[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published April 13, 2016] ©2016
I wrote my very first La Jolla Light column about Winston in 2009, and he’s been a regular subject ever since. He started out as our son and daughter-in-law’s beloved dog but from earliest puppyhood spent long periods of time with us. (We have the teeth marks in the furniture to prove it.) At some point in Winston’s commuter career – we’re not sure when – this little dog completely insinuated himself into our lives and hearts.
Ultimately he became ours full time. It’s been said that pets are the relatives you wish you had, the ones who love you unconditionally and never bring up those awkward moments in your life. I guess it’s no accident that Man’s Best Friend can’t talk.
Winston brought out a side of my husband Olof, a former Air Force pilot, that I’d never seen before. He and Winston were constantly chatting, Winston listening raptly as Olof provided interpretive services for Winston’s end of the conversation. As they watched sports together, I'd hear Olof yell, "The hell you say, Winston! That guy was OUT!" When Winston was having a bad medical night, Olof would be on the floor at 3 a.m. leaning against the bookcase, Winston pulled across his lap, stroking his furry body until he fell back asleep. As a joking nod to who really owned this house, Olof began doing nightly "turn down" service for Winston's bed, fluffing up the pillow then laying a dog treat and Winston's duck on the edge. On Sunday mornings, in what we dubbed his “spa treatment,” Olof gave the blissful Winston a warm soapy massage in the tub with medicated shampoo.
Meanwhile, Winston loaded the dishwasher with me at night, sneaking licks when he thought I wasn’t looking. He helped me water the patio plants, chasing rivulets of water down the bricks. When I did my yoga exercises on the floor, Winston created a new pose, Cat and Cow Over Dog. In the warmer months, I’d sit outside with my book in the evenings and Winston would receive his many friends in the neighborhood.
Now home every day as retirees, we became adept multi-taskers, able to read the newspaper or type with one hand, and play tug or rub his head with the other.
The downside of his living with us was that his allergies and ear infections were far worse here than in L.A. I wrote recently about our all-out efforts, including a trial vegan diet, to help him feel better. We joked that our motto was All Dog, All the Time. But it seemed like we had finally turned the corner and found a treatment plan that worked for him.
We were in San Francisco at a family wedding when the call came. Winston, whose soft head we’d patted goodbye only that morning, had died suddenly in our living room, an apparent heart attack. He was eight.
That Sunday was one of the worst days of our lives. We stood on the front porch not wanting to turn the key. Finally inside, Winston’s leash was, as always, by the door, his toys strewn around the floor, his arsenal of meds on the counter, his bed next to our bed, his bowl still half full. Instead of being greeted by a 58-pound explosion of ecstatic wiggles, there was only a heartbreaking silence. A red-eyed Olof said it was as if the air had been sucked out of the house.
The next day, we were able to go see him at the vet’s. His little paws in front, he looked like he was just sleeping. I pressed my head to his cold forehead and rubbed those wonderfully silky ears one last time and thanked him over and over for bringing so much love and joy into our lives. People have tried to console us by saying that Winston didn’t want to die in front of us but it was so much worse not being there. Never mind the trauma for the poor pet sitter.
We should be clear. The mailman is not mourning Winston. Probably not our lawn service either. He was leash aggressive and he snored like a stevedore. He failed with five dog trainers. Or maybe we failed with five dog trainers. Winston always obeyed the trainers just fine.
But over time even what might have been deemed annoying habits just became incorporated as Life With Winston. He had a sixth sense for placing himself in the most inconvenient place possible. Olof said we should take the box with Winston's ashes and place it on the back door mat so that we'd always have to step over it to have breakfast on the patio.
We’re 68. We’ve lost cherished friends - and parents (to cancer) - but prior to Winston, neither of us had had a dog in four decades. Winston’s passing has just flattened us. Do people lose resilience to loss as they get older? A dynamic of three has precipitously been reduced to a dynamic of two, and the household is suffering grievously for it.
Winston was just so much of a part of our minute-by-minute lives and we can’t help but be reminded of him dozens of times a day. I still leave room in the dishwasher for his dishes, and can’t bear to vacuum up the dog hair from my car. Olof stands in our doorway at night looking at the floor where Winston’s bed should be. For two people who never went looking for a dog, that sneaky little guy totally took us hostage. The profound ache we feel just won’t go away – nor, maybe, should it completely. Any creature - human or animal - who makes such an in-road into one's heart deserves a place there forever.
Summer nights with grandma and grandpa
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