Riley

Ten years ago a young couple contacted me, interested in a puppy from my very first Vallhund litter. They were newly married, had just bought a house, and this would be their first dog. As it happened I had a male puppy available after his initial home had fallen through, but this puppy was very special, if he’d been female, I’d have kept him. I’d already turned down two other prospective homes for him. I wanted to be sure that he found the right home. So the first thing I said to this couple was that if they wanted to meet me, they could drive all the way to an agility trial I was at in Farmington. Even though they lived quite close to me. Because I’m a jerk.

So they did.

They were very nice, polite, funny, intelligent. I liked them. My dogs liked them. But I was a nervous nelly about my precious puppy and I still wasn’t sure.

So I told them they needed to get this book and that book and read them. Because I’m a jerk.

They did that too.

Eventually I decided that they’d jumped though enough hoops, and they just might be a good enough home for my special little Triangle Boy, last born in his litter, and one of those special puppies who stole my heart and whom I so wished had been female. They were thrilled and Triangle Boy became Riley, AKA Alkemi Aston Martin LS.

Riley when he was Triangle Boy

What a jerk I was for doubting what a great home they’d give him. In fact, they were such an awesome home that when they tentatively asked about a puppy from my next litter, three years later, I told them they were in the class of “PLEASE take another puppy”. Their Vallhunds are truly a part of their family. They played agility (Riley earned his NA and OAJ titles, and he ran fast and crazy like his mother Nina). They shared pictures on Instagram of the fun their dogs had, the awesome lives they led, their Sunday Funday walkies. They are excellent owners and truly love their dogs.

“Nothin’, just Riley stuffs”

Last year Riley had a growth on his hind leg. We took the growth off (they come to the vet clinic I work at), the pathologist suspected it was an apocrine clear cell ductular carcinoma, but the margins were decent and no further treatment was recommended, just monitoring. Then in February of this year, Riley had a rash on his belly, and his people needed to shampoo his tummy a couple of times a week. So it just so happened that because they were giving him these belly rubs so regularly, they found a lump. The lump seemed ominous so we decided it should be removed. During the surgery it became apparent that it was this was a nasty-looking tumor with tendrils everywhere and we found weird little skin masses near it and we just knew it was something bad. The first pathology report said it was likely a clear cell carcinoma, but they recommended additional testing. Additional testing didn’t shed any more light so they recommended additional additional testing. It was a rare and unusual tumor and even after three rounds of testing and several different experts weighing in, the pathologists still weren’t 100% certain.

Given how weird the diagnosis was turning out to be, and how diffuse the mass was, we recommended they see an oncologist, ideally one at a facility which had advanced surgical and radiation therapy options. So, being the awesome owners they are, they made an appointment at Guelph, and also at Cornell, and were hopeful that either would be able to move them up the list and see them sooner. I reached out to a friend who’s a vet at Cornell, and he said he’d speak to the oncology department to see if they could move him up.

And then COVID happened, and both appointments were cancelled. So they went to a local oncologist without advanced radiation options. This doctor wasn’t very hopeful but started him on chemotherapy. Then he went lame, and we found the cancer had spread to his bones, it was in three out of four of his legs. The oncologist basically said there wasn’t anything else that could be done for him.

We started pamidronate infusions, which can slow the progression of bone cancer and improve comfort, and Riley felt quite a bit better. My boss, being the pain management guy that he is, designed a pain management plan for Riley to keep him comfortable. And, being the awesome vet he is, he also reached out to a friend of his who is an renowned oncologist, and they came up with an aggressive cancer suppression plan. Riley’s people were all in, so we started on this plan.

Riley in his stroller

They got him a stroller so he could still enjoy walks even on the days his legs were bothering him. They built him a ramp so he could still see out the window and snoopervise the neighbors when he couldn’t comfortably stand up on his hind legs for long enough to get a good look. They fed him the right food, they gave him the right supplements, they did everything they could. He had everything he wanted.

Riley with his gator (and his brother photobombing)

And you know, he did really pretty well for a while. They paid real attention to his quality of life. But then he started panting more and x-rays showed it was in his lungs. And his mouth. And all over his skin.

And so on Tuesday they called me and we cried together on the phone. They said on his tenth birthday in January they were thinking about how they should hopefully have 5 more years or so at least with him. It turned out to be five months. They asked me if I wanted to visit him to say goodbye (because they’re that kind of thoughtful). I was so glad that I’d been able to spend some time with him on his frequent visits to the clinic, I snuggled him and told him he was loved and that while I might have been the first person to love him so many more people loved him now, and that his people loved him most of all and that they would do what he needed them to do. I told them it was better to let him go a bit too soon than too late. I knew they would make the right choice for him. They asked about how to help their other dog through the loss of his brother. They said that while COVID meant they didn’t get to see the oncologists they’d wanted to see, it also meant they’d been able to spend so much more time with him than they would have otherwise, since they were both working from home.

That’s the kind of people they are.

And then today I got a text from them that said: “We let Riley pass today. So peaceful, he was ready. Had the best walk out on his favorite trails this morning. Give your pups an extra hug from us.”

Nobody could have given Riley a better home, or taken better care of him. And I am so thankful that they included me as they did.

Rest easy beautiful boy, you were so loved.

(all pictures except “Triangle Boy” courtesy of Nichole & Chris Buryta)

2 Responses to “Riley”

  1. Christine Gominiak Says:

    I was Rileys Grandma,where he went when mom n dad needed a vacation ,he was my argle bargle boy,I need to run in your yard,,like the fur in the wind..and plopping on my lap at night for scratches and grandma kisses….thank you for being a jerk and choosing these parents for that boy..he loved them dearly it was so obvious…life isnt fair..but one thing I do know,I’m a bit less scared of death because I know he will be waiting for us on the other side…our Riley Angel.

  2. amanda Says:

    Christine, thank you for being his awesome grandma! I know he loved visiting you! What a lovely tribute, he touched so many lives and it’s so obvious how much love he knew in your family.

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