted out of the new crate in five minutes. I still don’t know to this day how you did it. You are an amazing smart dog.

Finally, you left me no choice but to call a doggie behaviorist who charged me nearly a foot and a leg for her advice. We had to see her more than once too. Over the winter and through the spring, summer and the fall of the following year, together we worked hard helping you to overcome your fears and obsessions.

We took three doggie manners classes, one doggie games class, one doggie dance class, agility and rally classes. We even joined the local kennel club in town so you could get more exposure to other dogs and hopefully overcome wanting to kill every dog you met.

That was fun, but they kicked us out of the kennel club classes because you just didn’t like other dogs getting too close to you. That was Ok though, we got to take three of their classes before they canned us. They were a kind of snobby club anyway with all pure breeds, and you my baby boy are what they call a mutt.

Riley, I watched the movie “Marley and Me” and you make Marley look good. Would I have adopted you if I had known what you were really like? Probably not, but you have taught me more about dogs in three years then I knew my entire life. I have gained more patience and understanding too. This will be our third winter together. You are 5 years old now. You aren’t afraid like you use to be and you don’t react to the squirrels and rabbits as much on our walks anymore. You’re getting better at ignoring other dogs too. You know over a dozen commands and your manners have greatly improved. I don’t know much about your past Riley, but you sure have come a long way Baby and I really, really love you.


  1. I love this story it is awesome. I have two dogs of my own. They are my life. My male is a chi-weenie. Which means he is half chihuahua and half dashund. Then I have a female toy miniture Italian Greyhound. They both had rough lives. But they are happy now and I love them both to pieces. I would not trade them for anything in the world.

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