No wonder they call them man’s best friend. My dog Riley earned his keep for years to come last night. I stayed up late watching TV, and apparently forgot to close up our back door when I went to bed. At 4:30 a.m. I was awakened by a horrible, loud commotion, a jumble of creepy howling and dogs barking. Groggy, I slowly came out of a deep sleep when I finally realized it was coming from my house — from my own dog — and shook my husband awake. “Who’s dog is that?” he asked, not recognizing Riley’s howling either. I told him it was our dog, and we both rubbed away the sleepiness as we quickly realized that something was very wrong. When we stumbled out of bed to investigate, we found Riley atop the back steps, hackles up, yowling and barking aggressively at something — or someone — in our backyard. His howl was the sort of spine-tingling howl-at-the-moon call that riled up the other neighborhood dogs, and a chorus of angry pups had joined in sounding the alarm.

I think I would have been more frightened had I not still been half asleep. It didn’t sink in that our flimsy screen door had been the only thing between us and whoever was prowling around the alley and yard last night until a good 15 minutes later, after hubby explained it to me for the third time. Riley didn’t settle down until my husband got dressed, grabbed a heavy-duty flashlight (for the light, as well as the security of having something solid in his hand to clobber a burglar if necessary) and they both gave the all-clear for the entire alleyway. I’m certain that Riley — our very docile, 90-pound sweetheart who lets the kitten steal his big dog bed when she wants it — scared off someone who was clearly up to no good last night. I’ll be sure to lock the back door from now on, but I have to say that I’m awfully proud of my four-legged protector. We’ll be hitting the Chatfield dog park and buying lots of doggie cookies this week, for sure.