Yesterday I presented the following at Trinity United Methodist Church's annual Blessing of the Animals service:
I brought Riley here today to be blessed, but I am here now to tell you how he has blessed me. When I retired from teaching, I thought about getting a dog, but then I thought of all the responsibility I'd be taking on. There were the daily feedings, the walks, the grooming, the vet appointments, and I like to travel. Who would take care of a dog when I was off on vacation? Didn’t I want to be free, to just relax and enjoy my retirement?
Then one day my friend Tony asked me to go with him to Thomas J. O'Connor's. That's where I met a very sad looking stray that had been picked up wandering the streets of Chicopee. His entire body had been shaved, he was shaking all over, and was looking at us with very sad eyes, but Tony suggested we take him for a walk. Once outside his tail began wagging, and he seemed to come to life. That was it. I was in love. Any responsibilities that came along with this sweetie were fine with me.
In the nearly 13 years we've been together, Riley has blessed me in many ways. My day is brightened whenever I hear delighted cries of "Riley" from the kids at the Drama Studio, neighbors, friends here at Trinity, or anyone who's met him before. Riley has become Arlene Mackie’s “grand dog.” When I am traveling, that’s where you’ll usually find him¸ if not there, with Tami Seyler.
Someone else who was always happy to see Riley was Ginny Hooper. Ginny had been a friend of my mother's, so I had known her for years, but when, as part of Trinity's Pet Ministry, we began to visit her, Riley, in his own quiet way, brought us even closer. You see, when Riley comes to visit, he comes with no expectations, no demands, no agenda. He doesn’t even expect a treat. (he’s rather picky about those). With Ginny, and later with Gladys Ruggles, he simply offers himself up to be loved.
During our time together Riley has been at my side through the many highs and lows of my life. He was there when I was diagnosed with cancer, he was there when I signed the contract for my book, he has been with me on hundreds of walks in Forest Park, he was there with me at the bedside of a friend who was dying, and he was there when Trinity won the softball championship.
He's an old man now. He can't jump up on the sofa any more, he forgets to go out to pee, and he sleeps much more than he used to, but he is still my Riley, my blessing.