Requiem for Riley
The best of all possible puppies teaches a lesson one family won’t forget
(page 1 of 2)LAST SUMMER, a swarm of dogs and people descended for the Fourth of July weekend on a family lake cabin in Cass County, half an hour north of Brainerd. Of the dogs, the newest and youngest was Riley, a 6-month-old female puggle.
A puggle is a designer mutt bred to answer the question, What do you get if you cross a pug with a beagle? The result was this 10-to-20-pound creature; short-haired, light brown, rather bulldoggy of face, fearless of disposition, and charming even by puppy standards.
Riley had recently distinguished herself as valedictorian (yes, really) of her puppy-training class in Chicago, where she lived with my daughter Megan and her boyfriend, Joel. Not only could Riley sit, roll over, and sometimes come when called, she could differentiate between “shake” and “high-five.”
For hours at a time, she played a tireless game of “let’s chase around and chew on each other’s faces” with Lola, my daughter Erica’s American bulldog-boxer mix, who looked remarkably like Riley but outweighed the puppy by 40 pounds.
In spirit and in deportment, Riley put to shame my keeshond, Roxie, an ill-mannered brute whose chief enthusiasms include rolling in manure and barking wildly for no good reason, and my in-laws’ toy phantom poodle, Spooky. Although Megan and Joel needed no confirmation that theirs was the best of all possible puppies, they got plenty. They were too polite to draw comparisons out loud, but significant looks passed between them whenever Roxie or Spooky disgraced herself in some way, as one or the other contrived to do every 15 minutes or so.
For all her virtues, Riley, like most puppies, would eat anything. Anything. No puppy ever had more doting or attentive foster parents, and Joel spent much of the long weekend following her around the yard, grabbing her muzzle to extract twigs, leaves, acorns, weeds, bark, flowers, feathers, shoelaces, and what have you. He barely registered that one of the items pulled from her jaws on the afternoon of Monday, July 3, was a piece of mushroom.
About a dozen of the fungi had sprung up in the lawn after some rain the previous week, not in a noteworthy cluster but one here, one there. Small, white, and innocuous-looking, none of them was much more than an inch high and a half inch wide at the cap. Nobody paid them any mind. The only remarkable mushrooms in the vicinity were some enormous, menacing, orange ones that grew out of a tree stump too high for either dogs or small children to reach. We assumed those were dangerous, but our neighbors recognized them as a gourmet delicacy and asked to harvest and eat them if we didn’t intend to. As for the little white specimens in the grass, they looked even less sinister than most of the common lawn mushrooms I had ignored all my life, though I was aware, in a background-knowledge sort of way, that such things as toadstools existed and should not be consumed.
Megan, Joel, and Riley left the cabin Monday night and drove to our house in suburban Minneapolis, planning to head back to Chicago the next morning. But the puppy got sick. She kept them up all night with vomiting and diarrhea. By morning she could barely stand.
At the crack of dawn they took her to an emergency veterinary clinic. Her liver enzymes were sky high, suggesting that she had been poisoned. The vets called the Minnesota Poison Control hotline at Hennepin County Medical Center and described Riley’s symptoms. Then they asked about mushrooms. Joel remembered. The vets said Riley had a textbook case of amanita poisoning.