November 1986 was the month I met River. Walking into the puppy room of the Spokane Humane Society was one of the most important moves I have ever made. Before me was this beautiful, fluffy little blonde puppy. He immediately had me.
When adopting him the staff told me that his mom was three quarters pitbull. He had an underbite, a wide forehead and the most soulful eyes I had ever seen.
River was the first dog I had adopted on my own as an adult. River taught me about compassion and empathy through his unconditional love. Being the most consistent person in my life, he helped ground me and reinforce feelings of connections. For so long I had been in a survival mode of going back to school for my teaching degree while working and trying to make ends meet.
When I accepted a teaching position in Arizona I was filled with anticipation, excitement and anxiety. Not knowing a soul in Arizona, I drove there in the summer of 1987, with my best friend, River. He moved with me between Washington and Arizona. I needed to find rentals that would accept dogs and not once did I think that I would just 'get rid of him because of moving'. We hear people say this a lot in rescue.
River and I entered this unknown and made the best of it. River and I would frequent the Colorado river that runs through Yuma, Arizona. While he was anything but a waterdog, we loved the time we shared on the banks. We would hike in the desert where trails would take us through canyons with our friend Karin. Once we went to the sand dunes late at night and we sat beneath the stars and moon. Somehow we managed to rest on the one dune that was targeted by three ATVs who missed us by mere feet. It was a fast run over the side of the dune to miss their impact. They were as surprised as we were, to have met on the same dune out of thousands across that landscape.
River was my constant companion. His golden coat blended with the warm colors of the cliffs and desert sunsets. His eyes spoke volumes telling me when he was happy or sad. He saw all of my moods, dark times and challenges. He loved me unconditionally.
River was five years old when he met Pete Jagoda. I warned Pete that my dog might be protective, as he sometimes could be. It was truly love at first sight. River wagged his tail and could not have been friendlier when meeting his future dad for the first time. The feeling was mutual.
Over the next several years River travelled extensively between Washington, Arizona and Maine. He became a frequent flyer. Flight attendants became familiar with him and anyone who did not show him his due respect and honor at the airport would in turn be snubbed by River, himself.
River was central to our life and decisions we made. Our plans were based on his ability to join us, our conversations were often with him or about him or both. If we were away from River I would ask Pete what he thought River was doing at that very moment and he would tell me that he was probably wearing a plush, burgundy smoking jacket and having a cocktail while reading the stock market. At other times Pete would reassure me that River was fine because he was watching the birds from his chaise lounge while being served sparkling water by his servants. Even when we could not be with River we kept him with us in our thoughts, feelings and conversations.
River opened my heart to want to help other dogs. In 1994 we responded to an ad in the paper asking for foster homes for a local rescue called Pet Rescue. That was the beginning of where we find ourselves today. Had River not influenced me to want to help others we would have never learned of the massive plight of animals. Prior to joining Pet Rescue I had no idea of the scale of overpopulation and cruelty. Being involved in Pet Rescue opened our eyes on so many levels. We learned about the plight of so many species and wondered, why did we not know about this before? Why is this not common knowledge? Why isn't this mainstream knowledge and concern? Why is this happening?
Thanks to River for leading us toward greater awareness of the needs of animals and wanting to do what we could to make a difference, we eventually founded an official animal sanctuary. In 2004 we became an established 501c3 nonprofit charity with the mission of rescuing, educating and advocating on behalf of those who have no voice. River was our inspiration who lead us in this direction. This has become one of my primary life purposes. This is why we named our organization to honor him, River's Wish Animal Sanctuary.