Long before Dora came into my life there was Winston. Winston was our family’s first dog – an Old English Sheepdog with hair covered eyes, stubbornness in his blood, and loyalty in his heart. I loved him dearly. I fear, however, that my memories of him have faded desperately away. What I have been left with are snapshots in time, horribly yellowed at the corners.
While we have hundreds of pictures of Winston, there is one that has always been my favourite. As I write these words I am periodically glancing over at it as it sits in its frame perched prominently on my book shelf. In it Winston and I are squished together in front of our family cottage. I am about the age of five or six and we are sitting side by side – me in my pajamas and Winston with a smile on his face (yes, I swear he’s smiling). I LOVE that picture. To me it portrays both the innocence and essence of the kid/dog relationship.
There are three things that I think every child should experience while growing up: 1) pet ownership (clearly I’m partial to dogs); 2) being involved in team sports; and 3) summer time at a cottage, campground or lake. I was fortunate enough to have been graced with all three of these during my formative years, each giving me a different perspective on life and have, I firmly believe, shaped me into the person I am today.
It should come as no surprise that Winston was a huge part of my life when I was kid. In retrospect, it makes total sense. I’m an only child so Winston was like the big brother I didn’t have. I guess it shouldn’t be a shocker either that now, still an only child but with aging parents and no children, Dora is like the child I never had. The canines in my life have been both confidants and the keepers of my soul. Winston was my friend as a child; Dora is my friend as an adult. I realize this might sound weird to some but before you go filling out the necessary papers to have me institutionalized, please hear me out.
It wasn’t until I lost Winston that I realized how much I loved him. How much he meant to me. How much I looked to him for comfort. I was only eleven when he passed so the scope of how much an animal could mean to someone still wasn’t quite within my grasp of understanding. I still remember the day I came home to find out he was gone. That September morning my dad and I dropped him off at the vet, he knowing that the end was here, me still holding on to a shred of hope. At that point Winston had been battling mouth cancer for the better part of nine months. The summer had been horrible for him. He was ready to go long before he did, but love and devotion made my family hold on a little longer. It was ultimately Winston that told us, “It’s time”, a request that deserved to be honoured. To this day I still hold slight resentment towards my parents for not letting me say a proper goodbye. They never told me that the morning my dad and I dropped Winston off at the vet was to be the last I would ever see him. Thankfully I was permitted to go with the vet technician to accompany Winston to his kennel. While I didn’t say goodbye I did tell him that I loved him. I still have the image of his face as they closed the kennel door etched in my memory bank. I just didn’t realize at the time that it would be the last time I would ever see it.
Winston’s body stayed in our garage until his burial site was ready. Wrapped in blankets and a bright orange garbage bag, he lay on the cold cement floor for a couple of days. Knowing he was out there drove me nuts. I wanted the hurt to be over. Yet, despite my still young age, I also knew I needed to take the time to say goodbye or forever regret not doing so. A few times I would open the garage door just a crack to take a peek at him. One day I finally got the courage to venture into the concrete coolness. I knelt down and carefully unwrapped the blankets from around his nose. His muzzle had been shaved thanks to his cancer treatments. When he was alive and would whimper and whine during his post-chemo recovery I would put my hand on the shaved part of his mouth to help calm him. It worked every time. As I knelt before the lifeless body of my furry and much loved childhood friend, I again touched the soft still shaved area – and I said goodbye.
This coming fall will not only mark the twenty-seventh year since Winston made his way to the Rainbow Bridge but I will also be celebrating Dora’s ninth birthday. As she enters her golden years I am well aware that my time with her is shortening. Despite the energy she still has, which often parallels that of a toddler who has sucked down way too much sugar, I know one day it will come to an end. So for the time being I will continue to take her for long seemingly never ending walks so she can sniff every inch of our neighbourhood. I will continue to play toss at ungodly and exhausting late night (or early morning) hours. I will continue to hug her and kiss her and spoil a little too much despite suggestions of the contrary from those around me. For one day I know I will secretly beg for her stout happy go-lucky body to once again have the energy and zest for life that she does right now (although at this very moment she is upside down on the couch snoring away, clearly reserving her vigor for another wild romp later tonight). Needless to say, I plan to cherish every second I have with my little half wiener.
As I continue to venture through my own life I will forever hold dear the messages of love and comfort that both Winston and Dora have bestowed upon me:
LOVE UNCONDITIONALLY – EVEN IF IT HURTS
Another thought-provoking and meaningful lesson from the canine teachers in my life.
And one that deserves the highest of considerations.
**I feel that is it also necessary to pay homage to the five guinea pigs that filled ten of the eighteen year void where I didn’t have a dog. While I repeatedly begged for one, my parents held firm to that fact that our dog days were over. (That is until I moved out on my own and within a few months brought Dora into my life). Meeko, Phoebe, Zoe, Annie, and Lexi all deserve credit for their fuzzy love just as much as Winston and Dora do. They brought laughter and fun back into our household and I am forever grateful to have had them in my life – even if it was only for a short time.