Circle of Thyme – For the Love of Riley
By Linda Monsees Stump © 2014
Anyone who has ever adopted an animal knows that the process is a journey of discovery. And when adopting a rescue, rather than adopting a kitten or puppy, that journey becomes much more complex. But it can also be extremely rewarding, as my husband and I rediscovered with our latest furry family member.
My husband and I, with our children grown, had the “perfect” fur-kid family: one dog (male) and one cat (female). The two got on very well, in fact, Patches the cat is so enamored of Max, our Sheltie, that she cuddles up to him and it was often hard to tell where the dog ended and the cat began, so alike is their coloring! As Patches had been born feral and rescued as a kitten, she was always a bit skittish and she bonded first with Max. It took her quite a while to warm up to people and actually sit on our laps.
So why on earth would we want to upset the perfect balance and adopt another animal?
My husband and I had been talking about the possibility of a second dog for about a year. Our younger daughter and son-in-law are a two-dog family, and we’ve seen how much their two enjoy being together. We knew that Max, a very easygoing dog, would likely have no problem adjusting to a new canine sibling. We wanted another Sheltie, but we were firm on one thing: although we’d gotten Max as a puppy from a reputable breeder, we wanted a rescue dog, one who needed a good home. We’ve had other rescues over the years of our marriage, so we were aware of the challenges and the rewards.
I didn’t realize it, but my husband had been “just looking” at the ads online for rescues, and browsing the “pet of the week” columns. In March, he finally said, “You know, we’ve been talking about getting another dog for ages – we need to stop talking about it and just do it!”
That same week, we came across a listing on a local Sheltie Rescue web site for a lovely Sheltie boy. We called the number provided and left a message for Pat, the lady who was fostering him. I got a call back that morning – Shiloh was already spoken for. We talked a bit and she asked some questions about us and our dog, then said she was getting another Sheltie the next day that she thought would be a perfect fit for us. He was about four and a half years old and was being surrendered because he was “too playful”. Pat emailed us the application, and I filled it out that day, sending pictures of our fenced in back yard (a requirement) and of Max and Patches together on the couch and the wing chair.
Pat called the following day to let us know she had the new arrival, whom she called Kody. This was not the name his original owners gave him, and I learned that the foster family will typically not use the name given by the dog’s original owners in case there was an abusive situation where the dog might associate the name with bad things happening. She told us he was beautiful and a real sweetheart. She said he was taller than the average Sheltie, which reinforced the idea of a good fit, as our Max is a tall boy too. Pat took Kody to her vet to have him checked out, ensure he was current on his shots and get him micro-chipped. He was limping and tested positive for Lyme disease – she asked if that was a problem for us. It wasn’t; he was on the antibiotic, which Pat said we could continue to give him post-adoption, and it wasn’t as though he had a contagious disease that could be transmitted to Max or Patches. We made arrangements for Pat to bring Kody to our house that Friday for a home visit and to see how he and Max got along.
We had already decided on a name for our new fur-kid: Riley, because as my husband says, all our animals live “the life of Riley” – they are completely spoiled and loved! It may sound silly, but we talked to Max and Patches and told them that “Riley’s coming” and said he’s their “new puppy”. I also told Max that having another dog didn’t mean we loved him less. Max is – and always will be – my “heart dog”. He instinctively knows when I’m not feeling well, or I’m going through something difficult, and he will stay right at my side. He has been a cuddle bug since puppy-hood. His loving nature healed our hearts after our first Sheltie, Skye, died suddenly of a seizure. And no matter how rough my day is, it always makes me smile to see him running for the gate to greet me after work. Somehow Max seemed to understand completely.
We waited anxiously for Pat to arrive with Kody – now to be named Riley. When we opened the door, she walked in with a gorgeous sable and white Sheltie, who wagged his tail in greeting. He was just as tall as Max, as we saw when the two dogs touched noses, tails wagging madly. Riley greeted each of us, and although this was the second new home he’d had within a week’s time, he was happy enough for me to sit down on the floor with him. We let him explore and get used to Max. Even Patches came downstairs to see what was going on – a surprise, since she usually makes herself scarce when visitors arrive! After the first excitement of greeting, we let the dogs wander around the yard to see how they’d do. There were no aggression issues, and they both came happily to get treats.
We talked while my husband made copies of Riley’s vet records for Pat. We learned that Riley had been treated for carsickness by his first vet, but he had been fine when Pat had taken him for rides. He had apparently been attacked by a bigger dog at one time. He has a small scar over his left eye – all I could think of was, thank goodness it wasn’t a bit lower, or he might have lost his eye!
Serendipitously, it turned out that Pat and her husband once owned our house! It really did seem as though everything was aligning favorably for our adoption. Finally Pat asked us formally if we wanted to adopt him – of course, the answer was yes! He’d stolen our hearts from the moment he walked in the door. We paid the adoption fee, and Pat wanted to get a photo of the new family. Max readily jumped up on the couch to pose, but Riley resisted. When I picked him up and put him on the couch next to me, he jumped down immediately. It was evident that he’d not been allowed on the furniture in his previous home. He finally allowed me to hold him on my lap for a photo, but wouldn’t look up, as though afraid he would be in trouble. We let him hop down after the pictures so not to stress him. Pat gave Riley a farewell hug and left to look after the rest of her menagerie – her own pets, several rescue border collies, cats and horses.
We spent time talking to Riley and petting him. When it was feeding time, though, he wouldn’t eat. We’d gotten a new bowl like Max’s, metal with a rubber rim – and Riley wouldn’t eat out of it. He would take a few bites of kibble from my hand, but wouldn’t touch the dog dish. I thought perhaps he was still a bit anxious – after all, he’d been through so many changes in such a short time. I could only imagine what he was feeling, being surrendered by the family who’d had him since puppyhood, then spending less than a week with Pat before coming to us. He must have been so confused and scared – yet he wagged his tail eagerly whenever we talked to him. I started to worry when he wouldn’t drink from the big water bowl we kept in the kitchen. When I took them out in the back yard before bed, though, he drank from a pottery water dish that we put water in for the rabbits who can’t get to the bird bath. Suddenly the light dawned – he was afraid of the metal bowls! We put water in one of our dinnerware bowls and he drank. Then he hungrily ate some more kibble when put in a stoneware bowl.
When it was time for bed, he went upstairs with us, but hid under the bed instead of sleeping on his nice soft doggy bed. I put my pillow on the floor and laid down beside him, reassuring him that everything was fine, he was in his forever home, safe and loved. We both fell asleep. I awoke several hours later, stiff from lying on the floor. When I got into bed, Riley crawled onto his dog bed and went back to sleep with a little sigh.
The next morning, my husband stayed with the fur-kids while I went to PetSmart to buy new ceramic dog bowls, a leash, and a toy for Riley. He didn’t quite know what to do with the toy, didn’t chase the ball or the Frisbee, but seemed to enjoy sitting outside in the sunshine. He was unaccustomed to cuddles, but loved to be spoken to. He seemed interested in the brush when my husband gave Max his daily brushing, and was more than willing to be brushed (even if he wasn’t very still!). He quickly learned his new name, and we praised him lavishly when he came on call. I could only imagine how confusing it must be to a dog to have had three names in his life!
We found out that Riley is scared of a lot of things: thunderstorms and flashlights (he runs and hides under the bed, under my husband’s desk or behind Max), aluminum foil and other shiny metal things (explains why he didn’t like the metal bowls!), people with hats or carrying large objects, big dogs, bicyclists, rumbling trucks and loud noises. We didn’t take him for a walk for two weeks to get him accustomed to his new surroundings. He doesn’t always walk very well on a leash, but he’s learning. He barks like mad if he sees another dog – particularly if it’s bigger than he is, he tries to act tough (although he’s scared!). He will skitter behind me for safety if a big truck comes rumbling down the street. We think he must have been left to run, as he clearly sees the truck as a threat.
For the few weeks we didn’t leave him at home without us. I ran the errands and did the grocery shopping while my husband stayed with the fur-kids. When we started going out again for short periods, Riley did have some separation anxiety at first. But we always made much of him when we came home, reassuring him that we weren’t going to abandon him.
We took Riley along for a get-acquainted visit with our vet when Max went in for his annual shots. It went well, and he was incredibly well-behaved in the waiting room, even making friends with a sweet little girl who called him “Wiley.” And he didn’t get car sick, which was a good sign! He did very well when we took both dogs to the groomer about a month later. Max has been going there since his coat first grew in, so he is comfortable with the staff. Riley seemed fine because Max was there, but of course, he was very glad to see us come back for him!
Riley has come a long way in his first six months with us. He has made friends with a little Yorkshire terrier in the neighborhood after Max paved the way, he has met neighbors and his “aunt and uncle” from California. He loves it when our younger daughter comes to stay with us on one of her work trips. He let us know that he absolutely loves his favorite treat, Beneful Healthy Smiles, and even prances around and sings when we go to the pantry to get them! He has also discovered that the couch is a pretty nice place to curl up, and he no longer has that “Uh-oh, I shouldn’t be up here” look – he has figured out that in our house, the dogs – and cat – are welcome on the furniture! Where he didn’t know how to cuddle very well at first, now he jumps up on the couch every morning to snuggle with me. It’s a good thing he’s a Sheltie and not a St. Bernard, because he thinks he’s a lap dog! We celebrated his birthday, and as we’ve done with Max, took his picture on his special day and made sure he got his favorite treat!
The journey with Riley continues as he experiences new things with us. He truly seems appreciative of his new life. As my daughter reminded e, Max has only known being with us and having a good home – he’s never known that not all dogs have that kind of life. Riley does; and he shows us every day that he’s as thankful to be with us as we are to have him. He has brought so much more love into our lives. We are treasuring every step of this journey, for the love of Riley.