Riley Went to Sleep

Riley Went to Sleep

© David Burton 2022


     On Thursday afternoon, 26 August 2021, around 3:00 in the afternoon, Riley was eating some sliced turkey and cheese when he went to sleep. With him were my 14-year old granddaughter Aislyn, my daughter Elena, my wife Clare and me. We were with Riley in the home he had been sharing with Elena and Aislyn for a dozen years.

     Riley was Elena’s and Aislyn’s Golden Retriever dog. We had celebrated Riley’s 12th birthday just over a month earlier on July 4th. Since then, Riley’s health had rapidly deteriorated. At the time, Riley had contracted canine cancer and other ailments. That Thursday, Riley could not muster the strength to great me when I came to visit – highly unusual for my canine friend. Elena, my daughter, realizing that Riley was suffering had scheduled Riley to be put to sleep on the coming Saturday.

     As Elena and I sat with Riley early in the afternoon, it was clear that he was suffering. He was breathing heavily and seemed unable to lift himself off the blanket on the floor of the living room. Around 1:00 PM, Elena said, “I think I’ll see if Riley can be put to sleep today.” I agreed. There was no reason to make our friend suffer another two days. Elena called the veterinary office and arranged for Riley to be euthanized later that day.

     Somewhat earlier, my granddaughter, Aislyn had come home from her high school volleyball tryouts. She and I had gone out to get coffees for the three of us. Aislyn had celebrated her 14th birthday in May and was only slightly older than Riley. They had pretty much grown up together.

     One of my earliest memories of Riley and Aislyn was Aislyn screaming as Riley, then just a tiny ball of fur and fluff, held on to the back of her diaper as she tried to run away from him. Since then, Riley had grown into a full-sized 75-pound Golden Retriever and they had grown to be good friends over the years.

     Riley may have been a Golden Retriever, but he was never a retriever. He never learned to catch a ball or frisbee in flight. And once he caught up with a ball or a frisbee, he conisidered it his private property. One had to pry it out of his mouth if one wanted it back.

     Riley was the perfect warch dog. As soon as anyone or any vehicle approached his house, he would run to a window and would start barking. To those who didn't know Riley, his barking and size were sufficient to keep them away from his house. But to all who knew Riley, his barking and fierce appearance were a facade. Once the door was opened, Riley would run to the person - stranger and friend - all the while, waging hs tail and begging for some patting and petting.

     As soon as Elena made the arrangement to have Riley put to sleep, I called my wife, Clare, so she could come to the house to say her goodbyes to Riley. Jacob, my 21-year-old grandson, who frequently shared his bedroom with Riley, was away at the University of Illinois where he had gone less than a week previous. He was aware that Riley’s end was near.

     Riley ate - and appeared to enjoy – his last meal and peacefully went to sleep.

     For the previous dozen years, I had been used to having Riley rush to greet me with a wagging tail and a face-full of dog-licks as I started to climb the last half flight of stairs into the kitchen in Riley’s home. Riley often shared the sofa with me in the living room when I watched television or he would sleep on that sofa with me when I would spend the night at his house. There never was a time when Riley didn’t show me that he was happy to have me visit with him. One could never have a better or more loyal friend.

     As I later told my granddaughter, “The trouble with pets is that they don’t live long enough.” I’ve now outlived three family dogs: Fideo, Kelsey and Riley; six family cats: Ambato, Snowball, Cleo, Jake, Jordan and Traveler; along with a few of my grandson’s goldfishes, some turtles that I had as a child, and a bunch of squirrels that wanted to spend winters in the attic of my house each autumn.

     The dogs and cats were much more than pets – they were friends and family. And unlike family, they rarely argued with me or caused problems. All they asked for was a little attention: some patting, neck scratching or tummy rubbing; a little food once or twice a day; and a place to curl up and sleep. In return, I could always count on some face licking, purring and a bark or meow in greeting.

     As I’ve continued to outlive these furry friends, I’ve come to the conclusion that all the scientists, technologists, and engineers of the world have been focusing on solving the wrong problems. How much better off we would be if our pets could live as long as we do. Science and technology should be put to work to achieve this goal instead of trying to build more and better weapons of mass destruction or ways to defend against these weapons. It’s a sad part of pet ownership that our beloved companions never live long enough.

     I am now an octogenarian – well past the life expectancy in my family, particularly on my father’s side. He died at 59 and none of his three brothers made it to six decades of age. His youngest brother died just before I was born, at the age of 39, another at age 49 and a third at age 59. Perhaps my longevity is related to those pets with which I have had the good fortune to be acquainted. If you have pets, you already know the joy and love they bring to your life. Now science is confirming just how good they really are for you — both mentally and physically.
     There is a theory that pets boost our oxytocin levels. Also known as the "bonding hormone" or "cuddle chemical," oxytocin enhances social skills, decreases blood pressure and heart rate, boosts immune function and raises tolerance for pain. It also lowers stress, anger, and depression. So, it’s no surprise then that keeping regular company with a dog or cat appears to offer all these same benefits and more.
     Having a dog is associated with a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease or other causes, according to a study that followed 3.4 million people in Sweden. In my father’s family, cardiovascular disease was prevalent and the cause of all the premature deaths. My mother succumbed to heart failure in her 70's. A 2019 review of nearly 70 years of research found that dog ownership lowers your risk of dying from any cause by 24%. For people who've already suffered an acute coronary event, their risk drops 65% when they have a dog.
     Pets shower us with love, so it's not surprising they have a big impact on our love organ - the heart. Turns out time spent with a cherished critter is linked to better cardiovascular health. Studies show that dog owners have a lower risk of heart disease, including lower blood pressure and cholesterol. And don't worry, cat owners — feline affection confers a similar effect. One 2009 study found that former cat owners were about 40% less likely to suffer a heart attack.[1]

     I loved Riley as if he were family. I loved patting him in the way he most loved. But Riley also told me that he loved me back. Riley might not have been able to say “I love you” but he had his way of exhibiting the love he felt towards me and the other members of our family. Riley said the equivalent of “I love you” to us on an everyday basis. And for those skeptics out there who are convinced dogs are just animals, and as such aren't able to manifest emotions, here is a fact: It has been scientifically proven that dogs share the same brain structures known for producing emotions in humans. We know that dogs feel emotions in similar ways.
     What family member or friend has greeted you with open arms when you entered the room? Riley did! I could have a bad day or I might not have looked my best, but Riley was almost always there, wagging his tail and greeting me at the stairs to the kitchen. Greeting me as I entered his house was an ultimate proof of his love, a sign of how he had missed me and of his rejoicing at my return.
     We often think about a dog's sense of smell as being a dog's primary sense, but there are chances that our voice can also be music to our dog's ears. Have you ever noticed your dog wagging his tail when you were talking to him with a happy, upbeat tone of your voice? While all tail wags aren't always necessarily a sign of happiness, you are likely not wrong to assume that your dog loves listening to you and that those tail wags are a way of manifesting affection, even though he might not know exactly what you are saying. Such was Riley’s reaction to my talking to him.
     Dogs love us unconditionally for what we truly are, often outperforming the affection shown to us from other people we know. Whether we are rich, poor, sad, happy, young or old, dogs are always there wagging their tails and licking our faces, making us feel special. Such was the bond between Riley, me and the other members of our family. It’s for good reason that dogs are known as man's best friend. They are always there for us, reminding us every single day to be happy about our lives and most of all, for having one another. And the best part of all is that dogs can literally shower us with their unconditional love. Unlike us humans, they can do so without using any words of all![2]

     I may mourn the loss of my friend Riley after such a short time with us, but I more often am thankful for the love, joy, pleasure and fun that he gave to me, to my family and to our friends during the twelve years of his life. Riley enjoyed a very good dog’s life with a loving family. Riley will always live on in my memory. At the end, Riley didn’t die, he just went to sleep.


  1. Pets Are Good for Your Health, and We Have the Studies to Prove It, Sidney Stevens, Treehugger, 19 March 2021.
  2. Unconditional love from dogs, Adrienne Farricelli, Us Pets Love, 8 January 2022.


  15 September 2022 {Article 545; Whatever_83}    
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