I have tried to write down what actually happened. The lessons we have learned and the process we are going through to assure it NEVER happens again. You can never truly believe you are secure in this world. Be it man or beast. What I've written is long so bare with me - Its not perfect, but it is written from my heart. I can only hope it will keep one more dog and owner safe and from ever having to go through this again.
13 years ago I picked up the cutest little Yorkie pup from the breeder in Paris. Paris, Illinois. Though Riley would have preferred that I leave you to believe Paris, France – Paris, Illinois was his birth place. My niece Missy and I drove down on a couple occasions to see my budding puppy. He was the one that sported the blue ribbon. They called him Blue and he was to be mine. When I received his registration papers, I gave him the title, Riley Blue of de Leon – the last part after the registration name of his mom. Riley for short – he went through life as if he were French royalty.
As he aged, he developed Cushings, an old dog disease and for several years fought it bravely. He won’t die of Cushings, my vet would tell me, it is everything else the disease brings to your dog that will eventually be the cause of his demise. No truer words were ever spoken. With Cushings came a host of not so nice things, bloated belly, weakness, thin skin, skin infections, thinning hair, failing eye sight, dementia, an enormous appetite and last but not least a real need to boss Chance my Westie around. At any given moment he would give Chance that ‘look’, lower his head and pull back his ears and proceed toward him like a little Yorkie Ninja. At first it was funny to see this smaller dog boss the bigger dog around, but Chance never saw any of it as funny. Riley could give the stink eye like no other!
So brings us to last night. After slipping into my PJs, the dogs and I settled down to watch The Voice. Rob had already turned in and I had full control of the remote. From time to time, Riley would go through the dog door, across the deck to the area where we had removed snow from so that the dogs could relieve themselves with little problem. In no time he’d return and settle in next to me. If Chance thought about joining us, Riley would give him the Ninja look. I would scold Riley and put Chance on the other side of where I sat and tell Riley – Be Nice! I would watch from the corner of my eye as sweet bigger Chance sat nervously while mean little Riley lifted a corner of a lip or narrowed his eyes until Chance gave the old Ninja his way. Tonight was no different.
So, our attention turned back to The Voice. Riley would soon fall asleep beside me, with his mom and no other dogs - oh so content. Off and on through The Voice, he would get off the couch, go through the dog door to do his nightly routine. Cushing’s creates a pee monster. Plain and simple.
Then it happened: Across our well lit deck, I watched Riley approach the French doors. He looked clearly panicked. I got up thinking he had possibly become confused in getting back to the doggie door and was now cold and wanting in. As I opened the door, my sweet old boy, stumbled and waddled past me like I didn’t exist, leaving a trail of stench to high heaven. I could see he was wet and wondered WHAT he could have rolled in. I walked after him, calling his name. He turned unsure where the noise was coming from with a look of complete confusion. Immediately I knew something was wrong. A stroke? A Seizure? What new problem has this Cushing’s disease brought us? I grabbed a towel and wrapped it around him as I scooped him up off the floor. I could feel he was cold, very cold – and the stench. I will never forget the stench. Its burned into my senses. That is when I could feel the crackling and hear the popping every time he moved or breathed. I knew it was bad. I placed him carefully on the kitchen counter top for better lighting and saw that my hands were bloody. The towel was bloody. Once more I wrapped him tightly, ran down the hall calling for Rob. I flung the bedroom door open and told Rob that Riley had been attacked – by what, I didn’t know – but it was bad. Rob sprang into action telling me not to panic. Seriously? Me? Panic? Psssft. I was in full blown OMG panic. Rob took him from me and saw the blood. I ran and changed into street clothes, grabbed my Riley and was out the door – I’ll call you, I told Rob over my shoulder.
In the car I called the Animal ER, explained what I thought had happened and that we would be there in 15 minutes max. Was it a raccoon that Riley fought with, I wondered? Riley lay listless on the seat next to me, my hand never leaving him. The rattling and popping continued and for a moment I wanted to pull the car over, open the car door and throw up. The smell, the sounds… sensory overload.
The medical tech met me at the door and took my boy from my arms and disappeared into the back. I filled out the papers and gave them my credit card. I was always giving them my credit card for my Yorkies. Soon a pretty young vet came in and introduced herself and asked – How long had Riley been out in the cold? I don’t know, I told her, not long, I don’t know. She smiled weakly and explained they had him in a warmer with warming blankets but he just wasn’t getting warm. Then she said she needed x-rays to see what we were looking at. I told her do what was needed.
While waiting, Rob called. He had locked up the other dogs and went out to began his search over the snow covered fenced backyard. Within no time he came upon larger tracks. Coyote tracks. He followed them all over my fenced yard. One set of coyote tracks. All over my FENCED yard! Rob found an area in the snow where a struggle had occurred and he continued to follow the tracks. This is where he let go of Riley, he would later tell me. He would show me where in one easy movement, the coyote jumped our fence and crossed the unfenced yards to the West, heading toward the farm field. The word coyote shook me to the core. Riley had been attacked by a coyote?!? I had a fenced yard.
I told the vet it had been a coyote when she appeared with X-rays in hand. She said the stench had told her that but happy to have had it confirmed. She placed the film on the lighted box. It was clearly visible; Riley had several broken and dislocated ribs. He was covered in puncture wounds, with a few to the head. My heart sank. I asked to see him. They brought him to me swaddled in even more blankets then he had left me in. He laid listless staring off, his little pink Yorkie tongue sticking out. His breathing was shallow and he showed no reaction to my presence. I knew in my heart I was losing him. I called him, walked around him - nothing. It wasn’t until after much discussions and worse case/best case scenarios, I found the strength to stop Riley’s pain. Forever. For a brief moment he turned his eyes toward me - and for one wonderful moment he knew I was there – and then just as quickly the moment slipped away. I buried my face into his fur and sobbed.
I stayed with him for some time after he was gone. I watched his still body for some time remembering that chubby little puppy with the blue ribbon from Paris… Paris, IL. I picked him up and held him close. I stroked his silky hair and then laid him back down, sobbing once more into his fur. I signed the papers for cremation and walked away without my dog, my Riley.
Today I telephoned a trapper friend. When he answered the phone he simply said – I knew I would hear from you today. How quickly news travels. My friend explained that no fence will really keep a coyote out. January through March is mating season and males travel far distances in search of a female. They are more aggressive, more hungry. The cold, harsh winter we have had here in Central Illinois has depleted the food supply – making the situation worse – but coyotes are nasty animals that are very clever in finding food. They will climb, they will dig. But they will eat. Whatever they can get their mouths around. We finished the phone call with him saying he would be by to set traps, as this roving male would be back. He knows there is a food source now.
I stand at my back door now, pellet gun beside it. The dogs won’t go out alone now. They are on doggie door lock down. I couldn’t save Riley for I didn’t know I had to. We had a fenced in yard, and our neighbors had a fenced in yard, with the exception of one. Sadly I know differently now. And so I wait; I wait for the traps to be set; I wait to see the beast that entered my yard – my so called secured yard. I feel no guilt in knowing it will die – none. Nature or not – it came into MY yard, I had fenced it securely for MY dogs. The neighbors are all on alert, many with pistols and rifles waiting. The older residents of our area, who have been here since the tiny three street country neighborhood was developed in the 60s tell me that they had never heard of a anyone’s dog being killed by a coyote out here – until now. Of course, mine would be the first. Trendsetters. Ug. We live 1.8 miles from town. Open fields surround us. No woods. We have fenced yards. Coyotes have never hurt a pet out here ... myths and fables.
Cushing’s didn’t kill my dog in the end, just as my vet had said… sadly a coyote did because I didn’t realize my secured yard was really not secured at all. What I’ve learned in less than twenty four hours is that Yorkies and Jack Russells are the main dogs reported to be killed by coyotes; That larger dogs are often prey to packs of coyotes. Coyote attacks most often occur between dusk and dawn. You should keep your dog on a SHORT leash if you are in an area known to coyotes. If you encounter a coyote make yourself appear larger, wave your arms, carry a fog horn - make noise! Most of all, remember that they will approach you, your children or your little furface if hungry enough. Ask the actress Jessica Simpson – she lost her little Maltipoo while it stood right in front of her. Jessica never saw her Daisy again. The coyote carried off Daisy regardless of the human standing beside her - screaming. Yet I was lucky. Because the coyote didn't take my Yorkie away into the darkness. I can take comfort in knowing my Riley made his way back to me – somehow. The Coyote let him go. But why? Was it due to a neighbor letting his Mastiff and Boxer out for the last time before turning in? Or was it because Riley truly did believe he was a wee Ninja and somehow managed to squirm his noble-self out of the jaws of death and get back home - even if it was for the last time. I am blessed with having had my good-byes. Not everyone does. Jessica is still haunted by her experience.
So tonight, kiss your furfaces and if you find yourself outside – hold the leash close and your pet closer. Feel free to share if it saves just one family such heartache.
Goodnight my Riley Blue of de Leon. I didn't just love you for 13 years - I loved you in dog years. You are forever in my heart, sweet boy. My Riley Roo.