Riley is proof dogs can smile.

My beach buddy, Riley, smiles wide every time she goes to the beach.

She even knows the word “beach.” When she hears it, she starts wagging her tail, which gets her whole body wagging, along with her happy grin. I slip on her leash, and we drive to the shore near our home in Ponte Vedra Beach. We park at a friends’ place two blocks away. Riley drags me at a clip to the sand with her curly tail up, the personification of joy.

I’m a beach person. Always have been. But I especially enjoy the beach with Riley, a white medium-sized mixed breed that we were lucky to adopt from an animal rescue organization four years ago. We got her when she was about eight weeks old, as a high school graduation gift for my daughter Caylie. People said I was crazy to bring a dog into our family at that time, because Caylie is our youngest. Her two brothers had already moved out. Why get a dog for your last child, who’s about to leave home?

riley as puppy2 IMG_1532 IMG_1521

Caylie didn’t want to go away to school. She decided to commute to a local college, so we got her a dog. We wanted a rescue puppy, so I called TARAA (The Animal Rescue & Adoption Agency). A litter of tiny pups had just been rescued from behind a car rental agency in Jacksonville. Maybe we’d like one of those? We said we would.

The puppies were all in bad shape. Their mother was gone when they were found. The pups were starving and dehydrated, covered with bugs. One was dead and the others, two females and two males, were dying. They were all short hairs and looked alike, all solid colors. One male was black, the other male and one of the females was brown, and there was Riley, the only white one.

The folks at TARRA worked heroically to save them all, but the brown female died. Since Caylie wanted a female, that left Riley, who healed quickly. From the moment she entered our house, she’s brought us much joy. Not that she wasn’t challenging at first. We quickly learned she had been the alpha of her litter, or so the dog trainer that I hired surmised. Several weeks after we got her, she wouldn’t stop barking and wasn’t getting the hang of house training. I paid the woman $200 for two hours of training. It was the best $200 I ever spent.

“She assumes she’s still the alpha,” the trainer said. “You need to teach her that’s no longer true.” Soon, Riley was a different and very sweet dog, and I know we were the ones who were really trained. No matter. She’s been a wonderful pet ever since.

My daughter moved into her own apartment recently, and to my disappointment, took Riley with her. But she brings her back to visit at least once a week, and Riley and I always go to the beach.