Life of Riley


The pup was scared, crippled and condemned to be shot.
Rescuers arrived. Now Riley is living the life of Riley.

By KL Snyder  |  Photography by Kelvin Andow

Riley, a happy-go-lucky Bluetick Coonhound who’ll turn 3 around Christmastime, works at Comfortex  Inc. of Winona. She has a doggy dream job. She’s company greeter, cookies-finagler and jester.

And more. Comfortex manufactures medical mattresses, and its spinoff, Snoring Dogs, makes pet beds which she’s pleased to test. Riley is a quality control canine.

Riley is rolling in clover now, but her beginning was bleak. When Comfortex owners Andrea Terek and Michael Murphy rescued her from a tiny, dark, dirty shed, she was a crippled 5-month-old puppy. Her breeder, who couldn’t sell her because her front legs were deformed, intended to shoot her.

Euthanasia, surgery or a simpler remedy?

Andrea carried Riley to the car and when they arrived home, into the house, and  when she set the pup down, she was shocked to see the extent of the impairment. Riley’s wrists were bent under to such an extreme that her chest was flat to the ground.

“She couldn’t walk,” Mike says. “She would launch herself and flop.”

The first few days, Riley was timid and overwhelmed, and Andrea credits her other dogs for helping bring the pup out of
her shell.

Soon Riley started showing her spunk and high spirits. She tried to play with her new canine friends. “When she couldn’t,” Mike says, “she would still play with them, with her eyes.”

Two of the five veterinarians who examined Riley agreed with her breeder and recommended euthanasia. Three suggested surgery, but the procedure was extensive, the recovery long, success uncertain and the price steep—$5,000 per leg.

Meanwhile, Riley had asserted her charm.

“Once we laid eyes on her and saw how sweet and nice she was,” Andrea says, “it was never an option to not spend the money. We had an appointment for surgery in Madison, but it did not feel right with me.”

So she googled and found Dr. Scott Hammel, a board-certified small animal veterinary surgeon at Inver Grove Heights Animal Hospital.

She sent him Riley’s x-rays and photos, and he emailed back: “I think carpal flexor contracture syndrome is to blame. I think it is the most extreme we have seen. No surgery will help at this point.”

Carpal flexor contracture syndrome is, Hammel explains, “an inability to straighten the leg at the wrist (also called the carpus).” It isn’t a birth defect. Its cause is poor nutrition and care.

The bones grow normally, Mike says, but the soft tissue doesn’t keep pace, and the affected wrists can’t extend fully. Riley couldn’t extend her wrists at all.

Hammel advocated “aggressive physical therapy” and was optimistic she would recover.

The simplest solution was the best

Turning again to Google, Andrea found videos of an English dog, Wonky, who’d been treated successfully for carpal flexor contracture, and of Wonky’s PT. (A normal-walking Wonky no longer suited her name. She became Juliette.)

The PT involved massaging and stretching and was “very easy to do,” Andrea says. “Every chance I got I massaged Riley, and Mike did, and people in the office did.”

Early in the process, the rubdowns and stretch-outs distressed Riley. “She was uncomfortable at first and then OK. She seemed to realize we were helping her.”

Indeed they were helping her. She showed improvement after each session.

Prayer played a key role in Riley’s recovery, say Mike and Andrea, who prayed for their hound pup as much as they treated her. Within a week Riley was much better. In less than two weeks, she was frolicking like a puppy should. “The simplest solution was the best,” Andrea says.

Irrepressible, irresistible Riley

AKC describes the Bluetick Coonhound as “a smart and devoted charmer at home; a fearless, tenacious pursuer on the trail.” Mike defines Coonhounds as “cartoon characters in fur.” Both descriptions fit Riley.

And Andrea knows which cartoon character: “Riley loves blankets. She drags them around and wraps herself up in them and runs around wearing them. If I’d known, I would’ve called her Linus.”

“She’s like a little kid with her baby blanket,” Mike says. “And that ballerina stance of hers—” Riley’s dancer stance, her front paws the epitome of perfect turnout, is another of her endearing traits.

“She’s a joyful dog,” he says. “She wants to play and wrestle, and she has a never-give-up mentality.” When Riley wants a cookie, Riley gets a cookie. She will ask and persist and jump on Mike’s chair and (coon)hound him until he hands over.

She can create her own fun. On a jaunt to the beach, all the dogs except Riley dashed in for a swim. She couldn’t swim, so she trotted to the water’s edge and started digging in the sand. What fun! When the paddling dogs noticed she was having a better time than they were, they splashed back to shore to join her sand-flinging spree.

Even asleep, she’s funny. And limber. She stretches and twists and tucks herself into unlikely postures, including a particularly diverting one-hind-leg-over-the-head pose.

“There is not a day that goes by that she does not make us laugh,” Andrea says.

“Riley didn’t get a gift,” says Mike. “She became one.”

Freelance writer KL Snyder, who hadn’t met a Bluetick Coonhound, believes the breed couldn’t have a better representative than Riley.

Working around the cat

Riley, a rescued Bluetick Coonhound employed at Comfortex Inc., Winona, isn’t the only furry four-legged hire. Company owners Mike Murphy and Andrea Terek consider their other four dogs and their fosters, too, part of the business team.

Likewise the Comfortex cats are team members and excel at their calling of preventing human workers from sitting too close to their computers. Andrea says it’s company policy for cats to stretch out between people and computers. “We call it working around the cat.”

The human employees love having the pets around, says Mike. “It’s kind of therapeutic.”

He and Andrea foster dogs from several shelters in Minnesota and Wisconsin.  Whenever a foster leaves, Andrea cries. Though she and Mike love all dogs, they acknowledge having a favorite variety, and that is rescue dogs.

You can see Riley and her canine coworkers, too, at