We got Winnie when I was 8. He came named, which annoyed me at the time: Shouldn’t a kid get to name his own dog? We got him when our cousins’ dog had puppies. Our cousins had named the other ones, too, though I don’t know what became of those dogs or their names. Plus he was a boy, and “Winnie” was decidedly unmasculine. I think we kept Winnie’s name because it was given by family, and we did kind of like the pun: Winnie the poodle. Most pets don’t come with names that beg for a rimshot.
Winnie had the biggest head of all his brothers and sisters, which my parents hoped would mean he would turn out to be smart. And he was: he had a decent vocabulary and was happy and obedient. He was also epileptic. None of us knew dogs could even have epilepsy, and my only experience with it as a child had been a pretty disconcerting moment in “The Andromeda Strain,” so I didn’t know how it would affect my pet. We found out he was sick the first time he had a seizure: he would fall to his side and shake for a minute, his saliva foaming a little, and then he’d stop and breathe heavily, regaining his strength as he looked around the room like someone who couldn’t quite remember the details of the bad dream he’d just escaped. The fits affected his continence, too, so we would usher him outside afterward. There’s treatment but no cure for the ailment, so for the rest of his life he was given tablets and liquid medicine a couple times a day. These measures didn’t eradicate the seizures, but they did reduce their frequency and potency.
Mom was the best with him when he had a fit. Winnie’s involuntary shaking put him at risk of smacking his head on a piece of furniture as he thrashed around, but Mom would always calm him and guide him, keeping her hands lightly on his body as he trembled, waiting for his system to right itself. We all took turns giving him his medicine, but Mom did it more than anyone. She was always quickest, and she could always get him to eat that damn pill when he’d spit it out for the rest of us.
Winnie lived a long life for any dog, especially a poodle with epilepsy, but when I was in college, age and disease caught up with him. He was sleeping too much, walking too little. His hearing and weight declined. This is the way things go. One day, my father carried him to the vet’s office and came home empty-handed.
Winnie was great. Playful and funny and obedient and smart, and endlessly tolerant of the children who were raised alongside him. He could stand on his hind legs for minutes, begging for kitchen scraps as we ate or cleaned dishes. His breath was awful. He slept plenty and chased his toys, and he could disembowel a stuffed animal in a terrifying amount of time. He came when you called and loved you every day.
He was just a good dog.