Girl’s Best Friend: From Paralyzed to 46er

If you had hiked Porter Mountain with 6-year-old Ryley Riggs a couple weeks ago (it was his 26th of the 46 Adirondack High Peaks), your biggest thought might have been, “Wow, this dog is in better shape than I am.”

And, you would have probably been right.

Ryley, along with owner-slash-best-friend Amanda Riggs, has been hiking for most of his life and has put down more miles than most humans. Especially considering that, at least briefly, he was paralyzed.

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We thought someone had tried to break into the house.

On a regular January morning in 2015, Amanda and Riley went up Owl Head lookout in Elizabethtown, New York. The five-mile round trip was hardly even a hike, compared to the 20-plus milers the pair had taken on in the past. They returned home later than morning, and then, Amanda left for the day.

When she got home that evening, Ryley was shaking uncontrollably and clingy. “We thought someone had tried to break into the house,” Amanda told us. Clearly something was wrong, but at the time, Amanda assumed it was external. By the next morning, when he showed no improvement, Amanda took Ryley to the vet, where he was diagnosed with a simple pulled muscle in his back – some medication and a heating pad should do the trick.

But by the following morning, things were far worse. Ryley was completely unable to move his back legs, paralyzed in the lower half of his body.

Back at the vet and after an X-ray and CT scan, Ryley was shown to have a compressed disc between his vertebrae, a consequence of IVDD, or intervertebral disc disorder. “We pretty much had the choice of leaving him paralyzed or giving him a chance to do surgery,” Amanda said. It was an easy decision.

He’s a totally different dog out there on the trails…

Ryley during his first hike post-surgery.
Ryley during his first hike post-surgery.

After a three-hour surgery and a day of rest later, Ryley was home with Amanda, but the hard part was just beginning. Aside from providing constant medication, Amanda and her boyfriend spent time every few hours moving Ryley’s still-immobile legs, carrying him outside to use the bathroom, and eventually bringing him to physical therapy three days every week. On top of all that, a harness he wore to help him walk created a hotspot on his stomach that became infected and required 13 stitches and a drainage tube to remedy.

But for Amanda, all of this was worth it. “He’s a totally different dog out there on the trails; he just loves being outside,” she said. “It really means everything to him.” Unwilling to lose her hiking partner, Amanda gave up her own trail time for months while Ryley recovered.

A week after he got home, Ryley’s legs started to take weight, and eventually he began to walk. Then in June 2015, five months after surgery, Ryley was back in the mountains, taking shorter hikes at first, and very quickly worked back to his former self.

Amanda and Ryley
Amanda and Ryley

Amanda, already an Adirondack 46er, hopes to see Ryley finish his high peaks this summer and fall, something that almost wasn’t possible. Luckily for them both, Ryley is back at full strength, hiking as much as, if not more than, he was before the surgery and showing no signs of ever having slowed down.

“He jumps over sticks and up rocks and over boulders like any other dog,” Amanda said. “It’s crazy!”