The world is divided up into two groups: those who love dogs and those who don’t. (For those of you who don’t—you may want to stop and think about the choices you’ve made so far in life that have brought you to this point.) Currently my family has a dog, Beau, who is a striking combination of mellowness and sass. Beau is the topic of conversation at the dinner table (usually because he’s underneath it begging for food), the subject of far too many of my Instagram posts and the pride and joy of my parents—quite possibly ahead of my sister and me. He is one of the best, but as much as I love Beau there was another family pet before him who has a piece of my heart forever.
In honor of National Dog Day, I’d like to pay tribute to my first four-legged friend:
It’s been awhile—a little over seven years to be exact, though I guess that makes it more like 49 years if we’re going by your clock. How are you? Where are you? Is the movie true, do all dogs really go to heaven? I’d like to think you’re up in the clouds with an unlimited supply of Milk Bones and squeaky toys running around with all your dog pals.
I remember the day my family and I got you; I was seven and it was almost Christmas. We were told there was a Black Lab/Border Collie mix at the Boston Animal Rescue League with a sweet temperament, perfect for a family. When we arrived at the shelter, you were the only dog not barking—a breath of fresh air in comparison to all the barkers around you. When they brought you out to see us, you immediately licked our hands when we tried to pet you. We were suckers because that was all it took to know we wanted you to be a part of our family—I’m pretty sure the feeling was mutual.
That first night I wanted you to sleep in my bed with me (well that night and every night). I’d been around plenty of dogs, but you were the first dog I could call my own. A dog is a girl’s best friend right? I wanted to spend as much bonding time with you as I could, determined to become besties. I remember being disappointed when Mom and Dad said you needed to sleep in your own bed, though really I ended up dodging a bullet since I eventually learned of your bed hogging ways when I’d sneak you on my bed when they weren’t home.
Your personality really started coming through as months went on. We always joked that you made the world’s worst watchdog since I can count the number of times you ever barked on one hand. Not to mention that you would greet anyone who came to the door, friend or stranger, by excitedly jumping on them and smothering them with kisses. Let’s not forget just how much loud noises scared you. Whether it was thunder, fireworks or just someone with a loud voice, anytime the volume got too loud you headed to your hideout, the bathtub. I had to get in the habit of checking behind the curtain before showering just to make sure you weren’t in there. It was something we all laughed about, but some nights when I couldn’t take the thunder either, I’d hide in there with you…just to make sure you were ok.
Overall you were so well-behaved. You had mastered the usual commands before we’d even met you—sit, lay down, stay, heel, paw—you knew them all. We didn’t even need to have you on a leash when you were in the front yard; you just never walked off. Occasionally though, you’d get into the trash or chew something up when we weren’t home, almost as a punishment for leaving you behind. If we had been out for too long or had come home and gone back out shortly after, sure enough there’d be something destroyed when we returned. I get it. I wouldn’t want to be left home alone either, but did you have to chew up my favorite Beanie Baby? Though the most memorable chewing incident had to be the time you ate an entire Yankee Candle, the blueberry scented one. Remember? We knew something was up when we realized the candle was missing, but it wasn’t confirmed until blue spots started popping up in the backyard. Dad definitely didn’t enjoy cleaning that up.
You may have chewed some of our belongings, but we could never stay mad at you for long. You’d just give us those puppy dog eyes and we had no choice but to forgive you. I felt like you could tap into our emotions too, like you knew exactly how we were feeling and could empathize with us. If I was sick or sad, you’d come and sit right by me. I remember one time in particular, I was 19 and my first serious boyfriend had just broken up with me. I was lying on the couch feeling sad and sorry for myself when you appeared next to me. You rested your head on the couch and licked my face, eventually lying down on the ground beside me. We stayed like that for a couple hours. I may have felt crummy that day, but you made me feel better just by sticking by my side. Come on, who needs a guy when you have a dog? Dogs are much cuter anyway.
Do you remember your shining, heroic moment? That time you saved a baby? We were at the beach visiting Nana and Gramp on Long Island, and suddenly you bolted into the water like you’re on a mission. When you swam to shore we saw something in your mouth. It was a baby—ok fine, it was a baby doll not a human baby, but I’m confident you would have done the same if a real baby needed saving. That’s one of Mom and Dad’s favorite stories to tell; “Our first dog, Riley, he saved a baby from drowning!” Sometimes they’d let people in on the real story, sometimes they didn’t—it kept things interesting.
Riley, you were a trooper. I remember back when you were about 12 and the vet found a tumor in your mouth. One surgery was done to remove it, but just weeks later it came back. Even the vet was upset. It was a long shot, but she wanted to try the surgery one more time, free of charge—dig deeper this time to try and get the whole tumor out. I know you may not understand how money works, but a free surgery is unheard of. That’s just how loved you were.
The second surgery was successful. You lived another four years and were tumor-free for the rest of your life. Although it took longer than I care to admit, I no longer cry at the thought of your absence; I smile as I think back on all the adventures we went on. I can’t say enough how lucky we were to have had you. Thanks for always being a pillow for me to rest my head on (both literally and figuratively), but more so thanks for being my first best friend. As I think about all the crazy people out there, you know, the ones who don’t like dogs, I just think if only they had met you. You’d change their minds; that’s for sure.