Saturday, February 28, 2009

Andy's Tribute to Winston

Andy at age 16 with Winston


My boss and mentor, Sergeant Addison, was pretty heartless and insensitive about most things, but he always said the day his dog Sammy died we would all see him cry like a little boy. I admired that, and always wondered whether I could say the same. I preferred not to think about it. Then the day came. Mom told me Winston had cancer and had an indefinite time with us. I was in the car with Sgt. Sun at the time and I tried to compose myself, but only managed to buy myself a few seconds before exploding in tears. I was so embarrassed. How could a little animal, so seemingly insignificant in the grand scheme of things, bring so much pain out of me?

When I first met Winston, I was not impressed. He had just come to our house from his birth-home where he lived with three generations of his family, all his brothers and sisters; basically Doggie Paradise. He was one year old, not young enough to just accept this kind of separation and instantly latch on to his new home. So he was very standoffish at our first meeting. This bugged me because I have always hit it off with dogs right off the bat. While my younger brothers and sisters were shamelessly kissing up to him to try to make friends, I tried to remain aloof, after all, if he didn't like me then why bother?

Pretty soon the idea of going back to his old home faded, and Winston began to study the social structure of our home. It didn't take him very long to realize that Mom was in charge. No offense to Dad, but this is definitely a matriarchal society. Winston began to obsess over Mom, following her around the house, staring out the window when she went away. The kids, on the other hand, had unwittingly established submissive roles in the household pecking order, on account of all that kissing up. This was an amazing phenomenon to witness. It was far more evident than in most household dogs, no doubt due to the fact that he spent his first year around so many dogs. This struggle for dominance was crucial. I couldn't tell exactly where he set me on this scale, but we started to become comfortable with each other. Then I found my "in".

After staking his claim to the house, Winston's next step was, of course, to move out against the neighboring territories. True to his warlike German heritage, he was eager to go forth and conquer anything that he could piss on. Once he realized that being escorted on a leash was the only way to accomplish this, he was at the mercy of anyone wiling to take him out on his patrols. I had the monopoly on this and would religiously walk him every day after school. Even when I was too lazy, I couldn't resist seeing him freaking out, dancing around, whining and panting, until we finally got out the door. He would only squirt a few drops at a time, saving it to establish as wide a territory as he could on a single bladder.

Once this relationship was established we were best buds. He still had the heart of a puppy, and his favorite game was just chasing my hand around in circles as I would growl and tease him. "Got your ear", "got your leg", keeping my hand just out of reach of his snarling jaws. Eventually an oven mitt became involved, giving Winston the freedom to tear into his pretend prey. I liked this better because it let him feel like he was winning.

Above all these things we shared, the most endearing was the cuddling. Despite all his working dog instincts, he was a lap dog in every sense of the word. A short haired dog in a maritime climate, he was always willing to take advantage of another's body heat, more so if you had a blanket. He would be under there until you got up, then he'd reluctantly trot off to find some other warm niche. We kids would quarrel over who would have the privilege of cuddling with this living pillow, a prize we would not relinquish easily once we had it.

The last years that I lived with Winston and everyone else was difficult, to say the least. I was consistently in trouble for my grades, attendance, partying and so on. I didn't think too highly of myself, and didn't feel that anyone else did. After all, I wasn't giving them very much to work with. It was during this time that Winston meant the most to me, as none of these problems mattered to him in the least. Whenever I would skip school, or when I was on half days, I could forget the guilt I felt when Winston emphatically greeted me at home. He was so lonely when everyone was gone and I related. So I would give him a slice of cheese or some other forbidden human food, and settle in front of the TV with him snuggled up, and we would fall asleep until the kids got home. I shared Winston most of the time, but these times were ours, and I cannot describe how much that meant to me.

Then I set out on my own. Whenever I visited home, Winston greeted me as if I had never left. He secured a place for me in that home even when I didn't physically live there and that made coming home all the more enjoyable.--To not only see my dear family and feel love from them, but to also have this little dog jumping up and down and making a big to-do, as if I was the highlight of his life.

And that's the story. It might seem pretty silly to you, but it's one of the highpoints of my life. It was this story that I reviewed in my mind as I sat across from Sun in the lively restaurant, trying collect myself and hide the tears I was so ashamed of. I thought to myself that if I had exercised caution, held back my feelings, and chosen more carefully those that I invest love in, then I would not be in such pain now. I formed the question in my mind that I began to struggle with. Would I give up my time with Winston, to not feel the pain of his loss? Of course not! What would my life be if weren't for the things that I would miss when they are gone?

So I said to Sun, "It's wonderful that we can have things in our life so great, that we weep when we lose them." He of course agreed, and I was able to be glad at the situation, glad that I was capable of loving something so much, glad that I got to know him at all. This is life after all; it would be completely meaningless if it didn't hurt. Then I got that epitaph from Joe that Lord Byron wrote for his dog, and it really strengthened my conclusion. In a way, a relationship with a dog is not as important as human relationships, but in another way it means so much more. He loved so innocently, so blindly, and so intensely, it was nothing like I've ever felt from a person.

I'm sorry, Winston, for being embarrassed for missing you. I promise you I am nothing but proud of it now. You were one of my best friends and I'll never forget you, and anyone who thinks that's silly, well, I feel sorry for them, because they'll never have what we did.

In his wake he leaves us a lesson, which contributes to why we all take it so hard. This is the first time that most of us have dealt with death this close to home, I think. What I am taking from this is the knowledge that great love is inside of me, and I'm going to try and show it as much as I can. I would like to make the people I care about feel just as loved as Winston made us feel. So whoever you are reading this, know that I love you even more than I loved Winston, even though I may fail to show it as eagerly as he did.


  1. (From Grandma Elizabeth) Thanks -- so touching, great feeling about Winston. Andy really poured his heart out and I thankfully received it.

    I didn't remember sending along that note when Winston passed but know I so knew that loss, lost feeling when we put our Lady dog when she was 18 years. By then, the boys were all away from home but they too shared that sorrow with us.

    And that is not to mention, the tears over cats!! Those rascals really get in us -- so appreciate Andy's meaningful words about beloved friends. I read a story once about a woman who had a loved one in their life pass -- years later at the death of her cow, she was able to mourn not just the cow but others, letting the tears flow. What a needed release...

  2. I was shocked at how I cried when Daniel's rat died. A rat! His name was Neek and he was a part of our family. I never knew that a rat could show love but he did.