On May 10, 2013, my husband* and I made the difficult decision to put our 10 1/2-year-old English Mastiff Winston to sleep. Why do we use the term “sleep” or “down” when we euthanize our pets? Euphemisms don’t change the fact that my husband and I killed our dog. I know we did the right thing. The merciful thing some would say. We ended Winston’s life because he was in chronic pain. A lifelong sufferer of hip dysplasia, Winston had a hip replacement on his right hip in June 2010. He needed both hips done, but we couldn’t afford it. So we chose the worst hip hoping that his new bionic right hip would prolong his life. It did. However, we knew when his bad hip gave out that things would get bad. They did.
The beginning of the end
I remember the day his left hip stopped working. It was Friday, April 19. I called my husband at work and told him that something was terribly wrong, that Winston couldn’t walk well anymore, and that’s when I realized — his left hip was gone. Winston had needed help getting up the three steps going into our house for months, but he could still walk the entire length of our large backyard every night before dinner and he did his weekly physical therapy walking on an underwater treadmill. The next day when I tried to take him to physical therapy, which he loved, he refused to get in the car. It was as if he knew he couldn’t do it anymore. He never walked on that treadmill again.
The following weekend, we somehow managed to get Winston in the car so we could go see the specialist who gave us all of our options. The only way to fix the hip was to replace it, but at Winston’s age, that was like giving a 95-year-old man a hip replacement. Even if we had the money, it didn’t make sense to do it. Despite his otherwise excellent health, he was an old man with old bones. He had been taking pain meds every night before bedtime for a few years. Winston had terrible arthritis in his back, elbows, and hips. His left hip was completely out of socket. He was terrified of getting in the car, which used to bring him so much pleasure because it meant another adventure with mommy. Instead of surgery, we discussed how to manage his pain and left with a new prescription that increased the amount and frequency of his pain medication. The end was near but I had no idea just how close it was.
Every day Winston got worse. He spent most of his time in his bed. He only got up when necessary. He went from going outside to at least three times a day to twice a day and then only once a day. Despite his pain, he still barked at the mailman every day. Despite his pain, he still attempted to sleep in our bedroom every night even though the short walk from our living room exhausted him. I started sleeping on the couch to ensure he would stay in his bed. My husband worried about my back, but I told him that Winston gave me more than ten years of happiness so I didn’t mind some sleepless nights and back pain. It was the least I could do because as long as Winston could see me, he stayed put.
The reason I chose Winston
People often ask why I chose an English Mastiff. The answer is simple. I once met a man who had two female Bull Mastiffs. I had never seen any type of Mastiff before, and I was bewitched by his dogs’ gentle nature, loving playfulness, and regal beauty. However, after further research, I realized that an English Mastiff was more my speed. They are larger and calmer than Bull Mastiffs, and in my opinion, they are more handsome. My decision was solidified when I saw a three-year-old boy riding a 200-pound male English Mastiff like a wild horse. The boy was pulling the dogs’ ears and kicking his ribs, and the dog did nothing except comply with his master’s wishes. I had never seen a dog so sweet with a child in my life. I had to have a gentle giant for myself.
There are six questions people always ask when you own a dog like Winston.
- What kind of dog is that?
- How much does he weigh?
- How much does he eat?
- Did you know he was going to get that big?
- Does he sleep with you?
- Does he come with a saddle?
The answers are:
- A purebred English Mastiff;
- 185 – 205 pounds (adult weight) depending on when you asked;
- About as much as a large Lab;
- Of course I did;
- Of course he doesn’t; and
- (fake laugh) No, he’s not a horse.
I waited eight years to get an English Mastiff. I was twenty-two years old when I decided I wanted one and three years later, I expected to get a puppy when I moved into a house with my sister and now ex-boyfriend. Even though I had asked about getting a dog and the owner had agreed, when she found out what kind of dog I wanted, she said no. The dog had to weigh under fifteen pounds. Well, first of all, a dog under fifteen pounds is not a dog, and secondly, we had a cat at the time that weighed twenty pounds. My sister was happy that we didn’t get what she called “an overgrown, slobber machine” but I was disappointed. It would be another five years and another house before Winston would come into my life.
I couldn’t find a breeder I liked in California so I ended up buying Winston from a puppy broker in Florida who used a breeder in Missouri. Winston arrived at LAX on December 17, 2002. I was so eager to meet him that I arrived too early and I had to wait for two hours with nothing to do at the airport. When you have wanted something for eight years and it is finally about to happen, it’s impossible to contain your enthusiasm. I must have asked the employee at United Cargo “Is he here yet?” every fifteen minutes. She never lost patience with me. She said she had never seen anyone so excited about a dog in her life. I laughed. Finally, she said, “He’s here.” Winston was eleven weeks old and weighed twenty-eight pounds. When I saw him in a huge, beige container with his soulful, brown eyes, black muzzle, and floppy ears, I fell in love. He was scared, but I knew he would be fine once we got home.
The best dog ever
To say Winston was my constant companion is an understatement. He was in many ways my best friend. I talked to him constantly. I took him on road trips. He liked the beach but hated the ocean. He thought snow was a bad joke. Forget about rain. He would hold his bladder for hours to avoid getting wet during a storm. The only purpose for water was to drink it. He may have been born in the Midwest, but he was a Southern California dog. He loved to lie in the sun so much he would follow the light around our front yard. He was also extremely social. Meeting new people and other dogs made Winston’s tail thump so hard that it sounded like someone repeatedly throwing one end of a garden hose on a sidewalk. He had more friends in the neighborhood than I have had in my whole life. I can’t count how many times strangers drove by, stuck their heads out the window, and said, “Hi Winston” to our dog. I still have no idea how they knew his name, but everyone around in Burbank seemed to know my Winston.
I didn’t think Winston would go downhill so fast. By the middle of the third week, his time was over. He was unhappy. I could see him trying to rally for me, but he felt terrible. After talking to my husband, I called on Thursday morning, May 9 and scheduled the in-home euthanasia for the next evening. Knowing I had less than two days left with the best dog ever left me scrambling. I wanted to make Winston’s final hours as happy as possible. For the first time ever, I cooked for him, which doesn’t sound like much but I barely cook for myself. On Friday morning, we ate our traditional breakfast of banana and peanut butter — Winston’s favorite. I didn’t know what else I could do with him except give him my time, which I did. When my husband came home, Winston thumped his tail as he had done hundreds of other nights. We had two hours left with him. My husband took pictures and shot video. We talked to him. I promised I would finish his scrapbook. Of course, Winston didn’t understand why he was getting extra attention from his two favorite people, but he didn’t care. We were with him on his bed hugging and petting him and that’s all that mattered.
All I ever asked of Winston was he give me ten years. I used to whisper it in his ear all the time. “Just give ten years, buddy.” Big dogs don’t live a long time, and I knew with Winston’s hip problems, our time would be cut short. I never wanted it to end the way it did even though my husband knew it would happen that way. I guess I did too, but I never wanted to admit it. Even though Winston died at home in the most dignified way possible, I hate that we had to do it. Then I remind myself … Winston held up his end of the deal. From the time he arrived in my life, he gave me ten years, four months, and twenty-three days; he loved me so much he gave me bonus time!
Our house is quiet now. I never realized how much noise Winston’s dog tags made until their jingling sound was gone. There is no more snoring or groaning or barking either. We no longer have to put up a baby gate to keep him in the living room while we are out. We no longer have to sneak in the front door to avoid waking him up when we come home. I no longer have to step over him when I go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. I no longer have to take him to physical therapy every Saturday morning. My car, a Honda Element which we bought for Winston, is the cleanest it has ever been. I hate it.
After Winston’s death, my husband and I received cards, flowers, plants, and donations made in Winston’s name to charities from family, friends, neighbors, and Winston’s many doctors. He may have been old, he may have been missing one eye, and he may have been full of metal, but everyone loved him. My husband and I often called Winston our pirate robot dog as well as our money pit. To me, Winston was and will always be the best dog ever.
*Now ex-husband as this blog post was originally published on my old blog Pondering Happiness, Hope, and Wisdom on Tuesday, December 31, 2013.
P.S. I waited almost four years to get another dog. I needed time to heal. In January, I found Sadie, a purebred, half-Rottweiler, half-Pug, aka ‘Rug’. She may be a much smaller, more energetic version of Winston, but they share the same soulful brown eyes, black muzzle, and floppy ears. Check her out at Seven life lessons puppies can teach us.
Also published on Medium.