Dogsitting Riley

Written by: Kim Fundingsland

I volunteered for the task, like it too. But it has come with some interesting moments. Perhaps some are too interesting. Maybe that’s why I keep doing it.

I am referring to my adventures as a dog-sitter. Not just any dog, but Riley, a Brittany spaniel that is quick, resourceful, cunning, and fun. We have had some adventures that she was kind enough to share with me. That’s the gentle way to phrase it.

So confident was I in my ability to handle any dog, I told Riley’s owner to just drop the young dog off at my house and I would happily care for Riley over a three-day weekend. Good company for my dog I thought, and I’d be able to teach young Riley a few things too – like don’t rush out every open door, take treats nicely, no tugging on the leash, things like that.
Riley was perfectly compliant the first day. All was fine. I was impressed with Riley’s attentiveness and willingness to learn. That all changed about 3:30 a.m. when a restless Riley made it known that she needed to go outside.

Happy that Riley was communicating with me, progress I thought, I rose from a wonderful sleep and opened the back door for Riley. It was a teaching moment, even if it was 3:30 in the morning. A trembling Riley sat in place while I held the door open, waiting for me to give her the okay. Outside she went.

Good, I thought, though not 100% convinced as to Riley’s intentions or her further compliance with my gentle requests. So, in slippers, sleep pants, and a tee shirt I went outside to block the opening to the backyard to ensure Riley would return to the house.

It was winter. Far too cold for slippers and such but, shivering as I was, I knew this was a teaching moment that would greatly enhance Riley’s training. About the same time that thought entered my mind Riley bolted past me about 100 miles per hour. I slipped on packed snow trying to grab her collar and she disappeared up the driveway and into the night.
Of course, thinking she would listen to me, shivering and shaking from the cold as I was, I went to the front of the house in time to see Riley running beneath the streetlight at the end of the block. I called to her in a voice I thought loud enough for her to hear but not wake the neighbors. Riley never broke stride. Uh-oh.

I went back inside, grabbed a coat, gloves, flashlight, dog treats, and keys to my vehicle. Off I went in pursuit of Riley. My shivering from the cold was replaced by the shaking of nervousness. You see, Riley was the prized dog of its owner and a loving favorite of three children and getting her back was imperative.

You can understand my predicament. There I was, driving slowly through the neighborhood in the dark of night, shining a flashlight in people’s yards hoping to catch a reflection off Riley’s eyes. A few lights came on inside homes. I suspected the arrival of a police cruiser at any moment.

I got my first glimpse of Riley about 20 minutes into my unscheduled nighttime adventure. She was crossing a roadway about a half block in front of me. Thankful there was no traffic at that early morning hour, I stopped in the street and called Riley’s name. She turned and came right to me. Perfect!

Having cleverly opened the back door to my vehicle when I stopped, Riley jumped right in. Wonderful! Not quite. She jumped out again before I could close the door. Worse, I took a very nasty fall on an icy roadway trying to stop her.

Undaunted, and ignoring my new bruises, I renewed my mission. This time however, Riley proved to be difficult to find. Minutes passed. Then an hour. This was horrible. I kept prowling the neighborhood but was fast losing any hope of finding that dog and dreading making a phone call to Riley’s owner.

At about 5:15 a.m., finally, I had a Riley sighting. She was happy to see me too. I produced a dog treat and she responded to my calling her name. As she reached for the treat in my hand I reached for her collar with my other hand. Unfortunately, I fell on the ice again. This time it was difficult to get up. Fearing a fractured kneecap, I could barely drive home. I was done.
I made that early morning phone call to tell the owner that I’d lost a member of his family that was in my care. Perhaps, I said, Riley would backtrack and show up once again. It was all I had in the way of an encouraging word in an ugly situation.
“I’m not going to wake the kids,” he said. “I’ll tell them when they get up. They’re tired from swimming in the hotel pool.”
It was then that the motion-activated light at my back door came on.

“Hang on,” I told him. “Riley may have just shown up.”
Darned if she didn’t. I opened the door and Riley came right in as if nothing ever happened. I was bruised, battered, sleepless, and ecstatic. Her owner was delighted with the news. Riley just sat staring at the counter where I keep the jar of dog treats.

Since then, dogsitting for Riley has gotten much, much better. She’s about three years old now and, although she has got into a few minor things, she’s very well behaved. However, my trust only goes so far. Riley taught me that.

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