'She's happy': Memphis dog, Riona, on road to recovery two months after being set on fire

·3 min read

In June, the story of a dog in the Nutbush area being set on fire garnered the attention of local and national news media as well as the sympathies of thousands on social media. Now, Riona, the 1-year-old pitbull mix, is two months into her recovery process and was set to undergo another major surgical procedure Thursday to heal her burns.

When Riona was brought to Bluff City Veterinary Specialists, the clinic currently overseeing her treatment, she suffered from fourth-degree burns covering most of her left side. Over the last two months, vet staff have been treating her wounds, and, though she lost her left ear, they were able to save her left eye.

“But she’s actually kind of cute with one ear,” said Ginger Natoli, founder of Tails of Hope Dog Rescue, the organization taking on Riona’s case. “It makes her personality cute.”

This week, Riona is undergoing what will likely be the longest and most expensive stage of her treatment. The veterinary surgeon will insert a saline pack under a large portion of her healthy skin, which can then be slowly filled externally through a tube, expanding the skin. They will then use this new skin to cover her burns.

Riona, a one-year-old Pitbull mix, is on the mend after being set on fire two months ago.
Riona, a one-year-old Pitbull mix, is on the mend after being set on fire two months ago.

According to Natoli, this is the best option for Riona, allowing less chance of infection or of the transplant being rejected.

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Vet staff estimate a full recovery could take between four and six months, but she is well on her way there. In the meantime, though she still cannot be around other dogs due to risk of infection, she is receiving heaps of love from the staff and her many admirers.

“She’s getting lots and lots of attention from everywhere,” Natoli said. “She’s had gifts and toys come in from literally all over the world.”

There has also been plenty of interest in the legal outcome of Riona’s case.

Last month, Quishon Brown, 43, was arrested and is now being charged with felony counts of aggravated cruelty to animals and setting fire to personal property and a misdemeanor count of assault. His bail, initially set at $5,000, has since been increased to $150,000 after he was recorded making threatening remarks against reporters during a court hearing. 

Two other dogs were rescued from Brown’s home, also handled by Tails of Hope. A Chihuahua, Macy, has already been adopted, and the larger dog, Rubi, is staying with a foster family while they search for a suitable permanent home for her.

Brown’s next court date is set for Aug. 30, and he is scheduled for a mental evaluation of his ability to stand trial. Natoli posts updates about the case on the organization’s Facebook page but said she sometimes has to remind commenters to be mindful of their responses.

“A lot of people in the public are getting very upset. People that don’t understand how the system works. We’ve been trying to keep everybody calm and try to explain to them the best we can through our Facebook posts that this is going exactly the way it should be going.”

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Social media and post sharing have played a big part in spreading Riona’s story, and Tails of Hope’s Facebook page continues to be flooded with comments of support and donations. One of her caretakers at the clinic has even created a TikTok account for her — justice4riona — that has amassed nearly 350,000 followers.

The posts and videos are filled with comments from people who have been following Riona’s story and have become invested in her journey, saying that they always look forward to updates.

Natoli said many have “taken Riona under their wing” and get inspiration from her progress.

“Probably one of the worst things in the world that could’ve happened to a dog happened to her, and she’s forgetting. She’s happy.”

Niki Scheinberg is an intern at The Commercial Appeal. She can be reached at monika.scheinberg@commercialappeal.com.

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Riona's journey: Memphis dog set on fire continues on road to recovery