In Our Hearts Forever

Twelve years ago, we adopted a nine month old dog to be a companion for our other rescue dog, Ferris. We named this sweet, little white dog, Riley. She had been found locked in a closet at an abandoned hotel that was about to be torn down, so she was anxious as hell about everything but boy, did she love people. She and Ferris got along great, until they didn’t. At least once a year out of nowhere, Riley would start a fight with Ferris. Ferris was not aggressive by any means but as the pack leader, she didn’t back down to this and Riley always ended up with a couple of stitches.

When Ferris died unexpectedly from cancer 6 years ago, we were introduced to a seven month old puppy when we did the Wiggle Waggle Walk for the Pasadena Humane Society in Ferris’s honor, six weeks after her death. We hadn’t planned to get a new dog yet, but Seamus was so mellow and so good with all of the dogs and kids at the walk, that we decided he would be a good companion for Riley, who was very mopey since Ferris had died. They got along great, until Riley decided they didn’t, and would try to start a fight with Seamus. Seamus being so young and looked to Riley as a pack leader, would immediately roll on his back and the scuffle would be over.

A couple of years after getting Seamus, Riley’s physical health really declined. She had horrible osteoarthritis in her knees and it eventually moved to her elbows. She fell a lot as a result, which appeared to make her anxiety worse. She had developed a growth in her abdomen and one near her heart, and was not interested in playing with Seamus at all. The vet was unsure how long she would live, so we did our best to make her happy and comfortable. We also decided that a “transition” companion dog for Seamus would be good so he would still have someone to play with, and the loss of Riley wouldn’t be as devastating to him as losing Ferris was to Riley. This is how Marlowe came to live with us two and a half years ago.

Even being an energetic four month old puppy, Marlowe sensed Riley’s limitations and looked to Seamus to play and snuggle with. Riley joined on her terms, but didn’t stick around long. Marlowe had figured out that Riley just liked to stand on the lawn and butts-up bark at Marlowe because she liked to watch Marlowe run laps around the lawn. Marlowe happily obliged and ran those laps with a huge grin on her face. But occasionally, out of nowhere, Riley would snap at Marlowe in an attempt to start a fight over nothing. Marlowe would roll on her back and we would get Riley away, but I was really worried about her behavior with now two strong dogs in the house.

We hired a private dog trainer to come see the dynamic of our dogs in our home as well as their behavior when we took them out for walks. The first thing she asked us was who we thought was the pack leader of the three. We both said Riley because she’s the oldest, plus she has always asserted herself as the leader. We were wrong. It was Seamus. She said the pack leader never has to assert themselves as such, and Riley, who has always fought for that, was doing that because of her anxiety and because she knows she is weak. We learned ways to help Riley manage her anxiety, whether it was giving her her own chew toy in another room when Seamus and Marlowe were playing, or wearing a Thundershirt, which is like a compression garment intended to be calming and soothing. Nothing worked.

A couple of months after adopting Marlowe, all three dogs had run out into the back yard one evening because they heard a noise. Marlowe, being the energetic puppy, tried to bolt past everyone and bumped Riley, which hurt Riley’s arthritic knee. Riley redirected her anxiety from the situation onto Seamus by attacking him. I ran outside to see little Marlowe tumbling under Riley’s legs as Riley was trying to bite Seamus. Because I was home alone, I had no choice but to slide Marlowe out from under all of this and leave Riley and Seamus in this fight so I could get Marlowe inside to safety. It was the first time I understood the pack leader status as I watched Seamus just try bearing his teeth to get Riley to stop, who wouldn’t obey him. She just kept lunging at him, so Seamus did what pack leaders do to protect the rest of their pack by gently holding her on the ground by the neck. Riley was so neurotic that as soon as he let her go, she would lunge at him again. At one point,  I made the stupid move of trying to step in the middle of them to block Seamus from Riley, and in the process, Riley bit my thigh. My scream made her let go and Seamus knew he had to protect himself and me, so he held her down by the neck until my neighbor jumped my fence and came over to help me separate them. I wrote about this (with horrible photos, you’ve been warned) on Google+ afterward.

I knew Riley wasn’t being aggressive toward me and for two weeks after the incident, she followed me around, sniffing at my thigh with her head down and licking Seamus on the face as often as she could. Both submissive acts of behavior, so I hoped this would be the end of it. Unfortunately, a couple of months later, she again tried to start a fight with Marlowe out of nowhere and Seamus stepped in to protect Marlowe. Wil jumped in to break them up and in the process, Riley bit his wrist. Again, unintentional, but something needed to be done.

I took Riley to the vet the next day. I was in tears as I explained Riley’s behavior, which seemed to be getting worse with age. At 11 years old, I knew the behavior wasn’t a thing that could be trained out of her. I didn’t want to find another home for her; she’d been in our home her whole life. I could see that she was like an angry, dementia woman who acted out over nothing. She still had health and life in her, so we didn’t want to give up on her. Our vet suggested Prozac, which can work wonders on dogs with anxiety. We tried it, and immediately saw an improvement in Riley. The dose was good for about a year, but it had to be increased about 8 months ago, when her mental state seemed to be worsening. It helped so much, but the reality is she was getting really frail, which still made her anxious, and on top of it all, she had become pretty deaf.

We did what we could to make Riley happy and ease her pain and her anxiety. While Seamus and Marlowe played outside, Riley would get toys she could tear the fluff out of, which she loved. Wil and I would take her for walks alone, so she could smell all the smells, and go at her own pace with special time just the three of us. She loved to get loved on by our friends who would come over, always bringing her happy face and all of the fur she could shed on everyone’s clothes. Nobody cared that they were covered in her fur, everyone just loved how happy and affectionate she was. She was still anxious and more frail than ever, so I would step in and have her go lay down somewhere if I saw in her eyes that she was stressed.

On Easter Sunday, Wil and I went to Santa Barbara for a couple of days of relaxation following a very intense week of filming that Wil had just done. Our son, Nolan, was housesitting for us, which he’d done dozens of times, so I knew the animals were in good hands. While we were at dinner, Nolan called me with some awful news. He had fed the dogs and Marlowe came over to sniff Riley’s dish. Riley snapped at Marlowe, so Seamus jumped in to protect Marlowe. Marlowe got out of the way and as Riley was going after Seamus, she hurt her leg and couldn’t get up. Nolan knows she has bad osteoarthritis so he assumed her leg was broken, and had rushed her to an emergency vet. The vet called me a short time later to tell me Riley had dislocated her hip, which is very painful. They would have to put her under to push it back into place but because her osteoarthritis was so bad in her knees, they would have to tape her back legs together for six weeks to stabilize her hip. This would result in horrible pain and discomfort and make her anxiety even worse. And because of her age, the hip would most likely continue to dislocate, negatively affecting the quality of her life, and continue to cause horrible pain.

By this time, our other son, Ryan, was at the vet with Nolan, waiting to hear about Riley. The vet had given her pain meds, but Ryan said even with those, she looked so unhappy and still in so much pain. At nearly 13 years old (her birthday was yesterday) we didn’t want the end of her life to be about so much pain and misery. We decided the humane thing to do was to have her put to sleep so she wasn’t in pain anymore. We couldn’t stand the thought of keeping her doped up for two hours just so we could be drive back to say goodbye, so the kids were with her until the end.

I have been a sobbing mess since this happened. We came home early from Santa Barbara to be with our kids and our other animals. There is an emptiness in our house without Riley here. She was a tough dog to deal with all these years, but I know we did everything we could to give her a good life. I hate that it ended the way it did, but in a way, I always knew she would somehow go as a result of starting a fight.

Riley became known as the “I’M A DOG!” face with all the pictures we put of her on the internet over the years. The outpouring of love and support from real friends and internet friends has been so overwhelmingly kind. From planting flowers in her honor, to making donations to local shelters in her memory, to even registering a star in her name just so I can look up and think of her every night, is so unexpectedly wonderful. I love that this sweet, oddball of a dog has so many people who cared about her and will miss her goofy face as much as we do.

Goodbye, little girl. We love you.

Riley's happy face


77 thoughts on “In Our Hearts Forever

  1. I knew that this post was coming, and I wasn’t looking forward to it. I’m not even going to try and describe the ugly crying I am doing right now. Thank you for sharing Riley with us.

  2. That was beautiful. You’ve definitely had a journey with her but we can all tell she was loved & I’m positive she knew that too. Love to you & your family, furry & not so furry

  3. Damn…as someone who is on the brink of having to make a painful decision about our own mutt (he’s 14), this hit home HARD. Thank you for sharing the ups and downs that our friends can bring to our lives, and illustrating just how important they are to us in so many ways. Big hugs to you and Wil, and the rest of your furry crew. Now if you’ll excuse me, I seem to have something in my eye. *sniff*

  4. Wow. This made me cry and remember all the animal friends I have lost through the decades. The latest one was Inca, who chose to die peacefully on her bed. I was going to have to take her in that afternoon and have her put to sleep because her inoperable cancer had spread so quickly.

  5. I’m so sorry Anne. Your post has me crying right now! Lovely tribute to a sweet member of your family. You all were lucky to have found each other.

  6. My family has a dog, Nesta, with very similar issues… and he’s at the very end of his journey right now, and he taught us something very important. He taught us that the animals (and people) who take the most work do so because they are the most desperately in need of safety and love.

    I began following you because of all the awesome stuff you post about rescue animals, and because I really enjoy seeing people who love their companions and make them such a big part of their lives. I’ve seen so many pictures of this dog I feel like I know what what her fur feels like, and I was so moved and sad for her loss…. but so happy for her life. You guys loved her SO much, and made sure that she never ended up in that closet again. You tried your best to make her comfortable when she was hurting, and help her when she was afraid. You did right by her, and there are a thousand pictures of her dopey, smiling dog face to show that she was happy and loved, and part of a family.

    It’s so hard to lose that family member. The dynamic you have with a dog… part friend, part kid…. There’s no replacing that individual… but I hope that knowing how happy you made her, knowing that she was safe and loved, and you knew her… I hope that helps and gives you comfort.

    Take care

    1. Thank you so much for this. I’d never thought of it as needing the most work because they need the safety and love, but you’re absolutely right. I know we did all we could for her.

  7. I was SO sad to hear about her passing the other day. Most of us feel like we know your fur friends since we see and hear so much about them 🙂 I teared up (a lot) after learning you were away when she passed. This happened to me with my bichon Max a few years ago…I truly understand that feeling. Thinking of you, Wil and the boys. I hope the wonderful memories help in this time. 🙂

  8. You guys gave such a wonderful, caring, compassionate home to a difficult dog who was damaged by the inconsiderate and heartless actions of others. You took her in and loved her for who she was, to the end. You are the people your dogs think you are. 🙂 Much love to you, Wil, Nolan and Ryan (and Seamus and Marlowe) as you all adjust to the void her passing leaves.

  9. Darnit – My partner just had to put our dog down a few weeks ago due to an injury sustained in a fight, so this is just all the feels. But I had to say;
    The thing I like the most about Riley was how she’s the “Immadog” face of doggy happiness for everyone, and yet you (and I think Wil) have both talked about her anxiety. I kind of like the parallel to people with similar issues – both the fact that looking super happy doesn’t mean you’re always super happy, AND the fact that having anxiety in your life doesn’t have to mean you’re never happy. Riley always looks so loved that it’s clear she enjoyed the life she had with you guys, regardless of the rough patches. You guys are awesome owners (and people!), and she was as lucky to have you as you guys feel you were to have her.
    She will be missed, even by those who only know that adorable, goofy face.

  10. What wonderful pet parents you both are, and what a good life you obviously gave her. I’m so sorry for the loss of your buddy. <3

  11. A beautiful tribute. Thank you for sharing and giving Riley a great home with lots of love. Celebrate her life and hug and kiss Seamus and Marlow.

  12. So sorry for your family’s loss. I have been there. I had a cat that was always vicious to strangers but he turned on me after 10 years together. Several vets recommended putting him down, but I couldn’t. Eventually with meds I got him under control, but it was very stressful for me and the other pets. I am currently caring for my 9 year old lab who has developed a neurological condition that took away her ability to walk. At first she could stumble around outside but it’s been weeks since she’s been on her feet. We first noticed problems about six months ago now, and it’s so difficult. She weighs 90lbs. I constantly have a sore back from lifting her. She is a happy girl, not in any pain, and has such amazing spirit. I can’t put her down. I am working with a new vet who’s doing acupuncture and chiropractic adjustments and we are seeing some improvement but it’s very slow going. All her tests come back normal, she has the heart, lungs, blood work, and organ function of a much younger dog. She’s always been active and strong. It’s gut wrenching. I can’t afford the 5k needed for an MRI and compete work up to get a diagnosis so I feel like a shitty person.

    It can be so challenging caring for animals that have behavior issues or chronic disease. Everyone will tell you that you should give up and think you’re nuts for refusing to. Thanks to you Riley got some extra time to be loved and that’s all that matters. You guys should be commended for your dedication. Again, I am truly sorry for you loss. No doubt there will be a Riley-sized hole in your heart.

  13. I’m really sorry for your loss. It is just never easy to lose a pet, but this seems an especially difficult way. Hang in there. xx

  14. I knew this was coming having read Wil’s loving tribute to Riley but still the tears come.
    Having been in Nolan’s shoes – it sucks even if it the right thing to do for the animal. It sucks.
    You gave Riley a loving home, a place to play, people to love and a dignified death. My prayers and purrs from my Reilly and Sprite (Maine Coons) are with you and your family, 4 legged and two.

  15. There is absolutely, positively nothing more heartbreaking than to have to make that decision. 🙁 Prayers to you all.

  16. I’m so sorry Anne. Riley’s loss has hit my family hard as well. A few years ago I shared a picture of our dog Kai with you on Twitter, he and Riley were doppelgängers. We lost him a few months later and since then every smiley picture of Riley has been a like little connection to him. When Wil posted that she had passed it was like a crippling blow. I cried so much for both losses and for both our families. I’m bad at condolences, as you can tell. I just wanted you to know how much Riley touched our lives.

    1. Oh, Jess, I’m so sorry to hear that. I remember the picture of your Kai and how crazy similar he looked to Riley. Thank you for taking the time to share this. This situation has been so hard on us and unexpectedly hard for others. We really appreciate the sentiment.

  17. So sorry for your loss, I hope one day soon you’ll be able to look at her pictures with tearless smiles– although the loss of a pet is something we never really get over.

  18. Ann, thank you for sharing with us that story of life and death. Riley was a lovely creature and you gave her a life when there wasn’t much of a future. You stuck with her when others may have given up on her. In the country, where I live, it is so common to see animals as “throw away” because they aren’t wanted. I like to think that Riley knew she was loved and wanted. And that made her life that much better. So sorry for your and your family’s loss.

  19. Being the person who had to put down a childhood pet as an adult, I feel so much for the pain that Nolan and Ryan have to be going through. Pets are usually our closets friends, our confidants, even just someone to snuggle with as teenagers. Saying good-bye to that a friend is so difficult.

    Riley had so much love in her life, you can see that from every word typed, every picture posted, and the actions of her family.

    Goodbye ‘I’M A DOG’

  20. I’m glad I didn’t read yours and Wil’s posts on the same day, I’d be a great big sobbing mess. As it is I’m crying. The love you have for your animals is obvious and there’s nothing harder in the world than doing the right thing for them even though it’s going to hurt you terribly. Please accept this great huge virtual hug and a shoulder to cry on. RIP Riley.

  21. Sorry for your loss, Anne and Wil. I know you will both cherish the many good moments you had with her. She was lucky to be loved by you all.

  22. I had to have my dog put to sleep last week. I’ve cried every day since it happened I miss him so much. I get some consolation remembering seeing him at the vet’s not in pain any more.. He deserved to be at peace. I hope you and your family find some solace in the fact that Riley is free from pain……but it sucks…! Take care.

  23. Like many I’m sure, I felt like I knew Riley from you and Wil posting pictures & talking about her all these years. I’m completely gutted over this news, so I can only imagine how you must be feeling. Thank goodness Riley had such wonderful, caring humans in her life. You and Wil both have my sincerest condolences.

  24. It amazes me that I sit and read this posts and look at these pictures and cry like it’s my own dog. I’m so sorry that the boys had to go through this. It’s really hard being their age and losing a pet they’ve had since they were kids. I’m sorry as well for you and Wil for not being home to deal with it all and for not being able to say goodbye. You gave Riley a good life and you did the right thing in getting Marlowe for Seamus. I’ve always said that the best toy for a dog is another dog. Like I posted on Wil’s blog – one day thinking about her won’t make you sad, it’ll make you smile.

  25. Anne, I have read you and your husband’s posts for a long time. I read so many stories about your wonderful dogs and the background on how you adopted them as rescues. I saw the love in their eyes on every picture Wil or you posted sharing them with us. Because of this my husband and I made the decision at the beginning of the year to adopt a rescue dog (we had wanted to get a dog for a couple of years when we bought our first home together). We brought Kai home a month ago, we don’t know much about his background except he came from a kill-shelter and his time there had expired. We fell in love with him immediately and are grateful he is in our lives now. Thank you for sharing parts of your lives with us. And I hope you and your family, including Marlowe and Seamus, are able to find peace soon.

  26. Thank you for being Riley’s family. It sounds like you were just the one she needed.

  27. Anne, thank you for sharing Riley’s story with us. And thank you for giving her a good life until the end of her days. And thank you for making the hard decision to allow her a peaceful death.

    On Easter, I was out for brunch with my mom and husband. A teenager came into the restaurant with his family, and he said very enthusiastically, “I love this song!” in response to whatever tune was playing over the sound system.

    He was so overly excited and exuberant – his voice reminded me of Riley’s “IMADOG” face. I started to laugh, which earned a quizzical look from my husband. I said, “That kid reminded me of Riley. If she had a human voice, THAT is what it would sound like. So excited and goofy and gosh-darned-happy-to-be-here.” It was such an odd thing, to think of her so out of the blue like that, and it felt even odder once I learned she passed away later that day.

    As I told Wil on his blog post, please be gentle with yourself. Allow yourself all the time you need to grieve. Let the tears come when they come, and let the emotions wash over you without resisting. I have a feeling your grief may be even more pronounced because you weren’t able to be there when she breathed her last. When you don’t have that closure, that seems to make things more difficult.

    Blessings of peace and comfort to you, Anne. I hope it helps to know that so many people care and are grieving with you.

    1. Jill, I love that you thought of Riley when you heard that teenager. We have been in similar situations and think the same thing. So funny.
      The waves of ugly crying still hit me multiple times a day (like right now, for example) and I know it’ll get better with time.Thank you for taking the time to share this with me.

  28. I’ve read Will’s posts and I cried, and now I read yours and I’m a sobbing mess. You guys gave Riley a wonderful life. I’m sad that you couldn’t be there with her, but am grateful that your kids were with her.

  29. I’m so sorry Anne. All the family have my sympathies. It’s so hard to loose a pet. Here’s wishing you an easing of the heartbreak.

  30. So sorry for your loss. I dealt with a geriatric rescue dog with arthritis. I never knew how heartbreaking a degenerative disease could be until I watched my lively puppy begin to hate going for walks or seeing other dogs. Loved Riley’s IMADOG face. Hope the other pups and the kids are doing ok.

  31. So sorry for you and your family’s loss, it hurts so much to lose them. I read Wil’s posts and got a little teary, but after reading this I’m sobbing. It hits a little close to home – our elderly lady is 14 years old and I see some of her in your description of Riley.
    Thanks for sharing Riley (and Seamus and Marlowe) with us – I’m going to miss Riley’s IMADOG face popping up in my twitter feed.

  32. Oh, Anne, I’m so sorry. This just killed me. I’m reading it at work, and while this exact thing is part of my job, it’s still hard to take sometimes. You made the right decision, and I know you know that, but I also know it still hurts. *hugs*

    1. It is really hard to separate what we want (a way to keep her around) vs what would be the humane thing to do for her to be without all that pain and suffering. Even worse when we couldn’t be there. But I know we made the right decision. We’re really going to miss that little face of hers.

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