*Perhaps just a bit of hyperbole
On Wednesday morning, after a sudden illness, we had to make the difficult, but ultimately for-the-best, decision to say goodbye to our beloved Winston.
You may not have known Winston, but if you ever had the chance to meet him, he would’ve loved you instantly. He was like that…he loved everybody, oftentimes with boundless enthusiasm that consisted of cuddles and “kiss attacks”.
We adopted Winston in the Spring of 2010; Laura and I had just gotten married the year before and had moved to a new neighborhood in Addison, Texas, where everyone seemed to have a dog and we wanted to join the club. We thought it over for a while—would we go to a shelter and pick one out? or, would we settle on a breed and find the right dog that way? We never really settled on what we wanted…initially, we wanted something on the small side, preferably female.
One weekend in April, we went out to East Texas to visit my mother and, on a lark, decided to visit the Edom Art Festival. While perusing the arts and crafts, Laura came across the Van Zandt County Humane Society booth and took a look at the dogs, not intending, of course, to adopt. But it was love at first sight, for both Laura and the odd-shaped black, white and grey dog with the gorgeous eyes, long waggy tail and friendly smile. He ambled up to her, gave her a hug with his short little legs and we had to bring him home. Despite not meeting our dog criteria (female and small), he’d chosen to bless us with his unyielding love and we brought him into our lives.
He’d been found on a roadside in the Piney Woods of East Texas, abandoned by some sorry person who didn’t appreciate the treasure they’d lost or, for that matter, appreciate the preciousness of a pet’s life. His shelter name was “Stubby”, on account of his short legs and long body (when he was fully grown, he was exactly four feet from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail, was maybe 14 inches at the shoulder and weighed somewhere in the 70 pound range). After completing his adoption (and, sadly, causing his foster “dad” to have to retreat to his truck to cry on account of how much he was going to miss “Stubby”), we welcomed him into our tiny family.
Of course, “Stubby”, whilst somewhat apropos, just wasn’t dignified enough for our tastes. So we bequeathed the much-more regal Winston upon him. As mentioned, he was an odd-shaped dog, a mix of perhaps Corgi or Basset and Blue Heeler with a bit of Lab thrown in for good measure. His front legs were shorter than his hind legs, giving him the shape of a dragster (though certainly without the speed). On occasions when he’d run (oftentimes to the chant from Laura or myself of “Fast Dog!”), he’d usually jack knife a bit, his longer hind legs outpacing his front.
At home, he joined our two cats, Miis and Squeaky (sadly, Squeaky left us last year after a long, lingering bout of congestive heart failure, thought Miis is still with us, at the ripe age of 18, too mean to die). While Miis never really interacted with him, Winston loved to try to chew on Squeaky’s ears. At least once, one of the cats had enough of his crap and gave him a good swipe across the nose, but, for the most part, they lived together harmoniously.
Living in the neighborhood we did, in a mid-rise building, we walked him every morning and evening, and often more than that. His friendliness and adorableness soon earned him many friends—both canine and human. Countless times, on their first encounter with him, people would ask “What kind of dog is he?”. Unable to ascertain his exact provenance, my stock answer soon became “We’re not sure…just random dog parts. It’s like they just took whatever parts they had leftover at the dog factory that day and put him together”.
Our weekends typically consisted of rising early and going to the dog park, Winston riding shotgun, his Chewbacca to my Han Solo. At the dog park, Winston always seemed to be more interested in the people than the other dogs. He’d make his rounds, greeting everyone with either a smile or, if you were lucky, kisses. He loved to snake along the fence of the park, taking in all the various smells and, I imagine, making a mental map of the most-foul ones for later reference (for reasons that he never revealed). If he felt like playing, he’d wander the grounds, inspecting each and every tennis ball until he found the most disgusting one, just to make sure that I had to touch something I’d rather not. After leaving the dog park, we’d go through the local drive-through car wash…Winston loved the sights and sounds of the water and soap jets cleaning the car. If we were feeling a bit peckish, we’d swing by the donut shop for breakfast…a donut for me, a dozen donut holes to take home to Laura and a donut hole treat for Winston.
In the evenings, Laura and I would watch TV, Winston curled up on the sofa between us. On occasion, I’d make a cup of coffee, set it on the end table and leave the room for a moment, only to return to find an empty cup and a slightly-jittery dog. As the months passed, it became apparent that Winston was one of the most-important parts of our lives. Without kids, we focused our love on “Sweet Winnie”. We dressed him up as a pirate for a pet costume contest, we bought him sweaters to keep him warm in Winter (he loved wearing clothes) and we took him on adventures. We were “dog people”.
The first time we traveled out-of-state after adopting him, we were forced to board him at a local pet hotel and, I’m not-to-ashamed-to-admit, I cried on the way there and back, unable to bear to leave him, worried that he might think we didn’t love him and were abandoning him like he’d been abandoned as a puppy. Each time after that, it got a bit easier to leave him, but every vacation’s last few days would be punctuated by Laura or myself exclaiming “I’m so ready to get home and see Winnie”.
After a few years, Laura left her job teaching and started traveling for work, oftentimes being gone for three weeks out of the month. Luckily, I always had Winston with me to keep me company. We’d have long, one-sided conversations with Winston always being a good, patient listener. To wile away the time while Laura was out-of-town, we’d watch obscure movies (usually in a foreign language, which I assumed perturbed Winston as he couldn’t read the subtitles) or work on software or photography projects. At night, he’d climb into bed with me, his collar’s tags clinking in the darkness (I’d usually take it off at night, saying “Let’s take off your jingle-jangle, Winnie”), and curl up next to me. On Winter nights, his prodigious body heat was welcome, staving off the cold that the heater couldn’t. On Summer nights, I’d have to turn the ceiling fan and the tower fan on full blast just to get comfortable. When Laura was home, he’d do the same, though we’d often need to move him a bit to get it comfortable for all three of us (he never really learned to lay parallel, preferring a perpendicular arrangement to ensure that he could touch both of us at the same time.
A few years ago, Laura was diagnosed with cancer and needed to undergo both chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Winston never left her side—for three straight months, he slept on her feet at night to keep her warm, snuggled her when she was restless and loved her when the chemotherapy’s effects were at their worst. Many nights, I turned to Winston for love and comfort as I struggled to stay strong for Laura while we went through this experience. He never not loved me back…a steady source of comfort, strength and loyalty.
Eventually, we moved into a house to give him the opportunity to have a yard of his own—his own private dog park. He loved to lay out in the sun, soaking up the warmth and relaxing in nature. Worried that he was lonely, we adopted a companion for him a couple of years ago. Millie loved to try to get him to wrestle and play, but they usually just settled with lying together in the yard or climbing into bed with us at night, a half-human/half-canine dog pile. Millie was, at most, only a few months old when we adopted her and our hope was that, although he was getting to be “comfortably middle-aged”, Winston would have several more years to teach her how to be a “good dog”; a selfless, loving, friendly companion. And though it’s taken a couple of years, I’d say he succeeded. Millie, while being full of boundless energy—the polar opposite of Winston—is also full of boundless love.
Roughly a year ago, we took in our “old lady”. Bonnie’s owners were forced to let her go when they were moved into a nursing facility. At eleven-years-old, we knew no one else would adopt her and we decided that the right thing to do would be to bring her into our home and let her have the best life possible for her remaining days. Unfortunately, we soon discovered that she was heartworm positive, so those days might go quick. Winston and Bonnie got along well; while old and sickly, Bonnie loves to play with Miilie and Winston would often try to impose himself on their wrestling matches. A couple of months ago, however, we were informed that her disease has progressed to the point where she might have “weeks to months” to live. We knew our time with her would be short, so we’ve been somewhat-prepared for the day when we have to say goodbye to her.
We never thought we’d be saying goodbye to Winston before Bonnie. Though he’d been arthritic for a couple of years now, having a hard time getting around, he’d been otherwise energetic and playful. And now, suddenly, in the last week, he was sick. Coughing, struggling to breath and barely moving. Our first vet visit on the weekend judged him to have nausea and upset stomach, but by the next night, he was doing worse. Coughing, trying to throw up and struggling. We took him to another vet, referred by his primary vet, who judged that he had developed a rare condition (megaesophagus) and would have to be hand fed while sitting up for the rest of his life and the prognosis wouldn’t be good. Drugs were prescribed and attempts were made to get him to eat, but his condition kept deteriorating. On Tuesday, we took him to the ER and they told us his prognosis wasn’t not great at all, but that there was a chance he might turn around a bit and that we could give him palliative care for a few days to make sure he was comfortable. They’d keep him overnight and give him steroids and fluids. We gave him loves and went home, wondering if we’d made the right choice.
By Wednesday morning, the vet had called and let us know that he’d made a sharp turn for the worse. Knowing there was nothing we could do to make him better, we made the hard, too-short drive to the hospital to say our goodbyes and help him pass on to the next life.
We just hope that he knew that we loved—and will always love—him and that were ultimately doing this to make things better for him. He wouldn’t be in pain any longer and wouldn’t needlessly-suffer. We both held him as he took his last breaths and I’m certain that he knew we loved him.
I like to think that Winston had so much love to give that he gave it all away a bit too quickly. We’ll be forever grateful that he was part of our lives and I’ll cherish my time with the “odd-shaped dog” for the rest of my life. If there is a better place or afterlife for dogs, I like to think that Winston is there now, sniffing around for the best smells, gently taking the tastiest treats and finally conquering his irrational fear of snowmen.
Luckily, for us, we have an incredible photographic archive of our life with Winston. Looking through my Google Photos and Lightroom catalogs, I’d say that there are roughly 20,000 photos of him taken over the years. Over the last day, it’s been both joyful and heartbreaking to scroll through these digital memories, many of which reminded me of several of the anecdotes I shared in this piece.