The old and the new

For 15 years, we’ve owned an amazing Golden Retriever named Riley. He’s been such a good dog… so gentle, happy, loyal, and loving. We bought him from a family in Willmar (the Dols) when our oldest son was just a year and a half old. I think we figured since life was already so crazy, why not add a puppy to the mix?

Jordan and Riley

Jordan, 16 months; Riley 10 weeks

Jordan and Riley went through potty training at the same time, and all I can really remember from this time of my life is a never ending barrage of urine and feces. (Honestly, what were we thinking?) I’m surprised I managed to fall into bed each night with the child in his crib and the puppy in his kennel, and not vice versa. Thank you, God, for that.

Oh… and one other thing… I was also pregnant with son #2 at the time.

Joy, Jordan, and Riley

Halloween 1996 - Joy, Jordan, Riley, and Cole (in utero)

Cole was born in November, 22 months after Jordan, and took an immediate liking to the big orange fuzzy thing we called Riley. On any given evening, we’d find him snuggled up next to the dog, blanket in one hand and a fistful of fur in the other. Riley, bless his heart, just took it all in stride.

Cole and Riley

Nap time for Cole and Riley

Two weeks ago today, Jordan (now 16) said to me, “Mom! Have you seen Riley’s foot?” He had a nasty looking bump between two toes that he kept licking and chewing. It didn’t look good. I brought Riley to the vet, and he confirmed what I suspected. A tumor. The doctor didn’t know if it was benign or malignant, but stated that the only way to remove it and make sure they got all of it would be to remove the entire toe. And at Riley’s age, the anesthesia is always a concern. Dr. Dan was very kind; he knew what I was thinking, and he knew where the conversation was heading. He handed me a box of kleenex when my eyes started to well-up. Somehow, I asked the hard questions – how much longer, and what’s the process? He talked me through it, explained what would happen when Riley was put to sleep, and handed me more kleenex.

I left the vet’s office a complete wreck. Of course, I knew this day was coming. Riley’s hips have been bad for a long time. We need to lift him in and out of the car now days, and when things are really bad, he even falls down the stairs. His hearing and eyesight are failing, and his faculties certainly aren’t all there. But, he’s family… and I love him.

After the appointment, I took him to the public access on Green Lake and let him fetch the stick a few times while I tried to collect myself. He’s not much of a swimmer for a Golden Retriever. He loves the water, but something never quite clicked when he was younger. Instead of paddling when the water starts to get over his head, he just stands on his hind legs and walks. Then, when the water gets over his head again, well, he sinks. Of course, he can swim just fine if he has a stick or a duck in his mouth, but without it, he’s sunk. Literally.

Riley and Joy at Green Lake

Riley and Joy at Green Lake

Suffice it to say, last week was not a good week. I was really down, feeling bad for Riley. Then, last Thursday the boys asked if they could borrow the car and go to the varsity volleyball game in Albany. I said sure.

They came home with a puppy.

And I wanted to kill them.

For about thirty seconds.

Since then, this little black lab puppy they named Zoe has wormed her way into my heart. Once again, it’s a constant barrage of urine and feces, but I’d forgotten how much joy a new little life can bring into a household. She’s bouncy and curious, and sweet as can be. She’s a snuggler and curls right into my lap every chance she can get. She’s also a chow hound and eats everything in sight, including Riley’s food, the cat’s food, my laptop cord, and the living room rug.

Damn, but I love her.


Zoe, the new addition

As for Riley? Not so much. But, in his good old boy way, he tolerates her. And when he has enough energy, he even pounces a bit and tosses her around with his nose. But, I know what he’s really feeling, and that makes me sad. He’s being replaced, by a younger, cuter model, and life will soon go on without him.

Don’t be sad, Riley. No one could ever replace you. And when it’s your time, we’ll be there for you. Just let us know when you get too tired, old buddy. We love you, and we’ll be there.

Jordan, Cole, Riley, and Zoe

Jordan, Cole, Riley, and Zoe


  1. Dianne Hafterson |

    It’s never easy watching your loyal pet get old. They’re family, they’re kids, they’re protectors. And Riley is one fo the best! But, you might be surprised that Little Zoe may very well spark a little extra life back into Riley — it happens all the time! Zoe is maybe just what the doctor ordered!

  2. Oh, Joy. tears are rolling down my face. I’ve been there several times. Katie and Bethany grew up with a Lhasa Apso that came from a litter in Vermillion (friends of Betsy). We still mention her frequently because she was perfect. We put off the inevitable too long as she couldn’t walk when I carried her into the vet in the middle of the night.I talked her through the procedure and thanked her for all that she gave us. The vet and her assistant cried..but I finally felt strong.

  3. Terri Steffen |

    Gosh Darn it… made me bawl….again! 2 years ago last April, we had to part with our beloved Lena. She was 13 years old and was my girl! She was so wonderful when we adopted the kids and just let them run all over her. She was the light in my life and I still miss her everyday! Thank you Joy for such a nice story….I, too, have a new puppy……his name is Norman….he is a Tibetan Terrior and he is quickly becoming a light in my life too! You are amazing and never, never, never give up writing!!!!

  4. You’re right! There is no replacement for Riley. He has been my best buddy and protector during the “nitwit” season. I love him with my whole being. And, he will let you know when he’s done. Be assured he will be the BEST angel dog in heaven. Also, Dianne’s right. He’ll teach your new Zoe all kinds of things she needs to know…. like being gentle, always sticking with your kids and familly. Enjoy them both…. you are all twice blessed.

  5. Joy & the Baker Men:
    All of us have grown stronger with Riley. I know this is very hard. The tribute to Riley, made me cry hard, real tears were streaming dpwn my face and I was sobbing. When Riley, goes to heaven and you need someone to cry with call me. Love you all! Lisa

  6. Yes, I am still here. It’s still raining outside and I am still reading your blog… just because it’s good reading. I miss good reading. God bless Riley…and you.

Leave a Reply