The Life of Riley

Someone asked me recently how old my border collie, Riley, is now, and couldn’t believe that she is 5 this year! I found myself reminiscing over the day we got her. James had arrived home one evening super late and shouted me downstairs. I said no because I’m in bed, but he insisted I had to go down. I was reluctant because I could also hear his Mum and Dad and I was wearing un-matching pijamas, looked a bit rough and quite frankly I was comfy and didn’t want to make the effort. Nevertheless, he persisted, so I traipsed downstairs making sure my huffs and puffs were audible. It was then that I was greeted by the most beautiful, angelic, precious, tiny bundle of fluff and squealed with excitement that James’s Mum and Dad had finally given in and got a puppy!

Except they hadn’t – we had.

That night was just the beginning of a life-changing journey of laughs, tears, frustration, amazement and love-hate relationships with the dog. I couldn’t have possibly imagined how I could ever love something so much, but at the same time how I could be so terrorised by something I love so much. I could also never have possibly imagined the amount a dog could like to play. Like seriously, I’m sure she only lives to play.

We’d had her for about 3 months when she first started showing signs of no longer being a cute baby pup. I was cleaning the house and after repeatedly saying no to her many demands to play ball, I thought she may learn to go outside and entertain herself. She did, and I felt smug and proud of how quickly I was picking up this ‘having a puppy’ thing. She was outside for a while when I realised she was extremely quiet. Too quiet. It was when I went to check on her I realised she’d snuck my new ugg boots out of the house and into the garden, covering them with mud before launching them into the pond (which, by the way, no longer exists because in the months following ugg-gate she went on to chew and tear the lining apart, draining all the water). My uggs were completely ruined and when I shouted at her, she simply dropped a ball at my feet, looking up at me as if to say ‘I told you to play with me’. I should have realised then it was a sign of things to come.

One night we came home drunk and I begged James to let her sleep in our room with us as a treat. Being drunk himself, he agreed, and all was great in the world. That was, until I woke up hungover to death the following morning with a massive wet tongue in my mouth. I wretched and gagged until I was sick and I swear I can still taste dog spit to this day. Riley, obviously pleased with herself, stood next to the bed with her tail wagging, clearly ecstatic that it was finally time to play.

I’m fortunate enough to live close to a beautiful nature vale, which has open space, a river and woods, fields of horses and a lake full of ducks and geese. Many times I’ve been walking there with the dog thinking about how lucky I am to have this wonderful place on my doorstep. Then I’ve looked down at my beautiful dog to find her munching on pellets of horse shit, prancing along happily like she isn’t the most disgusting thing in the world. Well done James bringing home the most vile dog of the bunch.

In case it wasn’t obvious, Riley is a bit of a brat. If she is feeling particularly bored and hasn’t had all 50,000 walks a day yet, she will pester us until we play with her. Usually when we are busy and refusing to drop everything and devote our full attention to her, she will bark at us or continually drop a ball at our feet and stare at us menacingly. When these attempts fail, she resorts to what she knows will get us to move, finding an item of clothing like a sock on the radiator and standing in front of us to show us she has it. When we try to take it off her, she engages in a tug of war before running off outside knowing full well we will chase her for it, and that whilst we’re up we might as well just throw a ball for her. And just like that, she’s won. Clever enough to manipulate humans, but not quite clever enough to know the difference between food and horse shit.

The most recent headache was when I took Riley for a walk down the vale, it was a beautiful day. The sun was shining, Riley was behaving and walking nicely for a change instead of chasing anything that moves (no exaggeration – literally anything that moves),  and I couldn’t help but feel so grateful for this rarity. As I’m thinking maybe, just maybe, we are finally making progress with her walking instead of chasing, I feel a slight pull on the lead. Oh no. I look down at Riley who has spotted the mass of sleeping ducks next to the pond and is now creeping along in classic Border Collie style. Blinded by my naive confidence that I suddenly have a well behaved dog instead of a menace, I find myself gently saying “Riley, come on behave, we’re having a lovely day please don’t ruin it.” I don’t even know why I bother. Riley lunges, letting out what can only be described as a screech from the depths of hell, creating a frenzy of birds chaotically rushing, squawking and flapping about before flying away in terror. Two old ladies who seemed to be volunteers working to protect the natural habitat glared at me, contemplating whether they needed to try and run from the banshee I was walking or ban me for life from using the park. I profusely apologised for my uncontrollable nuisance of a pet and quickly scurried off mortified before anybody else could see me disturbing the nature. As I was walking away, I look down at Riley for any sign of remorse, but instead see her just chewing on some more horse shit. Brilliant.

This is a dog who isn’t interested in food but will suddenly be ravenous when you put some food within reach, swiping it making yourself question if you ever put it there in the first place. A dog for whom we pay for daycare so she can spend time playing with other dogs, but instead who spends the entire day following the staff around harassing them to throw a ball instead. A dog who was once so adamant she was playing in the river and not coming home with me that I had to call my Father in Law to come and help get her out, because she would only come out for him. She is a nuisance, high maintenance and tiring. But one thing is for sure, I’ve never felt as loved as I do when I come home from work every day, or when I first get up to let her out of a morning, or even when I have nipped to the shop for less than 10 minutes. Every time I reappear, she makes the biggest fuss and it’s as though I’ve left her for years. No matter how bad my day is, I could never ask for a better welcome home than the one she gives.

I never understood how enriched a dog can make your life until I got one. To be greeted with such warmth and excitement whenever I see her makes me feel so loved. Her kisses are the best and I definitely feel towards my baby dog like I guess I’m supposed to feel about actual babies. I suppose I can let go of all of the other annoyances and the fact that she’s a bit gross, because she is definitely the best thing that ever happened to us (apart from getting engaged obviously!).

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