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the Life of Riley

I hear it first: the quiet huffing. Riley’s impa-tience growing. I open an eye to see his furry face beside the bed. He’s been my alarm clock every day for the twelve years he’s been with me. His cold, wet nose is pressed against the side of the bed. There’s an apologetic look in his eyes, life he understands it’s Saturday, and I don’t want to get out of bed. I know he won’t give up, so I reluctantly throw my legs over the side of the bed. My feet hitting the floor sends his tail into overdrive, wagging back and forth, making swishing noises on the carpet. He’s still in sit mode, trying his hardest to behave. “Lets go.” It’s all I have to say to send him flying down the hall and racing down the stairs. He stops at the bottom step and try to push the sleep from my brain, I realize that the first snow of the season has fallen overnight. Riley, a twelve-year-old Portuguese Water Dog, looks like a five-year-old on Christmas morning when he realizes that Santa has brought the goods. As I open the door to let him out, he looks at me one last time with pure gratitude in his eyes and darts out the door to his version of heaven. I move to the coffeemaker, my salva-tion. Taking my steam-ing mug to the window, I watch as he jumps and rolls in the pure-white, fluffy snow with abso-lute joy. Knowing his backyard romp won’t satisfy him for long, I head back upstairs to throw on some warm clothes– and grab my boots and hat and his leash. Riley doesn’t need his leash, but it makes me feel like a responsi-ble parent. I step out into the cold morning air, and he falls in stride beside me. We walk the same route to the park every day like its a ritual. I take in the silence that comes with the snowfall and early morning. We reach the park, and Riley sits down in the snow and faces the sun rising in the sky like he’s taking it in for the first time. He looks at me to say, “see, isn’t this worth getting up for?” Before he runs full steam toward the open field. I marvel at his energy and wait for it to run its course. As he jumps like a jackrab-bit into the snowdrifts, sticking his nose into the cold, fresh powder. I feel an enormous sense of gratitude that he’s my best friend. My family has named him the fif-ty-thousand-dollar dog. Two knee surgeries, one cancer operation, and now monthly medication for diabetes, but he’s still running in the park and getting me up at first daylight. How much would you pay to save your best friend? What is his life worth? He is the only consistent in my life that never lets me down. His unconditional love greets me at the door everyday after work. He races towards me now, his tongue hanging out, and I know he’s expend-ed all his energy and is ready to walk home together. The coffee in the pot is still hot. I pour myself another cup. He snuggles up beside me on the couch, where we read the paper and enjoy.

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