Wednesday, February 19, 2014

With a heavy heart...

This past week our family said good-bye to our sweet dog, Winston.  It's been tough, but I finally feel like I'm slowly coming out of my hole and ready to talk about it.

Winston was my first baby.  He came into our lives nearly sixteen years ago, the month before Gary and I married.  We first saw Winston while walking by a pet store.  Of course, I just had to go in and look at all of the puppies.  Gary asked the people behind the counter if we could take a look at this energetic puppy. He will always say that was his mistake.  We didn't come there looking for a dog.  We were planning our wedding and leaving for our honeymoon in a few weeks. A dog? Well, we gave him back and they tucked him away in his cage.  While eating lunch, I, in my fashion, couldn't get him off of my mind. I told Gary I'd name him Mr. Winston IF I could have him. We went home, and I started talking about "Winston" as if that was already his name and he already belonged to me.  It didn't take but a couple of hours more of listening to me that Gary and I got back in the car and went to pick up our Winstie.
Our first selfie
 before there were selfies

Winston was quite the car traveler,
going everywhere we went.
The first few months with Winston were great preparation for our first human child. Winston was very stubborn about potty training.  Every night, I'd set my alarm every 3 hours to take him out to the bathroom. Otherwise, he'd pee or poop in, what we now know, was his oversized crate.  I'd take him out in the cold, cover myself up, sit in a lawn chair in the backyard, and he'd walk around and walk around by the moonlight. He'd look at me. I'd look at him. Nothing was being done.  I'd beg him to pee and he would just look at me, maybe chew on a stick or an acorn. It was frustrating.  Yet, as much as I disliked being up in the middle of the night, I look back now at the time we had where it was just us and we took in the night skies and the quiet...staring and staring at each other as if we were in quiet conversation and somehow understood one another.
Winston was our tortured guinea pig
And always available for a good laugh

When I was pregnant with our first child, Winston had by that point become my constant companion, following me wherever I went.  After the nursery was completed, we'd sit in Madison's room. Sometimes he'd try to sink his teeth into any new toys he could find. Up to this point, all toys belonged to him. He didn't understand how squeaky toys couldn't possibly be all his.  Toward the end of my pregnancy, I was fighting both the unbearable heat and constant back pains.  Winston and I would lie in my bed. He'd rest up against my huge belly and let Madison kick him repeatedly. He never seemed to mind.

The first week after we brought her home from the hospital, Winston refused to come out from under our bed except to eat and go to the bathroom.  With my hormones raging and sleep deprivation clouding every thought, I was a mess. My mother came in to my room and found me bawling my eyes out.  Thinking something was wrong with Madison or me or just my being emotional and overwhelmed, she asked what was wrong.  I burst out, "Winston won't come near me. He wants nothing to do with me and this isn't fair to him." I was worried I'd changed him forever and he'd never want to be near me again.  All I wanted was the comfort he gave me when I was sad, to sit with me like before.  What had I done?

The old and the new
Of course, he came around.  Our quiet house was quiet no more, but we all learned to adjust.
Winston quickly learned that kids make good food sources and all was forgiven for their intrusion.

Ask anyone who knows me, and they can tell you how much this dog meant to me and to our family.  Three years ago, we thought his life was over.  He had developed liver disease which caused a mucocele to develop on his gall bladder.  We elected to do a surgery that was risky and didn't have a great survival rate, but it was either that or put him to sleep.  I had a three-month-old at the time and life was beyond crazy and hectic. Yet, none of that was Winston's fault.  If he was willing to tough it out, so were we.  As a family, we'd do what we could to save his life.

Winston survived the surgery but was burdened forever after with pancreatitis and a debilitating liver.  He stayed for two weeks in the hospital.  And, every other day Logan and I would get in the car, travel to the hospital in Annapolis, and pay a visit to our Winstie. The staff was great and gave me privacy to nurse while I sat and pet Winston. I was determined to be there for him because he was determined to live.  I wanted to let him know he would never be alone. Geez! It was a ridiculously crazy time, but in the end we got to bring our Winston home.
Homecoming Day
For three years, Winston made a come back. The doctors were amazed because they admit now they didn't think it was possible.  I won't say he was ever the same as before.  He was weaker and never quite gained the weight back.  He was on medications and a special diet.  Yet, he could still take walks for the most part, steal food from kids, occasionally play fight with the younger dog, and get around just fine.  It wasn't until this past fall that we saw him deteriorate.  Starting in November, he began to take a quick downward turn.  He had lost most of his fur and had to be supported to go to the bathroom and eat.  It was not a good quality of life one wants for your dog, but my philosophy was that as long as he wasn't in constant pain I would care for him the same as I would a 90 year old grandmother.  They can't get around either, can't eat much, need support to move, sleep a lot, etc.  You don't quickly move to put them to sleep. We aren't even legally given that option for humans. And, the truth is that Winston continued to show fight in his eyes. He was alert. He ate.  He paid attention from his little bed and never seemed to be in pain.
Winston in his little bed

We knew his time was coming to an end, but I wanted it to be on his time, not ours.

Last Friday, appropriately enough Valentine's Day, Winstie took his last breath.  I knew it had to be the day because he wasn't doing well in the morning and refused to eat.  By the afternoon, he was worse and I took him up to my bed for us to lie down together.  We stared into each other's eyes and I told him it was okay if he was ready to go. I told him I'd love him always but if he was ready, I was ready.  I stroked the indentation on his nose, right between his eyes, and kissed him right on that spot. Two hours later, he was gone.

Shortly after coming home, he was at his favorite spot on the beach.
To have a dog in your life for nearly 16 years is truly a gift.  Not many pet owners have that chance.  To have him for so long with so many serious health issues was truly a miracle.  Gary likes to say it's the love we gave him that led him to hang on for so long.  Perhaps.  I also think it was his iron toughness and stubborn attitude that led him to be a survivor for as long as he could hold out.

For me, I'm left with a hole in my heart.  He was my buddy, my companion, and my comfort for a long time.  I miss staring into his beady little eyes, always feeling like he knew something more than a dog should.  I miss stroking that nose.  I miss reaching out in the middle of the night to feel his tiny body next to me while I sleep.  For ten years now, I have ended my nights by turning out the lights, turning on the alarm, cradling Winston in one arm and a cup of water in the other to go upstairs to bed.  He refused to walk on our wood stairs after a fall.  Now, my arm feels empty and I realize I have one hand free.  Routines are a comfort but can also be a painful trigger when that routine is permanently broken.

I miss my little guy now, but thankfully we can share family memories of our growing family with him permanently in the picture.  My hole will heal but his tough spirit will never be forgotten.