After my 10 year old German Shepherd, Hamlet, died of a brain tumor, I was heartbroken. I wanted another dog, but in my case I needed a special dog. I am a Type 1 diabetic and my previous dog had done more for me than the basic dog companionship. He had been my protector and my advisor, making sure I was calm and able to care for myself in those moments when everything starts to get disorienting.
I had heard of another puppy, a supposed German Shepherd in Tennessee near my parents’ home; he was about twelve weeks old and at a price I could actually afford. When I went to meet him, the owner wouldn’t let me come on her farm and brought the puppy to me. He was sick and clearly underweight; the woman had no interest in him or concern. She motioned to him with, “You want him or not?” I knew the pup was in bad shape, and that this person wasn’t someone I should be dealing with, but to send that pup back with her surely meant sentencing him to death and I just couldn’t do that to him. I gave the horrible woman a $100 cash and took him home, but not before stopping by the vet and having him looked over. Sure enough, the sickly fur ball had just about every illness a pup could get in his short life. The vet was not happy about his situation, but I was happy to hand over all the information I had on the lady so the vet could inform the proper authorities. As it turned out they found other sick dogs and some horses who were all taken away from her.
My new pup, a half coyote and half German Shepherd mix, as best we could tell, eventually got better. Despite his improving health, he was still scared of people and anything else that moved. It took a lot of patience, and a lot of tears on my part, to get this pup to trust me and come to me willingly. Riley, as I had named him, didn’t ever wag his tail and even though he would come to me, he still stayed away from other people. I wasn’t sure what to do to help him, so I did a lot of research and found Doguroo, a doggie daycare nearby my work. I was hoping that socializing him would help him come out of his shell more and learn to trust others, then maybe, just maybe, he would be a happier pup. I was nervous about it, but eventually gave in and took Riley to his first daycare visit. I of course, asked about the security, the sprinkler system, the amount of experience the workers had, the cleaning chemicals they used and made sure they had my cell number, work number, my mother’s number, father’s number, nearest neighbor’s information, friend’s information and a co-worker’s number, just in case. Surprisingly, I left Riley at daycare all day, probably because I was able to watch him all day on the computer, but no matter, I was still proud of my ability to let go. Thankfully, Riley was still alive and well when I arrived to pick him up. In fact, he slept the whole way home and on through the night. It was amazing! With each daycare visit, Riley became more sociable and more playful. After a couple of months, just the mention of daycare and Riley would run to the door and wait impatiently to get in the car. Once we arrived, he wouldn’t even look back over his shoulder to watch me leave anymore.
Months went by and even a year, and Riley would still attend Doguroo weekly. My once sickly pup became so smart, so controlled and most importantly so close to me that he started learning to wake me up in the middle of the night if my sugar level dropped, or fetch my medicine if I was unable. He was remarkable, and saved my life many times. A dog I should have given up on, as many people had told me to do, ended up being the one of the best dogs ever. My hero, you might say.
I have many great stories of Riley, but the moment I will always remember most was when I picked him up from daycare one day and he ran to me, wagging his tail for the first time. I got to my car and cried. I was never sure he would live, even less sure he would be able to be around others without being scared, but I was sure I would never see him wag his tail and be so carefree and happy. I’m so glad that I was wrong.
Riley never left my side, no matter who or what tried to tempt him away. I could walk him without a leash if I needed to. He wasn’t going to stop caring for me and I am so lucky that I never stopped caring for him.
A year ago, at the age of 9, Riley died in my arms of an unknown illness that hit him quickly in the middle of the night. I will never stop loving Riley and I will always be grateful to Doguroo for helping my baby find his wagging tail and most importantly his confidence to be a happy, loving dog.