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A heartwarming tail: Memphis dog Riona makes first appearance after being set on fire

Commercial Appeal Memphis 12/4/2022 Omer Yusuf, Memphis Commercial Appeal

Six months into recovery after being set on fire by her owner, 1-year-old pitbull mix Riona made her first public appearance Saturday.

The Memphis dog appeared at animal rescue Tails of Hope’s event at Hollywood Feed, 434 Collins St., as she met and took pictures with her admirers and fans. The annual fundraiser for Tails of Hope also included the opportunity for pets to get their photo with Santa.

Tails of Hope founder Ginger Natoli said Riona is doing “great.” Riona recently had her second and final skin grafting two weeks ago and had her staples removed. For the first time since her injuries, she’s without bandages and responding well to treatment.

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“She’s well enough to go out and meet the public,” Natoli said.

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Over the past few months, social media has amplified Riona’s story particularly through Tails of Hope’s Facebook page. Natoli said her story has spread worldwide with Riona being featured in newspapers in Germany and the Netherlands.

Riona, the dog set on fire by her owner a couple months ago has recovered and made her first appearance since the incident, decked out in Christmas attire at Hollywood Feed. © Stu Boyd II-The Commercial Appeal Riona, the dog set on fire by her owner a couple months ago has recovered and made her first appearance since the incident, decked out in Christmas attire at Hollywood Feed.

Tails of Hope, founded in 2010, is a preferred placement partner of Memphis Animal Services, usually taking on medical cases of animals that are injured like Riona and need treatment before they can be adopted. 

A caretaker at Bluff City Veterinary Specialists has created a TikTok for Riona, justice4riona, that has amassed nearly 438,000 followers. 

Bluff City Veterinary Specialists is overseeing Riona’s treatment. Riona suffered fourth-degree burns covering most of her left side. Though she lost her left ear as a result of her injuries, they were able to save her left eye. In July, 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.

Mallory Mclemore, manager of Bluff City Veterinary Specialists, is currently fostering Riona. The two both dressed up in festive gear for the holiday season as they met with pet owners and their pets Saturday.

Riona, the dog set on fire by her owner a couple months ago has recovered and made her first appearance since the incident, decked out in Christmas attire at Hollywood Feed. © Stu Boyd II-The Commercial Appeal Riona, the dog set on fire by her owner a couple months ago has recovered and made her first appearance since the incident, decked out in Christmas attire at Hollywood Feed.

“It’s crazy to see how far her story has spread,” Mclemore said. “We made a TikTok and we’re hoping for a couple hundred people to follow it and to have almost 500,000 people on there is just insane. I know a lot of people have traveled from other states, traveling 10-12 hours to get here. It’s amazing to see how many people love her like we do.”

Mclemore said Riona has had at least four major surgeries since June. She said when Riona first arrived to them in the summer she was pretty reserved and friendly, but now pretty much gives kisses to everyone.

“She’s always had a really good deposition,” Mclemore said. “She was a little more shy when we first got here, and now she is wide open and ready to take on the world and love everybody. Definitely good to see just how open she has become throughout all this experience.”

Commercial Appeal reporter Niki Scheinberg contributed to this story.

Omer Yusuf covers the Ford project in Haywood County, residential real estate and tourism for The Commercial Appeal. He can be reached via email Omer.Yusuf@commercialappeal.com or followed on Twitter @OmerAYusuf.

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: A heartwarming tail: Memphis dog Riona makes first appearance after being set on fire

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