Contest Third Place Winner - Old Man River

Old Man River of Rhode Island! He was a "secret" local celebrity who changed the minds of people who at first might not have been sure of big ol', crop-eared dogs like him. Old Man River was a hospice adoption due to medical issues and passed away earlier this year but we are honored to be able to share him and his story far and wide.


Location: Cranston, Rhode Island.

When I came across River, unbeknownst to me, he was already kind of a big deal in the shelter community. I was grieving the loss of my 12 year old pit bull Daisy and missed all the hype! What I did know about him is that he was a frequent flier in the shelter system and he was a hospice adoption.

I met him twice and the second time he came home with me. One spleen removal later and he was off the hospice list. He was just an old guy that had a myriad of other ailments, but the spirit of a dog half his age. River had a huge presence and people were drawn to this giant moose of a dog with poorly cropped ears and a giant head. he made friends effortlessly and was a kid magnet. He just knew what to do, his temperament was unreal.

About a week after I adopted him, I was in one of my favorite coffee shops and mentioned that I had just adopted a new dog and could I bring him in? They are dog friendly so they said of course. I brought River in and he put his paws right on the counter! I introduced him by his full name and the owner said, "Wait, The Old Man River from the news?" Yes, same dog. A good friend of his had wanted to adopt him but I had gotten to him first. He said he was happy that he ended up knowing who had adopted him. (Ironically, I was in that place all the time and never met the man that was supposed to adopt River until the week he passed away, almost 2 years later.)

Another time I had called our local 24 hour vet because River had eaten one of my vitamins. They won't usually give you information over the phone. The tech asked his name and when I told her she paused for a minute and said "River from PARL?" I said yes. Turns out she had taken care of him at the shelter then started working at the vet’s office and lost track of him. She told me that she was so happy because she thought he had already passed away. Another of my customers made the connection that one of his family members was the one that actually found River on the street, multiple times.

River was the dog that changed people’s minds about pit bull type dogs. I know this was his purpose and his secret life, and he lived it without knowing this I believe. He just was himself. You couldn't walk him without him investigating what the neighbors were doing. He was going to make you love him, whether you liked it or not! He loved trucks, and would constantly try to get into them. My heating and air conditioning guy’s truck, the garbage trucks, my neighbors’ trucks. He once got in a landscaper’s trailer and wouldn't get out. I told them his whole story and they said he could hang out as long as he liked!

River came into my life at a low point. I had a breakup of a relationship that really did me in. I thought I'd be fine. I still had Daisy. She passed away unexpectedly pretty soon after I had thought those words. I was devastated. She was my heart. I was terribly lonely without her. I started looking around and meeting dogs. None of them stuck until I met River. I didn't plan on adopting a hospice dog, but he was the guy. I drove him home from the shelter, stopped at my parents house and showered with the big moose. Then he climbed on their couch like he had lived there all his life.

His needs were greater than mine. That became clear almost immediately and it made me forget about the place my life was in. He had a crazy routine and his bathroom habits were atrocious initially, then he became incontinent as time went on. In the 18 months that I had him, I made 18+ trips to the vet. He had 2 major surgeries from which he recovered quickly and without incident. I got to know my 2 longtime vets even better than I thought I knew them. The same with my vet techs, they were kind and patient and I am proud to call them my friends. I am indebted to the people that helped me care for him. His dog sitter Shelby was a godsend, I trusted her ultimately with him, and he loved her. Had it not been for River, some of these wonderful people never would have come into my life. He connected people. Our lives were better with these folks in it.

His other part of his secret mission was to challenge me. To test me and see what I could handle. I loved River immediately but by no means was he an easy dog to care for. I worked, I ran and I took care of him. Some days if I just walked outside to check the mail, he'd pee all over. I didn't go out if I didn't need to. There were days where it got to me and God forgive me, he could be a burden. I hope River can forgive me for those thoughts, even though they were fleeting. He pushed me way out of my comfort zone and I am better for it. River passed away in February. A week later his story was chosen for a national contest that I had entered him in months before that. He was one of 10 dogs picked. I miss his smell, his little elf ears, his giant moose head and his big personality, and his love. He was very special.

As I write this, I am sitting on a plane with my mother, flying out to Ohio to rescue my next dog. River would have wanted that. He told me.