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 am so sorry for your loss. You and your family have such kind souls. I know how much this hurts as I have been there before. Peace and love you all of you including Seamus and Marlowe.

  2. Anne,
    I read your blog after reading Wil’s blog and posted on his Facebook page. We lost our 13 year old rescue dog Easter Monday to a tumor. It happened very fast and he stopped eating 3 days before. We made the same decision as you guys and it was like yours, heartbreaking. Rudy had been a part of our families lives for 12 years (rescued him when he was one) and our daughter comforted him as he fell asleep for the last time. The hearts of the McKay family go out to you, Wil and your sons.

    1. Mike, Thank you for taking the time to reach out to us when you have your own situation you’re going through. It’s never easy to lose a pet. I’m so sorry to hear about losing your Rudy.

  3. I’ve posted on Wil’s wall as well, I think you both did the best you could with a dog that had so many issues. It’s clear you both loved her and did the absolute best you could to keep her happy and comfortable. Sometimes, the hardest decisions you have to make are regarding the ones you love. Best wishes to you and everyone else at Castle Wheaton.

  4. I said this on Wil’s blog already, but I’m gonna give my big poodle Max an extra big hug for Riley when I get home from work. Pets are family, and it sounds like Riley was the best kind of family. My heart and thought thoughts go out to you and the rest of Clan Wheaton (including the fuzzy ones).

  5. I posted on Wil’s blog as well, but wanted to tell you as well how sorry I am – I have in the past and will in the future lose beloved animal family, and it never gets easier. Virtual hugs to you humans, and scritches and/or pets to your fur friends.

  6. The generosity of your family’s hearts and home and the steps that you took to care for and try to understand Riley are truly remarkable. I’ve often thought of your Riley stories when working with and loving our own pup, Duncan, who is also a rescue and has great anxiety. Thank you for being willing to share your stories and thank you for being honest about your places of vulnerability in a world that doesn’t always honor it. The world is a better place with your family in it.

  7. Living in Thailand I have now 3 street dogs with the ages of 10, 6 and 4. Although their age is just a rough guess.
    I am always trying to take care of other dogs on the streets as well, hopefully making some positive difference to their lives.
    Several dogs in the local streets have passed away over the years and it is always sad, knowing I will never see their happy faces again.
    I dread the time any of my dogs will finally pass.
    The kindness you have showed the underprivileged dogs only goes to show what kind people you are.

  8. I’m so sorry for your loss,Anne. Riley had such a sweet happy face, and I’ve loved hearing about her life with you. You did such a kind and courageous (from it’s original root word “cœur”: full of heart) thing taking her in as a rescue, and another when you let her go. Keeping you all in my thoughts and sending all of you much love as you grieve for your girl.

  9. I had a good cry just reading this, thank you so much for sharing, we lost our dog in December 2014 and I still miss her terribly. You just need to hang on to the fact that you gave her an awesome life, My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family, your kids sound like such amazing people! it takes great courage to do what they did!

  10. Anne, so lovely to read how much effort you guys make to accommodate the different characters and needs of your dogs to keep them happy. I know you know you did the right thing for Riley to the very end, but I still wanted to tell you so. It helps to hear it, or it does for me anyway. We had to say goodbye to one of ours just three days before her 12th birthday. I don’t know why that makes it feel worse but it does. Run free Riley, you were very loved! xxx

  11. So sorry to hear of your family’s loss, especially that you were unable to be there at the end. I always love the pictures and stories that you share of your furbabies, and I know how special Riley was to you all (and to the internet, thanks to your willingness to share the pictures and stories). My deepest condolences, and I’m going to hug my own furbabies extra tight…we just adopted our second dog-baby this weekend; a foster-fail that we couldn’t bear to part with to be adopted into another family.

  12. I am so very sorry for your loss. I always love seeing you & Wil post about your pets & love the work you’ve done to help homeless pets. It’s always so devastating to lose a cherished pet. They are family. I lost my big goofy stooge of a dog, Moe 4-1/2 years ago at the age of 13 to sudden pneumonia caused by a never before diagnosed mega-esophagus. I still miss him very much. Monday would’ve been his birthday. I have since adopted another dog, Larraine (you even featured her on your Rescue Ppets Are Awesome site) but no dog will ever replace Moe, just like no dog will ever replace Riley. Each pet holds such a special place in our hearts. My heart goes out to you & your family.

  13. Our first Golden Retriever “Penny” was a rescue so we never knew her past. We just looked to the future. She loved people and passed the Therapy dog test twice (once with my wife and the second time with me). She loved visiting my elementary school and reading with the students. She was a wonderful girl. Things started to change and she would snap and bite at other dogs and then us. This was so much out of her normal behavior. It was not our Penny Girl. We took her to classes and finally to the Animal Behavior Department at Purdue University. Over time we found out she had a brain tumor causing the problems. We managed for more than a year after finding this out. We lost her to the behavior and the tumor and we still miss her to this day. They leave you, but always leave you with memories and a full heart of love.

  14. This has me a sobbing mess now too – I adopted my kitty Molly from a shelter when she was 13 because I wanted to give her a good life. She had been adopted and returned twice and apparently had an aggressive behaviour issue (It took 3 people to get her into her carrier from the shelter, but she slept with me all puuuring that night). Molly is now 20 and is starting to show issues with her hips, I can’t imagine not having her so I totally understand where you are coming from! All the love to you!

  15. I put off reading this until today, because I knew it was going to tear me up, which is, of course, just a teeny, tiny bit of what you’re going through. Much empathy and sympathy to you.

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