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Exciting.  Terrifying.  Distressing.


If you haven’t met Sierra, then let me tell you that we have perhaps the sweetest yellow lab on the planet.  She came to us through a rescue organization, and has seemed grateful to us ever since.  With this little girl, we never needed the electric fence; she wasn’t leaving our sides.  She never barks unless startled, and she was never a chewer either.  And obedient?  Dear lord is this girl obedient!  She used to live to dash out the front door, surprising the squirrels, then chase them till they eventually found a tree to climb.  The one time Sierra actually CAUGHT a squirrel (icy day, squirrel feet spinning on the ice, you get the picture), Stephen yelled to her “drop it”, and she dropped that coveted squirrel, without hesitation.


As labs age, the most common ailment is hip problems.  It’s horrible to watch both the pet and the owners: when is it inhumane to extend life?  When do you say “I love you enough to say goodbye”?

We were lucky – Sierra never developed hip dysplasia as so many others of her breed.

Then they told me about “laryngeal paralysis”, apparently also common in labs.  We used to holler out “freight train coming!” when out in the woods with Sierra.  She loved huffing and puffing along, or so we thought.  We also used to imagine it was her way of saying “I love you” when breathing loudly as we gave her belly rubs.

Laryngeal paralysis (click here for a definition) is when the larynx ceases to function as normal, limiting the passage of air.  It can plateau off, or it can become progressively worse.  As it worsens, you have to limit exercise and be vigilant about overheating.

In the past 2 months Sierra’s laryngeal paralysis has worsened dramatically.  It is episodic: she will be fine for hours, but then the panting begins, sometimes even in the middle of the night.  At its worst, it is like having an asthmatic child in a panicked attack, with no inhaler in sight.

This morning, I thought I might take Sierra into the woods for a slow meander about.  The temperature was cool – perfect for what she needs.  Unfortunately, she got so excited at the idea of walking in the woods that she could not breath.  She made it only halfway up the backyard before letting her back end collapse to the ground.  She will try coughing to pop open her airway, but it usually only irritates her throat.  Panic worsens, and all we can do is sit and watch, massage her throat, and worry.

There is a surgical procedure available, which my vet will no longer perform.  One side of the larynx is permanently sewn open, so the dog can breath.  One of the main side effects of the procedure, however, is death, when other things like food or water end up in the lungs.  Have you ever seen a lab eat?  Click here for a great demonstration: Spaghetti eating competition.  (Be sure to watch till 1:40 for the “slow motion study of a champion”!)

Sierra and I had a long talk today after her episode.  Our walks in the woods now live solely in our memories.  Looks like we have a lot of time for belly rubs.

Tonight’s wine recommendation to accompany memories on this cool spring evening:  2005 Sánchez Carrascal Reserva, Ribera del Duero, but you’ll have to fly to Spain to get this beauty, at about $10/bottle.  Clearly Sánchez Carrascal needs an importer.

Enjoy long walks in your mind, and the deep and complex flavors of the wine.


About Claire Ziamandanis

Claire Ziamandanis is Professor of Spanish at The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY. Over her 20 years at the college, she has been a champion for study abroad, establishing the first affiliation for Spanish students, and then working with the Study Abroad office to open the doors to students from other majors. Claire loves travel, food, wine and Spanish but not necessarily in that order!


  1. Bates Childress

    I’ve taken that same long walk with my beloved companion of 14 years. It is devastating. It is life. You have my heartfelt sympathy.

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