Her copper coat still shimmers in the sun, but Riley’s dark, kind eyes blink through a face of white, as if she’s just been powered for an Elizabethan party. At 15, she is regal, part stately golden retriever, part squat, howling Basset hound. When students walk by Riley sits, then lolls on her side, and performs a dual role she’s become famous for: giving, and receiving, endless amounts of love.
Riley has been visiting Furman University and its students nearly every day for 10 years. You’ll find her with her humans, Dave and Kathy Knox, on the patio outside the Trone Student Center, on the Duke Library steps, or hanging out under the big shady oak tree outside the Dining Hall where the Knoxes placed a tasteful little monument. It reads: “Thank you to all the Furman students who pet me daily. I love giving you ‘fur therapy’.”
Riley is synonymous with joy, but her career was set in motion late one tragic night. The Knoxes’ son, Jeff Knox, is a 2001 Furman graduate who had a career in computer science in Greenville. In 2007, he tried to stop his roommate from driving drunk; instead, the truck she was driving ran over him, crushing bones in his face and skull. A lung collapsed and he lay in a coma with brain damage. The Knoxes didn’t know if Jeff would survive, or what kind of life he might have if he did.
Jeff had volunteered at an animal shelter, and someone working there sent therapy dogs to visit him in his hospital room. A golden retriever named Cassie climbed up on his bed. Jeff’s mom put his hand on Cassie’s leg, and for the first time in three months, Jeff moved. He started petting Cassie. The power of touch. The power of a dog.
While the Knoxes helped their son recover (he now lives independently and works parttime), they also wanted to put good back into the world. They looked for a dog near their home in Seneca, South Carolina, that they could train to become a therapy worker. They wanted a dog like Cassie, but smaller, one they could pick up and put on someone’s bed. They found Riley, about a year old, at the local shelter. She was perfect.
After becoming a Canine Good Citizen and earning other therapy-related certifications, Riley started visiting Alzheimer’s patients in a nursing home and children at the library during reading time. A few years later, the Knoxes moved to Greenville, and the trio – Kathy, Dave and Riley – began visiting campus daily.
“It makes us feel good, that we’re doing something to help with students,” said Kathy, a retired elementary school teacher. She jokes about Riley’s extended student status, how after 10 years of coming to campus, the tuition bills are really piling up.
“If (Riley) can help brighten a student’s day just a little bit and that student feels even a fraction of what I felt when that therapy dog touched Jeff, then that gives me a lot of satisfaction and happiness,” said Dave, a retired radiation therapy physicist. “And the fact that Riley does not know she is retired and still loves being a therapy dog makes me happy, too.”
The Knoxes also want everyone to know that something positive can come out of the most negative situation.
Maddy Paterson ’25 remembers one day during finals. She spent about 10 hours in the library studying. When she walked outside, Riley’s was the first fuzzy face she saw. “I gave her a little pat and it made me feel better, even though I was stressed and tired,” she said. Riley reminds her of her three dogs back home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
“She’s just a little light, look at her,” said Ashley Johnson ’26. “She’s just so cute. She’s always there. She’s a part of Furman.”
Riley takes medication for a heart condition, but she still loves going to work. She gets recognized, not only on campus but around Greenville. On Aug. 8, Riley will turn 16. You can bet she’ll be at work that day, giving, and receiving, love.