Winston, Our Royal Fawny
Every family has had a pet that sets the standard for future pets. If you asked anyone in our family who our most adored pet was, the answer would be unanimous. It was our English Mastiff, Winston James of Gwynedd. He was a huge (literally) part of our family. He was enormous in body, with the mind of a small child. He could scare anyone with his bellowing bark, and in the next minute, he would be afraid of a little squeaking toy.
I drove two hours with my son Justin to pick up our eight-week-old puppy. The mother of the litter walked slowly to greet us at the door. I think motherhood had worn her out. She looked so tired. She just sat patiently nearby and watched us. The father of the litter was another story.
We were ushered out back to view the puppies where the owners kept them in a storage area below a raised deck. When they unlatched the door, the four pups ran in different directions. That’s when we saw the papa of the brood, galloping toward us at full speed.
His huge jowls were slobbering in the wind. He must have weighed three hundred pounds, and looked like the size of a pony. He was carrying a rope toy that was like something you’d use to herd cattle.
“Run for your life!” Justin screamed. We ran for cover. All he wanted was someone to throw that twenty-pound rope toy for him. Who knew?
Deciding which puppy to bring home was very difficult for me, but one little guy tugged at my son’s heart. Sure enough, he was the one we chose. We decided on the name Winston. It sounded regal.
Winston didn’t move for the entire two-hour ride home. He sat perched on Justin’s lap with his back legs dangling off the seat. He’d look at me, then up to Justin. I could almost hear him thinking, “Who are you people and where is my mom?”
Winston never knew that he was becoming a very large dog. He was happiest on someone’s lap, or right next to you on the sofa. When he was fully grown, he could fill the loveseat by himself. If my husband and I were sitting there, Winston would squeeze in between us, and wiggle until he got comfortable. We would sit pressed up against the sides of the sofa, but he was happy. He’d look back and forth at us, and squirmed with excitement.
Although he was large and muscular at 165 pounds, he was skittish about the silliest things. One night, as my husband walked him up the street, the sound of the rustling fall leaves scared Winston. He walked hunched down low, shaking as if those leaves could really hurt him.
He dragged my husband home, and then climbed onto the sofa next to me―panting and trembling. He was such a scaredy-cat. The next night, I found him on our back patio, jumping and doing pirouettes, trying to bite at the lightning strikes in the sky. I got soaking wet when I dragged him back into the house.
Another time, I woke up at two in the morning 2 a.m. and heard him whimpering. I went downstairs to find him at the bottom of the steps. There he sat with his big brown eyes, afraid to come past the third step because it creaked. “It’s okay, Win. It’s just a little noise. You can do it,” I told him over and over.
He looked at me as if to say, “No, I can’t do it. I’m really scared.” His big face looked so worried.
I found some leftover steak from dinner to lure him up the steps. That didn’t work. Next, I tried a chunk of his favorite cheddar cheese. That didn’t even work. That always works with him for anything! At that point, I was freezing in the kitchen, searching the fridge for a miracle treat. He waited patiently at the steps.
Finally, one paw at a time, front leg, back leg, I helped him, step by step while he trembled with fear. Even at that time of the morning 2 a.m., you had to love him. I could feel the weight of his massive body against mine, shaking. Nothing I said soothed him. We slowly made it to the fourth step of safety, and then he sprinted up the stairs.
At night, his favorite place to be was sleeping on my pillow. That was not my husband’s favorite place for him to be! In fact, Scott never let him up on the bed. But after that stressful experience with the evil, creaking step, I felt so bad for him, I didn’t tell him to get down.
I could feel him slowly move one paw onto the bed. The mattress dipped a little. Then another leg came up. Again, the mattress dipped. Finally I could feel his huge body slowly, gently climb onto the bed. He’d made it! Dad was still asleep. He’d completed his stealth move! He quickly closed his eyes and let out a huge sigh of relief. I didn’t have the heart to push him off. As I put my arm over him, he fell fast asleep and began to snore.
When our cat had four kittens in the hall closet, we worried that Winston might hurt them. We moved mama and babies upstairs, into my daughter’s room. Jamie had removed her door and replaced it with hanging beads. Winston was petrified of those beads. Sometimes, he would stop halfway down the hall and lie down. He would not go within ten feet of them.
When the kittens were a few weeks old, we invited Winston into Jamie’s room to meet the kitties. First we had to coax him past those treacherous beads. That took ten minutes.
There he stood, towering over the box, staring at the four black and white kittens nuzzling their mom. He whimpered and stared, still shaking with excitement. I imagined he was thinking, “Mom, what did you bring home now? Are they my brothers and sisters? I hope they stay in that box.” As they grew older, they’d chase his tail and climb all over him. He was a gentle giant.
We usually went home right after work every night, but one night we decided to stop for take-out seafood. When we got home, Winston was not himself. His belly looked swollen, and he kept nudging my husband. It was seven o’clock when I called our vet.
Could she see him tonight? She’d have to get a babysitter and call me back. Ten minutes later, I called again in a panic. “I think he’s dying,” I cried into the phone.
“Bring him right in,” she told us.
Before we could get him to the truck, he passed away on our kitchen floor. I sat holding his head, telling him he was such a good boy. Our family cried for days. Our kids’ friends rushed over to say goodbye to him.
I wish we’d known about the seriousness of this condition called bloat. Winston was seven when he died. He was healthy and active, and I think he could have lived many more years, had we known it requires emergency surgery. We haven’t gone out for seafood since.
My favorite picture of Winston is him standing and looking out our front screen door. His huge head and massive paws are greeting visitors. He’d broken so many screens we finally gave up and just let him look out the door. The Dog Whisperer would be horrified! Every time I look at the picture, I say out loud, “Aww Win, you were such a good dog.”
And then I cry.