Winston's Wisdom:  6 Major Life Lessons We Learned from our Mutt

Winston's Wisdom: 6 Major Life Lessons We Learned from our Mutt

June 16, 2018

Rest in Peace, Winston Abernethy.  R.I.P., you beautiful soul.

I am so grateful our paths crossed at all, we were lucky to have found him. It was unlikely at best. Winston was a city dog in on the eastern side of Denver in Aurora, and Dave and I lived in Conifer, a mountain community southwest of Denver. 

We were over an hour's drive away from The Denver Dumb Friends League, but we knew them well and we wanted them to be a part of this beautiful family-matching process.


Winston was such a lover.

It was unlikely at best. Winston was a city dog and Dave and I lived in Conifer, Colorado - a small mountain community southwest of Denver.  We were over an hour's drive away from The Denver Dumb Friends League, in Denver, where we got him.

He was a gangly dog, with long legs and a massive head. Dave wanted to name him Winston, but I always thought my idea was better — Todd. As in Big Head Todd. Winston’s head was huge.

The first months of Winston’s life were in a city environment - huge houses built on tiny lots that all look the same from the distance. He was destined to live in Aurora, Colorado. They weren’t sure his breed or birthday but he was over a year old and was still growing like a weed. Poor thing was growing by leaps and bounds and had clearly outgrown his welcome at that home. He acted as though he had been punished extremely for mild infractions.

Until he was given up for adoption at the Denver Dumb Friends League, on South Quebec street in Denver.

Dave had recently lost Arnold, a ten year-old fawn pug that died on his tenth birthday and he wanted to look at larger dogs. Winston was a large dog, appearing undernourished at 80 pounds. But I knew he was awesome the moment I laid my eyes on him - both Dave and I did.

Winston was a little over a year old when he came to live with us. This sweet soul came to us an emaciated mess; although he was over a year old, he was still growing. His paws were huge; he still had some growing to do.

My apologies for the low resolution photography for this post.

My apologies for the low resolution photography for this post.

Coming from an abusive home, Winston was always acutely aware of any potential signs of impending danger. Raised voices and the like - we think his previous owners drank a lot and would then take out their life frustrations on the poor confused puppy. He was growing bigger - of course - but that’s just what one should anticipate from a puppy whose feet were that large.


When Winston first came to live with us, he would cower in fear with any raised voices at all - rooting for the Broncos sent him packing. (Needless to say, Winston wasn’t a Broncos fan! ) He didn’t like loud noises and the partying atmosphere at all.  He was wary of us, terrified of loud noise and he loved to run. Given the chance he used to run for miles on end, up and down hills and around and back. All without even getting winded.  

Classic Winston.JPG

Winston Abernethy

Winston taught us many important lessons about living life to its fullest.  Oh, how we loved that big, loveable ol’ hound dog. His big brown eyes were mesmerizing. As he aged, those brown eyes exposed a wise old soul that will forever leave a mark on our hearts.  

It all happened so quickly - as much as you try to prepare yourself for the loss of your fur baby, it doesn’t help in the end. It hurts -- hurts bad and it’s impossible to prepare yourself for such a horrible outcome from a silent killer. Cancer -- lung cancer. The cancer slowly poisoned Winston’s body from the inside out.

Before I knew what was happening, the vet techs prepared a blanket on the floor for me, so that I could say goodbye to this sweet soul who had graced our lives for more than ten years. Just an hour earlier, I thought I was bringing him in for follow-up on a treatment he was recovering from. Turns out his whole system had been compromised by that point; we hadn’t recognized it as such at the time, but his body had been slowly shutting down for some time. He was just such a happy soul and well, we all get older. So we thought he was just slowing down a bit.

At his heaviest, Winston weighed close to 120 pounds. No doubt he was an adorable puppy but we didn’t know him as a pup. His first family gave him up when he grew too big. Larger dogs tend to be abused more because they’re more of an imposition than little dogs. An overzealous tail wag and they wipe out your cocktail party spread. But they mean no malice.  

Winston grew to love his new home in the foothills of Colorado, we lived on five acres on top of Conifer Mountain, where he could run. Our neighbors all had dogs down the street and he used to love to visit the neighbors -- everybody knew and loved him.

When we still lived In Conifer, Dave and I would sometimes let Winston run loose around the neighborhood; every house was built on at least five acres. with the ‘local crew’. Winston had his pals - they all were pals, actually. He literally never alienated a dog or animal or person in any way whatsoever. Winston was a loving soul - a beautiful spirit.

We would often let him outside without a fence, or even an electric fence - all the houses were built on a minimum of five-acre lots. In the summers the dogs would often cruise the neighborhood for hours at a time - typically Winston was hanging out a neighbor’s barbecue. He just invited himself and he proceeded to entertain them while hoping for a treat.

Some pooch-friendly neighbors would stash treats in their garage - just knowing that sometime Winston would drop by.  In the summertime, he used to run from one neighbors’ barbecue to another and just hang out with everybody. He often turned out to be part of the entertainment -- that dog had a social life, that Winston. Everyone knew and loved Winston - complete with the harem of females that adored him -- including the bitch from down the street who got knocked up in our front yard. I think she was peeved he couldn’t bang her himself, but he had been snipped already. And yes, it’s true - dogs get stuck together when they’re doing the nasty. I could live without ever seeing that again!!

In 2017, we sold our home of 20 years, and moved to a new house only 14 miles from the old one - yet took a completely unanticipated turn via Sarasota, Florida, where my husband Dave landed an awesome role as CIO for a large group of medical providers who work with patients with infectious disease, including AIDS. So instead of moving into our new home, we high-tailed it to Florida to be together and I rented the new home on Airbnb!

So I packed up Wilbur and Winston into the sedan and we drove -- and drove. And drove - Colorado and Florida are a world apart from each other. When we finally arrived in Florida the dogs were so entertained by the new critters and birds. We walked daily and enjoyed checking out a completely unanticipated but fun, curve ball.  

Winston was able to meet Louis and Scott, two friends of ours from my college days. We met some other cool dogs in the ‘hood, checked out a lot of parks in Florida and stayed from March until the end of May.

Then we packed it all back up to go back to Colorado. Home. We had only been home a week when he finally gave out. Turns out the cancer had been growing for some time.

Winston helped reawaken my fit self within, and for that alone I will be forever grateful to him. What started as a potty break for the dogs turned into many wonderful ideas and enjoyable times. He and I enjoyed many simple pleasures together. We both loved to walk and if there ever was a day I tried to consider not walking -- well. That wasn’t going to happen! Not as long as Winston was around.

In Chair.JPG

He always loved those big chairs.

After the initial shock and horror of putting him down wore off, my husband Dave and I talked about the many lessons that ol’ hound dog taught us over the years. Winston taught us how to love - big and bold, unconditionally and unapologetically.  

He loved life and taught us to treasure important things - and simple things. Like a daily walk to clear the mind and soul. 

Here’s a few things that big loveable mutt taught me:  

1.  Make time for a daily workout.

Even as Winston grew older, he was still rambunctious and he, Wilbur and I walked every single day. At least once. No matter what though, he always stayed active (right up to the end). 

Even if it’s just instinct, this is definitely a case where your dog has the right instinct. Staying healthy is all about keeping moving, and the more you make it a habit, the easier it is to motivate yourself to do.

2.  Be upfront.

Dogs are always upfront with you.  When Winston wanted something — to go outside, to have a treat, or to go for a walk — he always used to let me know. He would paw at the door, wag his tail in front of the treat stash, or bring me a tennis ball. He’s not subtle, and she doesn’t drop hints. 

It’s kind of amazing how dogs, who can’t communicate with words, can be much more direct than many people. If you need something from someone, or want them to know how you feel, just tell them! Don’t expect others to be mind readers (and definitely don’t pull an attitude because they lack ESP). 

Holding in your feelings, being vague, or hoping the other person will figure out what you want will make you less happy and much less likely to get what you’re after.

3.  Live for the moment.

Dogs live in the present tense. Sure, Winston remembered big stuff (what time dinner is served, where the dog food is kept) as well as lots of little stuff (like a surprisingly wide range of words), but for the most part, he was a dog. 

Winston on Couch.JPG

Dogs don’t dwell on the past, or worry about the future — that’s just how their brains work. So, if something makes you happy, and it’s not going to make you really sick later, just let go and enjoy it! Drop your anxieties and revel in what’s happening right now.

bIG BOY.jpg

He was a gentle giant.

4.  Happily accept compliments.

Dogs seek out our praise and attention, and Winston was certainly no exception to that rule. He loved company and was thrilled when both friends and strangers pet her and give him attention — it’s never something he would shrink away from. 

People, on the other hand, are often made uncomfortable by compliments. It can feel easier to try to deflect praise, but if you’ve done something well, you should go ahead and own it! Instead of shying away from a compliment, say “thank you” and accept it. Acknowledging your own accomplishments, and being thankful when others do so, gives your self-esteem a rock-solid (and totally legit) foundation.


He loved his stuffed toys.

5.  Adapt and thrive.

When Dave landed an amazing opportunity in Sarasota, Florida we never gave it another thought, the four of us needed to be together.  

The drive to Florida was long and dull but the transition to living there, even if temporarily, was a head-trip for all of us!! We went from the land of elk and deer to the land of bugs and crocodiles!!   

At first Winston was not too pleased about the new “digs”, but he entertained me on our many walks by being fascinated by the tropical birds and trying to catch the quick little geckos by pouncing like a cat!!

backwards on couch.jpg

Not sure what he was thinking on this one....

But Winston always adored Dave, he was a dude’s dog and he loved male company! We spent March, April and May together and drove back in early June. He died at home in Evergreen less than two weeks later.

6.  Forgive and move on.

I did plenty of things Winston didn’t like. Some of them I have to do (like going to work), some are just what I feel like (like if I have a headache and don’t want to play fetch), and others were for his own good (like keeping him out of the trash). 

No matter what I did though, Winston always — always — forgave me. He wouldn’t even mope, he was a good boy. He made me more adaptable, too, because I always had to forgive him (if he got anxious, he would get into our leather shoes). In the end, the little day-to-day annoyances like those chewed-up shoes and watch bands don’t matter; it’s the larger bond and all the happiness he brought to us that count. Holding a grudge magnifies what was in all likelihood an unimportant issue, and minimizes the much more significant relationship. Being willing to forgive frees you to enjoy all that you share with those around you.

But now you’re gone. Thank you Winston - for all your love, trust and hope. May we meet again someday, dear friend.

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Mental Health Resources

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Airbnb 101