Riley the "Dipsea Dog" Honored on Dipsea Steps

Riley The Dipsea Dog

This is the time of year that we traditionally count our blessings and give our thanks.

This then is the perfect time to tell you about a caring man and an inspirational dog and how the Dipsea Trail and Dipsea Race connects them. This is not a dog and pony show.

After Thanksgiving, Craig Sultan of Mill Valley has invited a group of close friends to meet with him at the bottom of the second flight of the famed Dipsea Stairs for a special ceremony for his dog, Riley. Riley is a lab/pointer mix that Craig and his family saved from a second chance rescue as a puppy.

He will be forever known as the Dipsea Dog.

Riley celebrated his 14th birthday in October and Craig, a veteran Dipsea race runner and fixture on the Dipsea Trail, wanted to thank his dog, in fact memorialize him, by purchasing a Dipsea step for Riley. The Dipsea Race Foundation is in the process of renovating the second flight of the Dipsea Stairs as the final phase of a steps project that has successfully repaired and refurbished the first and third flights.

Craig received a personalized bronzed plaque from the Dipsea Race Foundation that will be mounted on Riley’s step.

Consider this one small step for man’s best friend. One large step for mankind.

“The Dipsea is an iconic race unique to Mill Valley and our life here,” Craig explains. “This is a special place we shared with Riley. He got us into good shape as he loved to take on these steps and trail. Riley was a motivator for us to get out and exercise.”

If every dog has his day, then this is Riley’s. The post-Thanksgiving ceremony is going to be a retirement party for him. Craig estimates that Riley in his lifetime has completed 27 runs up and down the mountain along the Dipsea Trail from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach. Craig figures that Riley has covered more than 200 miles and 18,000 steps. Riley earned his specially designed homemade “Dipsea Survival T-Shirt” upon completing his last run.

As someone once said, “Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.”

Unfortunately, this is where this story turns sad. Riley is as sick as a dog as few have been. He has cancer again. He has survived two previous battles with cancer, beginning first at the age of 10, but Craig fears Riley’s luck and age is catching up with him.

Riley has had way too many dog days to overcome and more lives than a cat.

“Riley has been an amazing life fighter,” Craig says. “His growing liabilities started with arthritis in the spine and rear legs then Cushings disease. We gave him a drug that miraculously he responded very well to.”

“Then about two years ago he developed adrenal cancer. The vet gave him no more than three months to live.  We fed him more of a raw food diet, we discovered that he likes fermented foods -- and the new drugs -- all of which seemed to extend his life.  Then he developed lymphoma cancer under a year ago, with more drugs in his diet.  Then he developed melanoma with a huge tumor in his jaw, risky surgery for removal, about April 2016.  He has been on a series of immune therapy enhancement cancer treatments and a basket of drugs he takes every week.   He is clearly slowing down and that cancer in his throat has grown with a vengeance.   We don’t think he has much more time left.”

Yet Riley is still game. As Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”

If so, Riley is the Rocky Balboa of dogs.

Riley was destined for greatness as a puppy from the day Craig and his daughter, Ariel, picked his name out of the Mill Valley Middle School directory where Ariel went to school. This was not a random choice, however.

“My research concluded that a dog best responds to a name which has two syllables ending with an “eee” sound,” Craig says.

That was about the time Craig got real serious about running. In 2002, he ran his first marathon when he turned 40. Afterward, his physician, Gerald Freedman, an avid Dipsea Race runner, turned him onto the Dipsea Trail. Riley was right at Craig’s side from the start.

“I liked the trail running and found it required a lot of focus, but it was a bit lonely and difficult to find a partner,” Craig says. “My wife Debbie suggested taking Riley out for a run when he was still a puppy. I greatly enjoyed the company and Riley seemed willing and capable of doing the trail without getting lost.”

Not only did Craig and Riley fast become running partners, but they would occasionally hitch-hike together from Stinson Beach back to Mill Valley. This is this dog’s life, a free ride home as a reward for a rigorous run.

“He has been my pal, greeter, and always open to hanging out, whether it be for running when he could,” Craig says. “Riley loved joining me as a ‘joy rider’ on car rides for errands or sleeping in front of the speaker as we watch TV, or being a partner at work and running to the door when I called out ‘work day,’ ”

If dog is indeed man’s best friend than Riley has made Craig a better man. Craig and Ariel saved Riley’s life in Second Chance Rescue and Riley has returned the favor by enhancing Craig’s lifestyle. You may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but Craig was always able to teach Riley new trails.

“Riley was an always eager and willing hiking and running partner,” Craig says. “Riley’s need to get out on the trails, which he loved all around Mill Valley, further encouraged me and my family to go out and exercise and explore the trails of Marin. He was always there by my side or nearby without a leash required. I never had to go looking for him while running the Dipsea Trail.”

Not then, not now, not tomorrow. Whenever Craig runs the Dipsea Trail from here on out, he will be forever reminded of Riley’s spirit through Riley’s plaque and Riley’s step. He is The Dipsea Dog.

“I think dogs are the most amazing creatures,” Gilda Radner once said. “They give unconditional love. For me, they are the role model for being alive.”

Visit the Dipsea Race Foundation website at DipseaFoundation.org.