The end of the Sly Dog

by Jeff Miller of Artisan Family of Wines (Seven Artisans, Sly Dog Cellars, Red Côte)

jeff-smMy wife, Beryl,  was driving down the road we live on in Napa when she saw this dog wandering along the road.  She stopped to ask some people near by if the dog was theirs, but it wasn’t.  She hadn’t closed the door to her car, and when she got back into the car, there was the dog in the passenger seat, happy and at home.

Beryl found an animal hotel near by, where she parked the dog until we could find a good home for it.  They christened her Georgie.

We’d always been cat people, so we really had no interest in introducing our cats to a big dog.   So we tried to find a home for Georgie, but without any luck.  Georgie, like all pit bulls, suffered from the bad reputation that that breed has.

So, somewhat reluctantly, we decided to see how Georgie would get along with our cats.  Well, they took to each other without any problem, and they all became fast friends.

So that was out first dog.

Georgie was something of a pig.  She’d eat anything.  Including grapes.  So she’d sneak into the vineyard, as our Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was ripening, and chomp away.  Very expensive dog food, but what could we do?  Supposedly, grapes aren’t good for dogs, but they never seemed to bother Georgie.  At any rate, she became the Sly Dog that eventually found its way onto our wine labels.

Several years later, I was taking Georgie out for a walk in Los Angeles when I saw a lone dog coming down the street from the other direction.  I quickly put Georgie back in our apartment, and went downstairs to see what was going on with the dog.  I found him right outside our building.  He was a little frightened, but obviously in pretty bad shape.  He let me pick him up and I brought him inside.

He, too, was a pit bull, and we didn’t even bother to try to find a home for him, since we knew, from our experience with Georgie, that that would be well-neigh impossible.  We did place an ad in the Los Angeles Times to see if he belonged to anyone that would claim him, but no one did.

So that was our second defog.  We named him Kingsley, after the street where we found him.

He wasn’t the chow hound that Georgie was, but he nonetheless also acquired the habit of sneaking into the vineyard to savor our Cabernet Sauvignon.

When Georgie died a few years ago, Kingsley inherited the mantel of the Sly Dog.

So Kingsley lived something of charmed life, going from being abandoned on the streets of Los Angeles to the life of Riley living in a house in a Napa Valley vineyard.

At least that was the case until about a month ago.  Some disturbing signs led us to take him to the vet.  After a few series of tests, they decided they needed an ultrasound to try to figure out what was wrong.  The results couldn’t have been worse—advanced liver cancer.

The rest of the story was, sadly, similar to the ends of our many other pets.  There was nothing to do but keep him as comfortable as possible for as long as possible.  That involved ever increasing doses of pain pills and various and sundry other mediations, trying to stave off the inevitable.

The inevitable arrived yesterday.  We’d been battling with the decision of when it was time.  I’d been in favor of calling an end to it for several days, but Beryl was reluctant, so we did nothing.  Finally, yesterday, Beryl acknowledged the obvious.

We took Kingsley to the vet.  He was actually in better shape than he’d been for several days.  I started to have second thoughts, and we got our primary vet on the phone.  The bottom line was that if you don’t do it on a “good” day, you’ll end up doing it on a bad day, which will come all too soon.  Much better to do it quickly and mercifully than wait what would only be a few days with more suffering in the interim.

So I fed him the dog treats that the loved until the drugs did their job, and he was gone.

I don’t know whether I did it too soon, but the truth of the matter is that you can’t get what you really want.  What you would want most of all is to postpone it until the moment just before things become bad enough that you can’t postpone it any more.  But that precise moment is impossible to determine until it’s past.  Between doing it too soon or too late, too soon is by far the better choice.  I feel good about my decision, because the thing I feared most was his suffering.  He’d probably already had more discomfort that I would have liked, but at least he didn’t have any unmanageable pain.  So I’m thankful for that.

But he’s already sorely missed.

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