This is the story of our beloved Stoli, an American Eskimo breed of dog. You may recall the dog in the 2009 movie, The Proposal starring Ryan Reynolds, Sandra Bullock, and Betty White was an American Eskimo the reason for that was Stoli won the cutest puppy photo contest. Also, if you were ever in San Francisco and visited Fisherman’s Wharf, North Beach, or Pier 39, you may have taken a picture or two of Stoli. He was photographed by thousands of tourists from all over the world. He was just that kind of a dog.
This story began the moment we brought Stoli home to San Francisco from Ridgefield, WA, and he instantly became the apple of my father’s eye. Stoli went everywhere with us, and if Stoli couldn’t go, we wouldn’t go. Stoli seemed to live for our father and our father seemed to live for Stoli. The two were very protective of each other and they were inseparable. When Stoli was a puppy, besides being a bit quirky, he seemed a bit clumsy as he would fall over when trying to lift his leg to pee. We attributed it at that stage of his life to possibly too much puppy fat or he was slower in developing his motor skills. During one of Stoli’s veterinary check-ups we mentioned what we perceived as clumsiness, but the doctor did not seemed concerned by it and said that some dogs don’t lift their legs. Apparently, this was our first sign…
As soon as Stoli was old enough, we started him in puppy school. He was very smart, had his humans trained as equally well, and graduated at the top of each of his classes. Stoli enjoyed many things such as going to dog parks, play dates with the dogs he grew up with, going up and down stairs, particularly to Coit Tower and walks all over the streets of San Francisco which included walks to Marina Green, Bay Bridge, the Hyde Street Pier, or heading out to the Presidio where he would chase a few Canadian geese or pigeons. While on these walks with Dad, sometimes treats were involved such as stopping off at Liguria Bakery where focaccia was the treat, or sourdough bread from Boudin’s on Fisherman’s Wharf, or Jeffery’s Natural Pet Foods provided tasty liver treats. Car rides were another of Stoli’s favorite adventures. While in the car, Stoli was always in a vacant lap, be it Dad’s, mine, or my brother’s and he would hang his head out the window. Stoli had a distinct love of sugar cones and thin mint ice cream, so a ride to Swensen’s Ice Cream Parlour provided him a lap a lick and an open window for him to hang out his head, as he did with every car ride we took. Besides car rides and walks, Stoli loved any kind of water. Puddles, creeks, toy pools, swimming pools, or just overall getting wet, made him happy.
In the spring of 2015, at the age of nine, Stoli became very sick. He began drinking a lot of water and then abruptly stopped eating. We took him to the veterinarian and even though they did all they could, the medication only seemed to make Stoli sicker. He needed more testing which sent us to Dr. Maretzke, a specialist at San Francisco Veterinary Clinic Association (SFVCA) Hospital. At the hospital we learned that Stoli had a Porto Systemic Liver Shunt. This is a condition that attacks the liver and shrinks connecting tubes. This was probably a condition that Stoli had been born with and one symptom was his not lifting his leg or being unsteady when he did try to lift. To help prevent further dementia and to help aid and support Stoli’s severely damaged liver, we put him on a Rx dog food, Denamarin and a syrup lactulose.
Dad’s granddaughter, my niece, was graduating from Oregon State College in June of 2015, and that meant a road trip north for all of us, even Stoli. We had his cooling pad, Dad’s, my brother’s, or my lap, his food, water, emergency kit, medication and away we went. Once we arrived in Portland Oregon, before the graduation ceremony, we needed peace of mind to make sure Stoli had not become dehydrated from the long car ride. My niece, the college graduate, while attending college, had been working part-time at Lombard Animal Hospital so we took Stoli there and that is when we met Dr. Nell Ostermeier. Upon examining Stoli and going over his medical history with her, she suggested that Stoli would probably be a great candidate for acupuncture and some Chinese herbs to help his liver. We felt it could only help, so Dr. Ostermeier started the procedures. Stoli tolerated he acupuncture pokes very well and seemed okay with it all. Dr. Ostermeier also gave Stoli some organic blueberry cookies that he absolutely loved. While we were in Portland, Stoli received many of the acupuncture treatments that helped so much, providing him with more energy and pep, that no one would even imagine he was sick.
As we headed back to San Francisco, Dr. Ostermeier provided referrals to three acupuncturists in the Bay Area. I chose Dr. Angelique Cucaro. She was a board certified veterinarian and also licensed as an acupuncturist. Upon our first visit with her, she provided us with the other criteria, beyond the board certification, and that was patience and a being a good listener. Each visit she provided Stoli the time he needed to warm up to her.
As Stoli and my dad began to slow down, they stopped going for long walks. They would still go up and down the Coit Tower stairs, but even that and general walks became less and less as each of them got more aches and pains. Together aging and slowing down in general, they took more naps together. Two years after the original diagnosis and the grateful intervention of finding Dr. Ostermeier through my niece, who is now enrolled in the Oregon State Veterinary program, was now suggesting we try hydrotherapy since Stoli always had a love of water. We contacted Dr. Cucaro and she absolutely agreed it would be great for Stoli. She put us in touch with the Rex Center where we met Ellen. We told Ellen that Stoli could be quirky, but he loved water and being wet. We had weekly swims and Ellen was a really calm, nice, and patient person who got along well with Stoli. During Stoli’s last year he went from eating out of his bowl to eating off a spoon. He also liked to wake me at 4:00 AM, indicating he needed to go out and pee, but I really think all he wanted was his treat of a blueberry cookie.
One Sunday, a week before Stoli died, he jumped into the swimming pool like a champion for his swim. I have no idea where he got the energy, but it was absolutely beautiful. I was dumbfounded and was trying to pull out my phone to record the moment, but I missed it. My mouth just hung open and all I could sputter was “you both saw that, right?” To me, it was just a perfect 10. Stoli just loved his swimming on Sundays. The day before Stoli died was a swim day. He seemed to not be feeling well; he had only eaten one blueberry cookie and seemed weak. We went to the pool anyway and I relayed to his swim coach for that day what I thought of his condition and that he had a rough weekend. As soon as he was released he jumped into the pool and swam away. As I said, Stoli loved the water, be it a puddle, a kiddie pool, or the 95-degree hydrotherapy swimming pool.
On Monday, May 1, 2017, Stoli’s health deteriorated rapidly and I rushed him to SFVCA emergency. Even though it was Dr. Cuarco’s day off we were in contact with her and through out the day she was in contact with the doctor’s and attendants at SFVCA. The options I was told were to put Stoli down or surgery. I knew that even though if Stoli survived the surgery he most likely would not have been able to recover from it due to his shrunken deteriorated liver. I brought my dad to say good-bye and he said, “Stoli isn’t living, suffering like this.”; as usual he was right. By the time my brother came home that late afternoon, Stoli was very weak. I told him it was time to let him go. Around dinnertime and with that decision made, his leash was brought to us and even as we were saying our good byes he made an attempt to leave at the sign of the leash. Shortly after that Stoli left us forever. Just like that, 11 years together were gone with only the warm and glorious memories remaining.
I know if Stoli were able to speak he would like to thank Dr. Nell Ostermeirer from Lombard Animal Hospital for her delicious organic blueberry cookie treats, introducing him to the acupuncture and herbs that allowed him to feel overall better with the treatments and enabled him to keep his food down and for recommending his favorite doctor, Dr. Angelique Cucaro. Dr. Cucaro listened to him, realized his needs, and continued what Dr. Ostermeier had suggested with consultations between them. Which was an affection he seldom gave, especially to doctors. Unlike some animals, Stoli would run into Dr. Cucaro’s office. Some would say that it was for the blueberry cookie treats, but we felt he genuinely loved her. He would also have liked to thank the Rx Center in Pacifica, to Ellen and all of her staff for his swimming sessions that he loved so much. They were so patient with him and with us, listening to the weekly Stoli stories. Stoli would also thank the SFVCA specialists and technicians for their initial diagnosis, for bringing down his very high fever, and helping us understand in some way the condition from which he was suffering. They continued to care for him in his final day on earth. Last, but not least, his primary care physician, Dr. Lee Morris, who got Stoli hooked on cheese. All the people mentioned above helped educate all of us in the Liver Portal Shunt condition that was diagnosed late in Stoli’s life. They also taught us the benefits and how to use alternate medicines along with his prescription food to help make the most of his remaining years.
A donation was made in Stoli's memory and the memorial was created on August 14, 2017.