As I write this column, over the corner of the room, my dog Riley is curled up in my easy chair. He’s snoring. But he’s close at hand. That’s pretty much his modus operandi every night. He never strays far and he often snuggles his nose up under my elbow, giving me encouragement to scratch his head.
Riley is the latest in a string of dogs I’ve had since as far back as I can remember. Lassie was the first, so named not because she resembled the TV star, but because that was the only dog name I knew when she joined our family.
Lassie was a German Shephard. She stood about as tall as me back then. My brother and I tried to ride her like she was a horse. Ever patient, she tolerated our rough play and though she never ate any of the mud pies we made for her, she gladly let us make them in her yard where she could keep watch over us.
Next came Dutchess, then Edgar and, now, Riley. Each dog had a particularly endearing quality about them that made us love them and mourn at their deaths. Edgar was a chow-lab mix who lived with me for a time in a fraternity house in Raleigh. All of us roughhoused with the dog when he was a puppy and, sadly, that turned him mean later in life to anyone other than our family.
But as a puppy, he was cute, chubby and cuddly, a unique mix that ensured lots of girls would take notice, first of him, then of me. For a college boy, that was big deal. He later became a working dog, helping us move sows from one building to another on the farm when he wasn’t scrambling through the woods looking for adventures of his own.
In a collection of photographs my sister gave me a few years ago, there are several dividers: one for parents, another for me, my brother and sisters, others for our children. And thern there’s one in the back that simply says Others. Each one of those animals is remembered for posterity in that section of the photo album.
The News & Observers’s Josh Shaffer wrote an interesting story in Monday’s paper about a dog that died trying to save his person from fire that killed them both.
We’ve all read eerie stories of dogs who refuse to leave their person’s side even after their death or will stay curled up at their graveside until they die of their own broken hearts.
At my home, Riley meets every family member at the door in the afternoon or evening when we return home. He wants to jump into our arms. His tail wags a hundred miles an hour and he starts hanging on to his newly returned person until the next one arrives.
No matter how good or bad my day is, I get happier when I’m greeted that way. I haven’t done anything to deserve such devotion, but Riley’s love is unquestionable. And it’s highly valued.
I suspect my story isn’t that much different than any other dog owner who is greeted at the end of the day by a happy dog. Cat owners don’t usually get such a positive reaction when they arrive home. But a dog. A dog is a happy creature. And they have enough happiness to share. That makes every night a good night.