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The once stray pup provided love and support to his human while he healed from football injuries.
Where other people may have seen a stray mutt, Scooby Wright saw potential. Now an NFL rookie drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the seventh round, Scooby was playing for the University of Arizona when he first laid eyes on his rescue dog, Riggins. A former underdog himself, he’d been underestimated by scouts before becoming one of the top college football players in the country. He knew what it was like to be overlooked. What he didn’t know was that his new rescue puppy would soon be helping him overcome injuries that threatened his future on the football field.
“He kind of kept my sanity,” says Scooby, who suffered a torn meniscus and sprained ankle just months after a Facebook post brought Riggins into his life.
“Someone said they had found a dog — that a puppy had just walked up to their house,” Scooby recalls.
It was June, and the little dog’s paw pads had burned on the hot Tucson asphalt. He weighed just 17 pounds, and his ribs were visible. Not wanting to see the young pup (a presumed Pit Bull) end up in a shelter, Scooby didn’t hesitate to adopt him.
“I was like, ‘I’ll just take him,’ and then we just never looked back.”
An animal lover at heart, Scooby grew up with his parents’ English Bulldog, Rocco, but left his canine buddy behind in his native California when he moved to Tucson for college. He’d known the love of a family dog, but this would be different. This lost puppy would really belong to him and his girlfriend.
They called the pup Riggins — a name familiar to fans of actor Taylor Kitsch and the football drama Friday Night Lights. As handsome as the character who shares his name, young Riggins often caught the eye of passing strangers, including one woman Scooby remembers clearly. She approached Scooby and his girlfriend as they were walking Riggins through a park.
“She said, ‘I don’t want to freak you out or anything, but I’ve seen your dog before,’” the linebacker recalls. “She told us that her uncle was the biggest fighting-dog breeder in Tucson and that she specifically recognized Riggins.”
According to the woman, Riggins wasn’t a Pit Bull or a Boxer like Scooby believed, but rather an American Staffordshire–French Mastiff mix. A DNA test later proved her right, lending credence to the rest of her story.
It seemed the pup had somehow escaped a life of dog fighting, and would instead help his new human fight to get back on the football field.
In September 2015, during Arizona’s first game of the season, Scooby suffered a knee injury that would require surgery and missed the first three games of the season. During his first game back, he suffered another injury, this time hurting his right foot. With his girlfriend studying at a different university and his parents nearly 1,000 miles away in Northern California, Scooby was grateful for the rescue puppy who had become his tail-wagging cheerleader.
“I didn’t have my family around, but I had Riggins,” he explains. “I woke up super early and went to rehab and hung out with him when I got done with rehab.”
According to Scooby, Riggins acted as his emotional support animal during his recovery period and helped him stay positive as his body healed.
“Any time I would come home after I had been gone for a few hours, he was so happy to see me,” Scooby recalls. “He kind of kept my sanity.”
Unable to exercise Riggins himself, Scooby asked a friend to run Riggins around campus. When Scooby was back on his feet, his energetic dog was right by his side, ready to follow him anywhere — even to the football stadium.
Scooby says Riggins has grown from a lost little puppy into a wonderful, friendly 95-pound dog. Unfortunately, Riggins size and bully-type appearance mean he’s often misjudged. Scooby says Riggins has been the victim of breed bias, with people incorrectly judging him as a threat.
“But he’s the nicest dog in the world,” says Scooby.
Riggins did his part to help Scooby reach his dream of playing in the NFL, and now, the heavyweight lap dog has inspired a second dream. When the time comes for Scooby to retire from football, he plans to open an animal rescue farm for other underdogs like Riggins who deserve a second chance.
Top photo: Riggins courtesy clevelandbrowns.com.
Heather is a wife, new mom, and former TV journalist in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. You can follow Heather on Twitter and Google+.
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