Winston

August 10, 2002

LOS ANGELES TIMES

VOICES/A FORUM FOR COMMUNITY ISSUES

Mourning a Friend With Four Legs, One Big Heart

BY Neal Leavitt. Neal Leavitt runs a marketing communications firm in Fallbrook, CA. E-mail: neal@leavcom.com.

We just lost our best friend. He was a devoted family companion who was always there to greet us with a wag, a lick or a woof. Our beloved Yorkshire terrier, Winston, succumbed very suddenly to a liver tumor. During the emergency surgery, Winston lost too much blood and despite transfusions, didn’t have enough strength left to pull through. It was just his time.

Winston was 12 and one of our first vets called him the ‘Hulk Hogan’ of Yorkies because he was huge for his breed - a whopping 17 lbs. He was small of stature yet totally fearless and never backed down from a challenge. A few years ago he crossed paths with a huge Rottweiler on a walk. He jumped underneath the Rottweiler, gave him a quick nip on the throat, and sent the dog whimpering down the street. Both the Rottweiler’s owner and myself just stood there and laughed as it was such an incongruous scene.

Winston was a tough little scrapper. A car sideswiped him during the first few weeks we had him but he was only briefly knocked out and soon recovered. Twice he jumped off the roof of our house chasing after our cat, each time bouncing off a large fern with no apparent side effects other than wounded pride. He loved to run on the golf course adjacent to the house and frequently would snatch someone’s golf ball on the fairway, much to the chagrin of many a golfer, whom I would join in tandem in trying to chase our dog down. Fortunately, most of the golfers were good sports about it and also got an unexpected workout.

Every morning when I pulled out my exercise mat and began my workout, Winston would sit on the bed, snout resting comfortably between his paws, and just stare at me. If I slowed down or stopped, he would raise his head and look at me as if to say, "You’re not done yet, get back to it!"

Winston’s passing struck a nerve with family, friends and colleagues as the love for a pet is universal and transcends all boundaries. Calls and e-mails came in nationwide and overseas as many remembered what a great little guy he was.

Too often people feel or are made to feel by others that their reactions to a pet’s death are abnormal or exaggerated. Balderdash. Pain and grief are perfectly normal and these feelings shouldn’t be locked up. The years we spent with Winston were filled with unconditional love and acceptance, fun and joy. Our pets are individuals with their own personalities, quirks, likes and dislikes. They are not replaceable ‘pieces’ - so don’t rush out to get a new pet as it takes time to mourn and heal and you’ll make too many comparisons.

We also elected to have Winston cremated and scattered his ashes out among the avocado groves we own near our current home in Fallbrook, CA.

Help for the grieving is available. The Web site for the Assn. for Pet Loss and Bereavement, www.aplb.org, offers chat rooms, newsletters and a list of qualified counselors. Another site, www.petloss.net, provides a welter of online resources. A good hotline is available at (509) 335-5704 or www.vetmed.wsu.edu.

In 1928, playwright Eugene O’Neill wrote a last will and testament ‘penned’ by Blemie, the family Dalmatian, to comfort his wife after the dog’s death. In the closing paragraph, Blemie offered one last word of farewell:

"Whenever you visit my grave, say to yourselves with regret but also with happiness in your hearts at the remembrance of my long and happy life with you: Herein lies one who loved us and whom we loved. No matter how deep my sleep I shall hear you, and not all the power of death can keep my spirit from wagging a grateful tail."

I’m sure Winston and Blemie are looking down right now, wagging their tails, chasing lizards and just hangin’ out.

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