Saturday, July 24, 2010

Dogs of Our Lives: Winston

Dear George,

Our most elegant dog was our Bedlington Terrier Winston. We picked his name because his breed originated in England. Katja got him from a kennel outside Chicago, from the only Bedlington breeder east of the Rockies. She told me later that we'd had to pass a foster parent-dog test before we could get him, but, as far as I was concerned, he just appeared one January day in the mid-70’s when I came home. We’d still been very sad about losing our poodle Jacques a year or two before, and it took me only a minute to bond with our new puppy. Winston weighed about four pounds and was pitch black on arrival, though he turned silver-gray within the year.

As you can see, Bedlingtons have a special look, and Winston immediately became one of the best-known dogs in Clifton. J, who was 6 or 7 at the time of his arrival, would help me walk him on Ludlow Avenue, and nearly every passerby would make a comment or ask a question. Winston was super-friendly and would tug at the leash to be petted by strangers. A surprising number of people asked if he were a dog. After a while I started replying that he was a lamb. Quite a few people seemed to believe this.

Though Katja and I adored Winston, J as a kid wasn’t nearly as enamored. My guess is that, as an only child, he wasn’t enthusiastic about sharing parental affection. When he was walking Winston, J would become impatient with the dog’s endless sniffing, and he would tug at the leash and yell at him to move on. I used such occasions for a parental lesson, explaining that these walks were really for Winston’s enjoyment and we should accommodate his needs. That seemed like sound advice until I took over the leash myself and immediately found myself hollering at the dog and dragging him along.

Winston was a happy dog -- good-natured and playful. However, he flunked out of obedience school after a single visit (or, more accurately, Katja chose not to take him back after a single experience). We learned why when we took Winston to Burnet Woods and let him off the leash at the park entrance. The dog looked around at us once or twice, then took off running. J, who had more stamina than I, started chasing him, and boy and dog ran at full pace for a quarter mile. J finally corralled him at the children’s playground. That was the first and last time in his long life that Winston was allowed off his leash.

We took Winston for grooming to the Bow Wow Boutique. The owner, Carla, competed in professional grooming shows, and soon she began taking Winston on the road with her throughout the Midwest and to the East Coast. Carla was an excellent stylist, and she and Winston won many blue ribbons. One year she asked him she could take him downtown to the Toys for Adults show at the convention center where she was scheduled to do a grooming exhibition. We went down on Saturday night, and, at the appointed time, Carla brought Winston onto the elevated stage, put him up on the table, and began combing and cutting. Winston, staring at the crowd around him, arched his back and began trembling uncontrollably. People in the audience began making remarks about “how cruel”, the poor thing, he’s terrified, etc. We were dismayed.

Winston lived for many years. I thought he lived 19 years, but, according to the Westminster Kennel Club, the longetivity record for the breed is 18.4 years. So maybe Winston made it to 17. Anyway we loved Winston so much that we let him live too long. In his final year he was pretty much blind, deaf, and demented. He bumped into things and barked at imaginary intruders. We cut tail holes in Pampers to try to address his incontinence. Finally it was clear that his life was no longer viable, and we cried when we took him to the vet’s office.

Winston was a major part of our family life over a long and important period: J’s childhood and adolescence, Katja’s adjunct teaching in the French Department at UC, her entry into the School of Social Work, Sociology parties at our house, family reunions in Menominee, and trips to Philadelphia and Beach Haven to visit Katja’s parents. Winston gave all our family and friends a lot of pleasure. We still have great fondness in our hearts for dear Winnie.



G-Mail Comments

-Linda C (7-27)L Even I remember winston is that possible he lived until J*** was in college? Maybe I remember a different dog. Bubbles gives us all so much pleasure. Dances for the boys happy to see all of us, I wish I could keep him from jumping on the bed in the morning and giving me a wet willy. I hate to be awakened that way, any ideas how to stop it?

-JML (7-26): Liked your post Dad, but I have a different memory about his last days. If I recall, you were out of town for a few days and during this time Mom made an executive decision that his time was up. When you came home, he was already euthanized. Did I make this up?

-David to JML (7-26): Memory is a funny thing. I checked with Katja, and your version is 100% accurate. (What a shock.) Love, Dad

-Donna D (7-25): david, what a wonderful story! he looks like he's smiling in the first picture


  1. Liked your post Dad, but I have a different memory about his last days. If I recall, you were out of town for a few days and during this time Mom made an executive decision that his time was up. When you came home, he was already euthanized. Did I make this up?

  2. I checked with you mom and she confirmed your recollection. Memory does funny things. I feel like I was there. : >)