She is Winnie.
And she is Ori and Little Sister, and she is Pelly and Polly and Duchess, and she is Sally and Spotty, and she is Missy and Shamrock and Olivia, and she is Maggie and Barney and Brud.
Winnie is laughter and silliness and throwing a squeaky carrot toy and she is Lisa’s new friend and she is the healer of my heart which I felt had been broken beyond repair.
I tell the spirits of all those other magnificent Dalmatians who made my life so joyful that I was not being unfaithful to their memories. I tell them it is because they were so much a part of me I could not be complete without still another of them.
And 6-year-old Winnie, whose career in the show ring before motherhood, has come to an end, is now savoring the life of the privileged who have earned the right to the queen’s crown and is already ruling over her subjects – Lisa and I – with love and loyalty.
Four days of mourning and of a silent house were more than I could bear. I learned that a trip to a shelter was not the answer.
Even though my heart goes out to every dog who needs a caring home, I knew that my heart would only be fulfilled by another of the breed that has proven over four decades to be everything I need in a dog.
So I telephoned Cathy Murphy of Minerva from whom I had gotten both Ori and Little Sister. I had to tell her about Sister and we both cried.
I told her how desperate I was and while she no longer raises Dalmatians – she has been battling cancer for a year plus a broken hip plus the loss of all but two of her wonderful Dals – I thought she might know of someone who could help me emerge from the dark cloud enveloping me.
She gave me the name and telephone number of Cindy Riggans of Canton who, she said, always had wonderful, sweet-tempered Dals and perhaps she might know of someone who had a dog in need of a new loving home.
I telephoned and talked with Cindy’s husband, Ken. He sensed the desperation in my voice, which was still thick with loss, and said he’d have Cindy call me when she came home.
Everything here had come to a complete halt, it seemed, except the grass which kept on growing! Best I mow to keep busy, so mow I did. And as I mowed I actually prayed aloud that please, surely, there would be the perfect dog out there for me, somewhere.
Believe it or not, when I came back in the house, the telephone rang, and it was Cindy who told me all about Winnie. Winnie had had two litters of puppies without a problem, but with the third there was a problem.
Surgery was necessary and then she was spayed and went home to live with Cindy and the family. Cindy said she had not achieved her championship in the ring only because, at 42 pounds, she was too small.
We talked for some time. I told her my situation, that I was indeed old but in remarkably good condition for 85, was physically active, had loved and lived with Dals since 1948, and my life was not complete without one.
To shorten the story, she brought Winnie to me May 17, asking only that if she didn’t work out, Cindy could take her back, and that, God forbid, if something should happen to me, Cindy could come and get her. And that she must be loved and cared for and treated like a queen.
Lisa looked this newcomer over, hissed a time or two, and in cat language laid down the rules. This was her house and she was the boss.
Winnie agreed and the very next night we were a threesome in bed!
It is extremely hard for me to believe that this smiling – yes, she’s a smiler – beautiful dog has become such a blessing in such a short time. And how Cindy could bear to part with her I don’t know.
Such compassion and generosity are rare commodities these days and I am profoundly grateful.
Winnie has made herself totally at home. She rests on Ori’s and Sister’s rug under the kitchen table. She waits for her bites of toast at breakfast.
She quickly learned to “sit” – show dogs are discouraged from sitting, being expected to “stand” – and in the car she simply curls on the passenger seat and naps. After all, she has traveled thousands of miles in her show career, so a two-mile trip to the vet is nothing.
In the evening, it almost seems nothing has changed. She is in Sister’s corner on the couch, Lisa is in what was Ori’s corner. I am once again happily in the middle.
Despite the many paws she has to fill, so to speak, “Mini Winnie” is very much her own dog, with the sweetest personality and disposition one could ever want.
Folks who aren’t dog lovers won’t understand my trauma over the past several weeks – actually months – but as Anatole France wrote, “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”