That’s Winston. An 18-year-old Rat Terrier. If you can remember the old RCA Victor logo of a dog and a gramophone, that was a Rat Terrier. Very popular in the first third of the century. Now, they’re coming back.
But not Winston. Last night, we had to say our last “Goodbye.” Things just suddenly started to fail and we were not left with other choices. The moment of decision and relief from his struggle was upon him. And us.
We found Winston in a cage in a store in Nampa, Idaho, 18 years ago. He’s been our constant companion every day since. Not a mean bone in his body. Liked everyone he met. Traveled like a pro in RVs or car. Jumped into the middle of every experience.
Hard to say who loved who more. When we were happy, he seemed to rejoice right along with us. When we hurt, there was always the paw on your leg, extra attention paid and snuggling. He sensed our moods in ways we still don’t understand.
And, we often sensed his. Some days, he was quiet and seemed extra grateful for a scratch of his ears or a tummy rub. Other times, he’d be frisky and wanting to go for a walk at any moment. And there were the quiet times, when he just wanted some extra “loves” and was content to sleep the day away.
Many people don’t care for dogs. Some folks have allergies that keep them from knowing the quiet companionship of a loving animal. Maybe they know - and maybe not - but I think their lives are incomplete. As we humans search for attention and love, we never quite fully achieve either without a dog. Without a Winston. Without the constant support that comes from having a cold nose rub your arm or “that look” from bright brown eyes. No matter when. No matter where.
While needing regular feeding, exercise, an occasional bath and nail trim, we got more from him in repayment - and then some- for those little chores. Even if he just snuggled into his small, sheepskin basket across the room, we felt over-paid - and quietly, a bit more loved - knowing he felt safe enough and loved enough to let us be his constant security. When an animal - or a person - can trust you enough that they can override their natural sense of self-preservation, you feel loved and needed by someone outside yourself.
We romanticize our pets much the same way we do people who’re close to us. We give them special names and feel gratified when we can do some little thing that make them feel good or loved. We remember them on birthdays or at Christmas with some little trinket to renew the bonds between us. We hurt when they hurt. We share their joys when they celebrate.
But, if we have a “Winston,” we tend to forget they react in much the same way. They share our successes and failures with extra tail wags or being extra close to comfort us as needed. They recognize and respond to our moods. They become family. We at the table. Them under it.
In their last days - no matter what the age - they look to us to take charge and make that final decision that’ll physically separate us forever. Even as he lay semi-sedated and waiting for that final needle, Winston quietly looked at us and seemed to be saying, “Go ahead. Let me go. Stop my pain. I love you.”
And we did.
We’re grieving now. We’ll continue to do so for awhile. We don’t know how long. But, I think it will continue until that moment - days, months or even years away - that moment when we realize the deep feelings of joy, love and completeness he brought us will continue even if he’s not physically with us. They’ll continue even if we can’t reach out and touch. That moment we realize we carried out our final responsibility to do what was best - what needed to be done - for his sake. Not ours.
Our hearts may be filled with sadness today. But our lives have been enriched - enriched forever - because there was Winston. His pain is over. Ours will end, too. Someday.
Goodnight, Winston. You’re well-loved.