Patience and Riley

In January 2008, after losing my dog Bailey to cancer, I began the search for another dog. I came across a skinny, non-descript black lab mix with six puppies at a local shelter. She was quiet and looked exhausted while her puppies tumbled around her. I decided to adopt her and one puppy. All the puppies were adorable, but there was one puppy missing most of his hair. I was worried his chances of finding a home might be slim, so I chose him. I had to wait until they were both neutered to bring them home. Driving home from the shelter, though, I decided the mother’s name would be Patience, since she looked like she had a lot of it with her brood.

Riley Patience Dogs

Riley is on the left, and Patience is on the right.

A few days later, on a rainy cold afternoon, I picked them up and brought them home. Patience was still very groggy from her spay that morning, so she curled up on the back seat of my car. The puppy, about 10 weeks old, rode home on my lap. At home Patience rested on a rug and soon fell asleep. I focused my attention on the puppy who was happily exploring his new home. As he sprawled across his new bed, I told him he had the life of Riley. The name stuck. Looking at those two that night I had no idea what doors they would open for me.

Riley’s vocation

Once on a good diet, Riley’s fluffy black coat filled in. He grew into a handsome dog, black with white on his chest and paws, and a perpetual milk mustache. He seemed to have some herding dog in him. He enjoyed playfully nipping me, his mom and my cats, who were not amused. We had daily walks and weekend hikes. When I noticed some issues with him and other dogs while walking, we enrolled in obedience classes. Initially Riley was shy around new people and in new situations, so a trainer recommended trying agility with him. I knew little about the sport but decided to give it a try. The agility brought him out of his shell. He became more confident and more comfortable with other dogs and people.  

Riley was a great introduction to agility. He was always happy working with me. Meanwhile, his mom Patience found her calling as a therapy dog. She enjoyed visiting nursing homes, but really loved visiting schools and libraries where children read to her. Sadly, in February 2015, Patience passed away from a very aggressive cancer. I wanted to continue working in the pet therapy program but was not sure if Riley could fill Patience’s paws. We took our time and soon he was certified as well.  We began in nursing homes, then added schools and libraries. Like his mom, Riley loves kids and they love him as well.

Canine lymphoma diagnosis & treatment

One Sunday in March 2018, I noticed a small bruise on the inside of Riley’s right rear leg. Looking further, I noticed the lymph nodes on that leg were enlarged. I was not overly concerned but still scheduled an appointment with his veterinarian that week. She examined him, ran bloodwork and took radiographs. His bloodwork was normal, but there was a concerning spot on the radiographs. She suspected it might indicate a small hernia and recommended consulting with a surgical specialist. Unfortunately, he could not see Riley for about two weeks. This fortuitously led me to make an appointment with a veterinary internist who was able to see him a couple of days later. 

Canine Chemo

The internist was concerned about his enlarged lymph nodes. An ultrasound also confirmed enlarged lymph nodes in his abdomen, although his internal organs appeared normal. She recommended a fine needle aspiration to determine why the lymph nodes were enlarged. As a veterinary technician, I elected to have this test done knowing the sooner we found the cause, the sooner we could treat him. Riley was sent home on antibiotics and steroids in the meantime. A couple days later we received the results, which sadly confirmed he had stage III multicentric lymphoma.

I met with an oncologist to discuss his condition. She recommended chemotherapy. There were a few options including a multi-drug CHOP regimen, a conservative treatment with Doxyrubicon or a steroid treatment. Each had its pros and cons. I opted for the conservative treatment, which would require five doses of Doxyrubicon administered intravenously every three weeks. The average remission with this treatment is about six to nine months. At 10 years old, I was not ready to let him go without at least a chance. 

Chemotherapy in dogs typically does not cause the same side effects as in humans. His first treatment though, was a little rough. He did fine initially, but a couple days later developed bloody diarrhea. The oncologist had warned me this may happen. I thought maybe this treatment was a bad decision, but the veterinarian explained that chemo is an art as much as a science. The diarrhea resolved and he returned to his happy self. At the second treatment she adjusted the dose. From then on, the treatments were much better. He tolerated everything well. He was well-loved at the clinic. I was often told they would give him his treatment, then just let him sleep on a bed in the office. Most of the time he did not even stay in a cage.

Remission!

In July 2018 Riley completed his last Doxyrubicon treatment. I was told to watch him closely and especially to monitor his lymph nodes. It was expected that when the cancer returned, it would most likely present as it had the first time. So we waited. Each month we celebrated. We took a special trip to the beach and hiked and he traveled with his little sister, Pickles, to dog shows. A few months went by, and he was doing great, but I noticed a swelling in his groin. I made an appointment with the oncologist for a recheck. Thankfully, the swelling turned out just to be a little bit of fat. The rest of his exam was great.

Canine Cancer Story

Larissa’s dogs Pickles (left) and Riley (right)

In December 2018, he celebrated his 11th birthday. Soon we celebrated one year post diagnosis, then one year post his last chemo. Little Riley just kept on going. Soon we celebrated 12 years, 13 years and he just recently celebrated his 14th birthday! As he ages we face other senior dog issues. We are now managing renal disease and Cushing’s disease with diet and medications. Recently he developed weakness in his hindlimbs, so we’ve added traditional Chinese medicine including acupuncture and herbal therapy to his plan. He sleeps pretty hard these days, and our long walks and hikes have been replaced with short trips to the mailbox, sunning himself in the backyard and barking at the squirrels.  (ALSO READ Bare’s Story: Our Journey Through Canine Epilepsy)

In all of his roles, the most common adjective I have heard used to describe Riley is “happy.” He truly is a happy boy, and I am so happy he continues to be a part of my life. I am amazed at his survival and continued health. While Irish luck is most certainly on his side, I know he would not be here without the hard work of numerous scientists, veterinarians, research staff, animal care technicians, and most importantly lab animals that have contributed to advances in human and animal medicine. To those we are both forever grateful.

FBR Real Pet Stories ™ fun facts about Riley:

  • He loves frozen blueberries – but only if they are frozen. He refuses to eat them any other way.
  • I’ve been told by many children that he looks like a wolf. If that is the case, he is very much a sheep in wolf’s clothing, as he is very mellow.
  • When he gets excited about something, he very lightly grabs my hands with his mouth as if he is pulling me closer to show me what he wants. This endearing trait has earned him the nickname “Mr. Nibbles.”
  • His full name is With Patience, the Life of Riley. His nicknames include Riley, Riley Roux, Roux-roo, Ri-Guy, the Rooster and Mr. Nibbles.
  • He despises turtles. If he finds one, he barks at it and turns it over then walks away. Yes, I always upright them and move them to a safe place.
  • He loves snacks and after a trip to the vet or a therapy visit, he reminds me if I forget to give him one with a very distinct stare.
  • He is the most routine-oriented dog I have owned. He knows breakfast and dinner times, when it is time to go for a walk and when we go to bed. Deviations are highly frowned upon.
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