Winston Ford Harwood
November 14, 1990 — April 28, 2006
Our wonderful and (wonderfully) whacky Winston departed our world last Friday. She was just shy of 15 1/2 years old.
Winston's bright spirit never failed, and she enjoyed family life and her daily walks to the end, but in retrospect I think she was living by willpower — her will to please as much as her will to live (and sheer Samoyed stubbornness). Her tired old body was probably ready to pack it in late last year, but we were not ready, and she staged one of her many great comebacks and had a happy holiday season. By late winter, her appetite was flagging again, and it was evident that the old girl was running on fumes.
Winston was a paradoxical teacher; she was one of the least subtle beings I have ever known, but many of the things she taught me were subtle indeed. What I finally came to realize was that I was waiting for a disease, or some obvious external symptom of failure; but Winston had a life, and like all lives, it would have an end. We could choose to give her a gentle, graceful, and loving end, or wait for something harder and more desperate to overtake us. On these terms, we could only make the gentle choice, and live with a few pangs of anticipatory grief.
Winston's final week was full of love. We modified her kidney disease-control diet to include quantities of Milk Bones, cooked chicken, and hamburger drippings, and this revived her appetite remarkably. Ritz Canine sent a veritable parade of dog-walkers who'd walked Winston over the years; they gave her gentle walks and in many cases said their good-byes. Winston's wonderful groomer/therapists, Andrea and Anne Iadonisi of Sirius Services, came to our house on Thursday and gave Winnie a massage.
I was fortunate to have a light load of meetings last week, and so I worked at home as much as I could and gave her lots of hugs and head scratching. She was never alone for more than a few hours, and people were with her from mid-day Thursday until the end. One of Winston's human "siblings," Joshua, was able to make a quick trip home from college to be with her and with us.
Dr. Tucker from Concord Animal came to the house on Friday to administer the anesthesia. Our Rector of Trinity Concord parish, the Rev. Tony Buqour, was also with us. Tony is a dog person and shared some stories of his own dogs, memories both joyous and difficult. In a typical Dovecote moment, our contractor came to the back door moments before Dr. Tucker was expected. This fellow, Richard Gervase, and Dr. Tucker are both tall, rangy guys with flowing hair and a beard, and for a moment we thought Dr. Tucker had arrived… very informally dressed. Perhaps he'd been out at a large animal call? But once we had that sorted out, Dr. Tucker did arrive in his lab coat.
We brought Winston out into the back yard, on a beautiful spring morning. The apple trees are just beginning to flower here, the sun was shining, it was warm but not so warm that Winston got hot. She was happy to have lots of people around, and greeted all with her customary verve.
We laid her down on her "Winston" bed and Dr. Tucker gave her the injection. He is a good vet. and she died instantaneously. She was in no pain, had no fear, and she was in my arms.
We had a simple pine box made for us by The Old Pine Box in Deadwood, NM — gotta love the 'Net — and we buried Winston just on the "freedom" side of the old fence line. We have not had fencing since about 2002, when she learned to escape pretty much at will, but the track she wore in the hillside patrolling the fence is still there.
She is beyond all boundaries now.
Tony read to us from the work of Catherine of Sienna, who I have since learned was known, as Winston was, for "great gaiety," and whose final day on Earth was April 29, 1380. I do not have a copy of the manuscript, so I must give it to you as I remember hearing it:
"The love that we share with God's creatures is a part of the love that God shares with us." She had a sense of love resonating through us and through the world.
I have always remembered the magnificient passage from Henry Beston's "The Outermost House," with which my aunt and uncle James and Norma memorialized their treasured companion Elaine:
"We need another and a wiser and perhaps more mystical concept of animals. […] In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and more complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth."
I grew up with lots of dogs. They were our environment, and in the manner of young people, I took them for granted. I loved them, hated them, played with them, and fought with them, but I did not see them for who they were. To me they were animated toys, or at best they were imperfect brethren.
I remember the shock I felt when I finally really saw one of them and thought, "she's just like me!" And what I meant was what Beston writes about: there was a whole 'nother world before me.
And, finally, Winston. There are four memories of Winston that are most vivid in my mind:
The night we brought her home for the first time, and John held her in his lap, talking to her quietly, introducing her to the world.
The time after Anne died, and Winston and I were alone; some nights I got down on the floor with her, and pressed my chest up against hers, just to feel another heart beating.
Our runs through the woods, with great joy flowing through us.
And last, I remember the first time she struggled to get up and failed, when I realized she had become an old girl, while I was again not paying attention.
But that was four years ago. We learned to care for Winston so effectively that we finally had to learn to let her go.
She meant so much to me that she took a part of me with her, and she left part of herself with me. And she gave me a final lesson as a parting gift.
Indulge me while I take this writing back to Catherine of Sienna by way of a Taoist sage who was part of the Lao-Tzu collective. Many of the Taoists' lessons focus on "immortality." One starts with the question, "can you learn to live deep within your heart?" Winston never lived anywhere else.
She did not attain some kind of dime-store immortality, but she is still what she always was, a note in the great song that resonates through all life, which we call by many names, all of them insufficient. Deep within her heart she was and is forever close to it.
So that is what I ask of you: live deep within your heart, and take great wonder in life, and greet your fellow creatures with joy. That is Winston.