Winnie from Salisbury (Wiltshire)
When they first brought Winnie out she looked very unenthusiastic, downtrodden and seemed kind of beaten by life. We also noticed that when she was handed over to another person, she would always look back towards the previous handler with a disappointed look which seemed to say “but why?”. I told my wife “she’s looking for a person to be her own” and the almost three and a half years which followed proved that to be true.
We didn’t want to overwhelm nervous little Winnie, so on our first two visits we basically just walked with her while allowing her the freedom to do what dogs do, mostly sniffing around. We noticed that if we stopped walking, she would walk back to us, sit at our feet, do a little shuffle backwards and then look up at us. We found this so adorable that after we left on the first day, we just could not stop talking about her, right up until bed time.
Things took a very positive turn on our third visit when she was clearly very happy to see us, running between the two of us excitedly. Taking it slow had clearly paid off as she now felt quite comfortable with us. We took her for another walk around the grounds, this time showing her some physical affection but still being careful not to overwhelm her. “Do you think she will ever let me hug her?” I asked my wife. This turned out to be quite a silly question.
Our next visit was to take her home. She jumped into our car without hesitation (we later learned that she liked cars a lot and would happily jump into even a strangers car) and we drove her home. We had big smiles on our faces and Winnie sat on the back seat with her tongue out, seeming excited but understandably slightly nervous.
Winnie seemed to settle in quite well, with no accidents and a very positive attitude towards us however we did notice that she seemed quite reactive to movement and sound, often jumping up from her bed before returning a little later. It also took some time for her to sleep soundly. Some of this was probably normal new home nerves but we both think that somebody in her past must have made her nervous.
Judging by the little information we have, Winnie did not have the best start to life. On her first vet visit I was asked whether she had been used for breeding after just a quick glance. There were very clear signs of Winnie being intensively bred, even to a layperson. Winnie first entered the dogs trust at around seven years old which makes us wonder whether she was repeatedly bred until then and then discarded.
Winnie went on to have many mammary tumours (related to her late spaying and many pregnancies) and a total of four surgeries to remove them. Histology was performed for some and those were confirmed to be cancerous. Her final two surgeries were only 2 months apart, which told us that the tumours were becoming more aggressive and that the end would probably not be far off.
Winnie’s second surgery was a complete mammary gland removal on one side, with the other side intended to follow a couple of months after, which ultimately did not happen due to Winnie being diagnosed with Cushing’s in the meantime. By the time the Cushing’s was under control the vet who would have performed the surgery had left the practice and another vet told us it was unlikely to improve Winnie’s prospects in any case. We will now never know whether it could have helped.
Once Winnie’s Cushing’s under control we were amazed at the progress she made behaviourally. We had already worked to help her overcome issues with other dogs, chasing cars, being over-reactive to the doorbell, phobias related to our garden and impulse control (particularly related to food) but we were still yet to see Winnie at her absolute best.
Winnie was so much more relaxed and carefree that she began initiating play with us many times each day. She had been quite playful when we got her but this had diminished over time, presumably due to the Cushing’s. More impressively though, she became calm around other dogs, even to the point of rolling on her back while another fairly large dog was stood right by her and letting us show affection and give treats to other dogs without showing jealousy. We were overjoyed to see our now twelve year old dog, who had been through so much, finally acting totally happy and free of stress. She was running around the house in the summer like she was having the time of her life. She even played with another dog for the first time which we never thought we would see.
Unfortunately at the end of June 2020, her cortisol was found to be very high once more and she was again displaying Cushing’s symptoms (extreme thirst, hunger, pendulous abdomen). We increased her medication but it did not help. It was proposed that Winnie now had an adrenal tumour as well as a pituitary tumour and we began to talk about and consider adrenal surgery and treatment with mitotane, a drug more suited to adrenal dependant Cushing’s disease.
Both of these options are serious and carry risks but we wanted to give Winnie the best chance we could, so we made a plan to have her cortisol checked again in a few weeks to see if a further increase in medication had lead to improvements and if not, then she would be referred to a specialist would would ultrasound her adrenal glands and guide treatment if a tumour was confirmed. We would discuss Winnie’s quality of life at each stage and only continue if we thought the benefits outweighed the risks and that Winnie would maintain a decent quality of life.
Unfortunately before any of this could happen, Winnie's breathing became shallow, quick and raspy and she started to become weak, with difficulty climbing the stairs, getting in and out of the car or even taking a short walk. We took her to the vet and observed along the way that she wasn’t her usual car ride loving self. The vet determined that Winnie had back pain and gave her an injectable opioid painkiller in the hope that with the pain relieved, she will be more herself.
Later that same day it became clear that Winnie’s health had deteriorated so much and the situation had become so complex that there was only one option left. To spare Winnie from suffering, we had to euthanise. It was the most excruciatingly difficult and painful decision of our lives and we have revisited it every day since, only to repeatedly conclude that it was the right thing. Unfortunately this only helps us feel a little better.
We try to focus on the good memories, of which we have many. Winnie was such a sweet, gentle, clever and giving dog. We didn’t have any expectations when we adopted her, we just wanted to give a rescue dog a chance. We gave her love, food and vet care but what she gave us back was so much more. There is now an enormous hole in our lives and our hearts.