Casey Martin/The Ithaca Voice

The Ithaca Outdoor Store mourns the passing of its iconic dog, Riley, who passed away aged 10 on Aug. 9.

August 14, 2023

Ithaca Commons Staple Riley the Dog Passes Away

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Riley, the well-known golden retriever who often roamed the Commons, passed away on the night of Aug. 9. She was 10 years old.

The announcement was made Wednesday evening on Riley’s Instagram account. The account posted a picture of Riley and stated, “Thanks for all the love RyRy. Rest in peace.”

Dan Philipson, owner of Riley and the Ithaca Outdoor Store on the Commons that served as her daily headquarters, said he wasn’t ready to comment.

“When she was a pup, [Philipson] brought her out,” said Lou Cassaniti, the owner of Lou’s Street Food and formerly the owner of a hot dog cart on the Commons. “[For] a good 10 years, she used to sit by my cart every day. […] Everybody wanted to feed her. Even the city officials would come over and say hello to Riley. She was quite an attraction.”

Cassaniti acknowledged that, at times, Riley’s presence brought some pushback. In 2018, Riley’s owner Dan Philipson received two $25 tickets for violating city codes regarding the lack of a leash on Riley. In 2017, Cassaniti faced threats from the city to move his cart elsewhere due to Cassaniti’s habit of calling an unleashed Riley to his out of the store and to his stand for food scraps.

However, Riley found love with Ithaca’s residents, who often came to the Outdoor Store to play with her and hang out. Riley’s Instagram account had accumulated over 3,000 followers for documenting Riley and her sister Lulu’s time hanging around the store and adventures in Ithaca Commons.

“People love her, I’ve heard several times that people only come in the store because they wanted to say hi — lots of people know her, and have known her for years,” said Rebecca Veninsky, an employee at The Outdoor Store, in a 2018 interview with The Ithaca Voice.

Cassaniti echoed Veninsky’s sentiments, saying Riley was well-loved not only by Ithacans, but by students as well.

Lou Cassaniti, now the owner and proprietor of Lou’s Street Food in Center Ithaca, would often feed Riley from his hot dog cart on the Commons.

“Everybody wanted to know who [Riley] was,” Cassaniti said. “And of course, everyone assumed she was my dog. All the students would come and pet her. She was just such a wonderful companion.”

Philipson provided a written copy of the most recent caption on Riley’s Instagram account, which affirms support for the Tompkins County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals — a no-kill shelter that works to protect companion animals and encourage responsible pet stewardship.

“One last thing, Riley was a fan of the Tompkins County SPCA,” the statement said.

Jonathan Mong and Julia Senzon are reporters from the Cornell Daily Sun working on The Sun’s summer fellowship at The Ithaca Voice. This piece was originally published in The Ithaca Voice.