Wednesday, December 11, 2013


On Oct. 27 my wife, Melissa, and I adopted Winnie, a 4-year-old yellow Labrador. Melissa had grown up with a Labrador that lived to be 17 years old, an extremely long life for the breed. I, in contrast, had never had a pet in my life. I went from being a boy who desperately wanted a dog to a man with no particular affinity to any dog or the idea of getting one. In hindsight, it was a sad regression.

Weeks earlier Melissa found an advertisement for Winnie on Petfinder, so we went to the rescue shelter that was vetting her prospective new families. An employee told us that Winnie's adoption was already pending. A little heartbroken, we looked at the other dogs in the shelter.

"I don't think our dog is here," she said. She was right. We went home and told our families the bad news about Winnie, and everyone was sad that somebody swooped in before us. Even though the shelter had taught me that meeting a dog was the most important factor in adopting, Winnie's Petfinder ad had hooked me. I wanted Winnie, and so did Melissa.

Winnie's advertisement resurfaced a couple weeks later. The pending adoption had fallen through because Winnie "couldn't go on a walk without a leash." Our standards were lower and lawful.

We met Winnie for the first time in a play yard at the shelter, and we loved her. We also hit it off with Winnie's owner, who was a great mom to Winnie and her eight-year-old boy. Winnie's family had recently split and could no longer give her the time and attention she needed. We set the adoption date for a week later so the family could say goodbye. We left excited but slightly nervous. We felt too lucky.

We set up another meeting in the middle of the week to demonstrate our commitment and to see our new girl again. As we were all about to leave because of the chilly weather, I realized I had left behind my flying disc. When I ran back to grab it, Winnie ran by my side. I kept running after I grabbed it to see if she would continue to follow me, and she did. I was proud of that moment. Winnie knew I was her friend.

Winnie's adoption day went as expected. We signed a few papers. Winnie's first mom held off her tears until she got in her car to drive away. Winnie initially refused to get a treat we had laid in our car. She patiently sat on the gravel as she tried to work things out in her furrowed head, so we sat with her for awhile. She eventually got in the car. I sat in the back seat near a quiet Winnie while Melissa drove us home.

The days that followed introduced us to everything about Winnie that we couldn't gather in our two previous meetings. She was a 60-pound lap dog if we sat on the floor. She knew how to sit, wait, and lie on her stomach. She destroyed indestructible toys and once ate a foot-long bone in 30 minutes, but she had a perfect sense of what was hers to chew and what was ours to leave alone. She preferred grumbling to barking when she needed something. She was shy if we touched her on the top of her head but affectionate if we rubbed under her neck or on her stomach. She was so frightened of our neighbor's stone pig that we had to change our walking route. We accidentally discovered that she knew the word "cat" when she looked out all the windows of our house like a helpless guard watching a prison break.

We fell more in love with her as weeks went by. We even loved her when she whined at 4 a.m. to protest her closed crate. She was patient with us while we learned to make her crate more comfortable and open and to trust her to be about the house while we were away. We were patient with her after she ate four whole bananas, a sock and a sponge. (The bananas and the sponge exited the front end, but the sock shot out of her rear like a cannonball. We are now much more responsible about putting things away.) The three of us negotiated these understandings until we felt like a family that naturally got along.

On the Thursday morning before Thanksgiving, Winnie was not waiting outside our bedroom door as usual. I walked to the front room and found her on her daybed. She slowly followed me back to the kitchen to watch me pour her breakfast, but she didn't eat much of it. A minute later, she laid on the floor and began to tremble.

Melissa and I took her to the vet. By midday we heard the bad news: Winnie had a 105-degree fever and, much worse, a dangerously low white-blood-cell count. She needed to be hospitalized at an internal medicine inpatient facility that couldn't admit her until 9:30 the next morning. We took her home that night expecting her fever to hover around an improved 103 degrees, but she began to tremble again. We followed the vet's instructions, wrapping her in cold towels and pointing a fan at her. It didn't help. She quickly became unresponsive.

Melissa and I agreed that our job was to keep her alive for ten more hours so she could get the hospital care she needed. We carried, drove and carried her again to the nearby emergency room. Her fever had climbed to 106 before they gave her fluids and determined she had no digestive obstruction. We were relieved to have her somewhere safe overnight.

Melissa took her to the hospital the next morning and told me that Winnie seemed more spirited. We both knew the intravenous fluids had only temporarily revived her, so her outcome was still uncertain. The various veterinarians we had seen led us to believe that Winnie was suffering from a viral infection or cancer. The hospital allowed visitors for an hour each morning, so we planned to see Winnie on Saturday and Sunday. We didn't think beyond Sunday because the doctor told Melissa that Winnie needed to improve within 48 hours to make it.

I was necessarily optimistic until that Friday night. I didn't want to be in our house because every part of it reminded me of her. We hated looking at her unattended things, but we also couldn't bear the thought of putting them away. Winnie had followed us everywhere we walked, so the simple act of moving from one room to another reminded us that our girl was missing. We watched a sitcom on Netflix, but I could not pay attention to anything.

I sent a text message to my family: She is in the best place she can be. She deserves to meet everyone.

Saturday morning we heard our first piece of good news: Winnie's white blood cells had increased in number. The doctor said she wasn't "out of the woods," but she was going in the right direction. Winnie was happy to see us but quickly became lethargic, so we got a lot of kisses on Saturday morning. We left feeling better.

Winnie giving me a kiss
Sunday brought more good news. Winnie's white blood cells had returned to a normal level. The pattern of fluctuation in her blood counts allowed the doctors to eliminate cancer as a possibility. The new tentative diagnosis was either a viral infection or a rare bone marrow-suppression reaction to Panacur, a parasite medication she had taken weeks earlier for the first time.

Winnie at the hospital
Sunday morning Winnie seemed to be back to normal. She wanted to play for our whole visit. We joked that we should ask the doctors to knock back her white blood cells so we could get all the affection we had received the day before. I was told to return the following afternoon to bring Winnie home, and I did.

We hosted Thanksgiving for family and friends three days later. Winnie was the miracle of the season and received probably more attention than she was ready for. She got some new toys, a new winter jacket and some tasty things to nibble, but she still insisted on sneaking some green bean casserole. That's my girl.

Today we returned to the stone pig for the first time in a month. She wasn't scared anymore. I wasn't surprised.

Winnie befriends her old rival
We are thankful for our growing family this holiday season. Our girl came home.


  1. To Winnies' new parents...thank you for giving her the love and promise of a beautiful life. It was so what my niece (Winnies' first Mom) was hoping for. Your story is touching and sweet with a happy ending. All the best to you all, and Winnie too.
    Happy Holidays from Winnies' Great Aunt in CT, LP

  2. When I first met you both, I knew that you were the right people for this beloved, sweet, sock-eating dog. Your patience, kindness, support and love for Winnie are truly appreciated. May we all face big changes, unexpected challenges and stone pigs with Winnie's brand of open and friendly spirit, and be fortunate enough to have good people like you and Melissa to see us through.
    With gratitude,
    Winnie's First Mom in NC