7 min read

Dog Whose Owner Died Wouldn't Look At Anyone — Until He Met This Man

“He was just facing a corner, wouldn’t look at anybody, wouldn’t respond to his name and was really having a tough time with losing everything he had ever known.”

Most dogs can have a difficult time adjusting to shelter life, but after living in a loving home for over a decade, this 10-year-old golden retriever mix was clearly shutting down.

Rio the golden retriever mix in his kennel
Detroit Dog Rescue

It didn’t take long for shelter workers to realize that what Rio was going through was not normal.

Since his arrival at the Detroit municipal shelter, he wouldn’t eat, shuddered at the slightest human touch or pet, and, what’s worse, he wouldn’t turn away from the wall.

Rio’s owner had suddenly passed away, leaving the pup all alone. So instead of living out his golden years in comfort, Rio found himself in a loud kennel, far removed from the only life he’d ever known.

Rio the saddest dog in Detroit
Detroit Dog Rescue

Hanging his head in the corner hour after hour, Rio seemed to be in mourning, ready to just give up.

Employees at Detroit Animal Care and Control knew they had to act fast or possibly lose Rio forever, so they called Detroit Dog Rescue (DDR).

“We take on [the shelter’s] tougher medical and mental health cases, so dogs who may be shutting down or suffering from kennel neurosis,” Kristina Millman-Rinaldi, executive director of Detroit Dog Rescue, told The Dodo. “A lot of people don’t realize what intuitive and sensitive creatures dogs are. They sense, like humans, everything that’s happening around them.”

By the time Rio entered DDR, he had already earned himself a reputation as “the saddest dog In Detroit.” And, true to his nickname, Rio continued spiralling toward depression.

Rio at the dog shelter
Detroit Dog Rescue

“He was not being reactive to anybody,” Millman-Rinaldi said. “He was just facing a corner, wouldn’t look at anybody, wouldn’t respond to his name and was really having a tough time with losing everything he had ever known.”

Millman-Rinaldi knew that placing Rio in a foster home, and giving him back some semblance of normalcy, would be his best chance at survival, so she made a call. Some people may have hesitated to take on such a difficult older dog, but for DDR field volunteer Ryan Callahan and his wife Tashia, there wasn’t a question in their mind.

Ryan Callahan

“It was just right dog, right place, right time,” Callahan told The Dodo. “He needed us, and we were able to provide the one-on-one time he needed.” Despite caring for another DDR foster and their two family dogs at the time, they picked up Rio from the shelter the snowy night before Valentine’s Day and brought him home.

For the first time, Rio didn't shirk away.

Rio meets his foster dad Ryan Callahan
Detroit Dog Rescue

To make sure Rio was comfortable, they made him his very own special room — in Callahan’s home office.

For the past week, Callahan, who works from home, has spent each day with Rio at his feet, and every day Rio relaxes a little bit more. Rio now loves to sit on Callahan’s lap, and will even look him in the eyes, relishing his new person.

Ryan Callahan

“I don’t know if it’s becoming more familiar with my wife and I, or learning that he’s still loved, but over the last week, he’s gone from not leaving the corner of the room and howling nonstop to sleeping through the day,” Callahan said. “Every time we walk by him, he wags his tail, and he loves going for walks in the woods with us.”

Callahan’s theory as to why Rio has made such great strides is a simple one: “I think he just needed a place in someone’s life.”

Rio in his foster home
Ryan Callahan

“My hope is that he doesn’t have to go another day wondering where he is or what is happening around him,” Callahan said. “That his new life — whatever that ends up being — is even better than his last one.”

After all Rio has been through, Callahan and the DDR team are taking their time when it comes to deciding what the dog’s future may hold — going at Rio’s pace. But hopes are high for the senior pup who only a short time ago wouldn’t lift his head.

Ryan Callahan

“My hopes are that he finds his place, finds his purpose again, and we’re going to help put him back together,” Millman-Rinaldi added. “He has obviously suffered a tremendous loss, but we are going to help make him whole again.”

To help dogs like Rio, you can make a donation to Detroit Dog Rescue or apply to be a foster here.