Spotlight 360: Dr. Samantha Rivera

By Amanda Roland
Dr. Samantha

There is no doubt that Dr. Samantha Rivera, a veterinarian at Haile Plantation Animal Hospital has a love for animals. As a veterinarian, her job is to care for other people’s animals, but, at home, she loves and cares deeply for all her animals, including Scuba and Saba. Rivera, together with Scuba, compete in Dock Diving and Canicross. With Saba cheering them on, Rivera and Scuba will be competing in the May 2020 U.S. Canine Biathlon. They have their eyes set on their goals and having fun!

How do you live a 360life?

Balance! My career as a veterinarian is my passion, but it can be stressful at times. Taking the time to work out that energy by running trails or splashing in the water at the beach with the dogs keeps everybody happy and healthy. It makes our couch snuggle time all the more deserved.

What is your wellness mantra?

Work hard and rush slowly. Always do your best, aim for better, but don’t forget to enjoy the ride along the way.

Tell us about your dogs.

Scuba is a 6-year-old “Coconut Retriever” (mutt) who I found as a 5-week-old puppy while I was at veterinary school at Ross University in Saint Kitts and Nevis. He kept me sane through school, forcing me to take study breaks, walks, runs and beach breaks to decompress. Scuba traveled with me to the United States – up and down the East Coast to finally settle in Gainesville where we have now been for over four years. He has been my rock since day one and I don’t know where I would be without him.

Saba is a 5-year-old “Florida Black Dog” (mutt) who I adopted from Haile’s Angels Pet Rescue, which I work closely with. She was surrendered to Lake City Animal Services with her puppy in 2016. Although I see lots of adoptable animals every day, when I saw Saba, it was love at first sight. She reminded me of Scuba, and they instantly became best friends. Saba is the sweetest dog I know and very intelligent. She learned all her tricks by watching Scuba and taught herself to open doors!

samantha's dogs

What is dock diving? How long have you been doing this with your dogs?

Dock Diving is a canine sport where dogs of all shapes and sizes run down a long dock and jump as far or as high as they can into a pool to retrieve a toy. Scuba actually taught me what dock diving was when we lived in Saint Kitts of Nevis back in 2014. We would swim out to a floating dock and Scuba would run and jump into the water to retrieve his favorite bumper. Knowing we were heading back to the U.S., I started looking up places he could continue to swim; that’s when I happened across Canine Dock Diving. Although we have been dock diving for six years, we didn’t join official competitions until 2018. Saba loves to swim, too, but would much rather gracefully wade into the water via the pool ramp to chase Scuba, so she doesn’t officially compete.

Tell us about the biathlons.

After seeing how much Scuba loved dock diving, I started looking into other canine sports. That’s when I found Canicross. Canicross is essentially cross-country running with your dog. It’s more popular in Europe, but more and more competitions seem to be popping up across the US.

I saw a friend from vet school had posted about the U.S. Canine Biathlon in Anniston, AL, and I instantly signed up. I had run quite a few 5K races with Scuba, but this was the first I had seen that had obstacles. Mud runs and obstacle course races are very popular for humans, but having a course set up to allow for both human and canine teams to be challenged is very rare. The race is 4+ miles and 40+ water and dry obstacles to challenge you and your canine’s teamwork skills. Hundreds of teams compete for awards and just for fun. It’s an incredible bonding experience that tests your team’s trust and athleticism in a canine friendly and fun environment.

What is your goal in your events? Next races etc.

We will be competing in the May 2020 U.S. Canine Biathlon and my goal is to keep up with the dogs and beat last year’s time! Scuba is always checking back to see why I am not moving faster as he loves passing others on the course. He has perfected his run, but there’s always room for improvement on the human end of the leash.

During this upcoming dock diving season our goal is just to continue to have fun. Scuba just LOVES to be on the dock chasing his toy, and Saba LOVES to join him in the pool, so the more splashes we get, the happier we are. Even if we never receive a ribbon or compete in official competitions, it’s still so rewarding to see both pups excited to do lap after lap in the pool.

What do you love about being a pet owner?

I love everything about my pets. They are truly my children. Every drop of love, care and training I put into them is given back to me exponentially in their love.

What has owning pets taught you?

Having pets has taught me the true meaning of commitment. It’s easy to provide the basic necessities, but the more time and dedication you put into making their lives more fulfilled, the more my own life is fulfilled!

What is your favorite food?

I have so many it’s hard to pick, but my guilty pleasure is potato chips and dip!

What are your dogs’ favorite foods?

Anything and everything edible.

What is your favorite vacation spot?

The beach! Especially dog friendly beaches such as St. Augustine and Fort De Soto Park.

What is your favorite local restaurant?

Dragonfly Sushi