The Winston & Erin Story

This is Winston.

Winston, a gold and black shar-pei lying on a carpeted floor wearing a grey & red argyle jumper. Shards of a chewed up bone are on the floor in front of him.

A year ago he was living on the streets, wandering the western suburbs of Melbourne. No-one knows how long he’d been fending for himself, but when he was found he was skinny, in desperate need of entropion surgery (eyelift for dogs), with a bad hernia. He hadn’t been microchipped or desexed, but had such a beautiful gentle nature the Lost Dogs Home of Melbourne were sure he was someone’s beloved pet, and expected he would be claimed by a relieved family.

The time they were required to hold him passed, so the Lost Dogs Home contacted Shar Pei Rescue to take him. Shar Pei Rescue arranged for him to have his eyelift, hernia repair and desex surgery, and got him to put on the weight he desperately needed. He hung out with other dogs waiting for new homes, learning how to be social again.

Fully healed, he waited patiently (okay, not so patiently) for a loving home, but for some reason, other dogs left the rescue but not him.

This is me.

Erin — a fat white lady with brown curly hair, blue eyes, wearing a black shirt and silver necklace. She is posed with her head tilted to the side with her mouth opened as if she is saying ‘ahhh’

A year ago, I was thinking about how I couldn’t possibly endure another Melbourne winter, and feeling depressed about how empty my life was. Sure, I was happy — I had a good job, great friends, supportive family, but being a workaholic living alone was taking it’s toll. I had always wanted to adopt a dog, but being a serial renter made it seem impossible.

A year prior to that, I had moved into a great unit with a decent sized courtyard, holding the vague hope that some time in the future, I’d be allowed to get a dog. I’m not sure what it was that prompted me to ask permission this particular time last year, but I bit the bullet and did it, expecting a no but being thrilled when the email came back yes.

I launched into adoption websites with a vengeance. I had always imagined myself with something small-ish and white — a spoodle maybe, or a bishoodle. Something cute and fluffy and playful. I knew I would adopt an adult rather than a puppy, and I wanted a boy, but other than that I had no pre-conceived ideas.

I looked and I looked and I looked. Big dogs, small dogs, old dogs, young dogs, fluffy dogs, scraggy dogs, wrinkly dogs — I enquired after them all, always just missing out by a day. I put in applications and was refused because I worked full-time. I met one dog who I fell in love with — the application was approved but then I had to work from a rural location in Victoria, and they thought it would be better if he wasn’t travelling during the transition to his new home. I was heartbroken.

I (mostly) stopped looking while I was working away from home, but when I came back it resumed in earnest. I’d seen shar pei come up a number of times as I was searching the websites and marvelled at their wrinkly faces, but wrote them off as ‘not for me’, perhaps because I thought I was a ‘fluffy dog’ kind of person, or because of their reputation as a difficult breed.

But every day they kept coming up, and every day I kept falling a bit more in love. In October I applied to Shar Pei Rescue so that I could meet a seven year old shar pei named Orson. Orson had some medical conditions, but that didn’t phase me, so I arranged to meet him. After talking through his history with Amanda, founder of Shar Pei Rescue, we decided I would take Orson on a trial.

Alas, we weren’t a good match. I knew I wanted an affectionate dog — and after a day at home with Orson it was clear he wanted a home where he could have his space. I was devastated — after months and months of searching and coming close and being rejected — here was a dog someone was willing to let me have, and I was saying no.

Amanda was amazing. She said the important thing was that I got the right dog, and she would work with me to find him. I was so grateful.

The search was put on hold again as I took stock of what I wanted in a canine companion, and then went away to visit my family.

One night, sitting in the lounge room of my parents house scrolling through Facebook, this picture came up.

A photo of Winston pre-adoption. He appears to be running, his tongue is slightly protruding. He has not yet had his eye surgery.

In the description:

“For a dog who has obviously been mistreated and ignored, Burt still wants to be BFF with everyone he meets… His only problem that because he has been starved for human affection, he craves this a little too much.”

Could it be? I was nervous about enquiring after him, because after Orson what if Amanda thought I wasn’t right for one of her dogs? What if even an affectionate shar pei wasn’t affectionate enough? What if I took him home and it didn’t work out again, could my heart cope with another break?

I messaged Amanda:

Facebook message between Erin and Shar Pei rescue about Burt — Erin asks whether Burt might be okay on his own and whether she can meet him and Amanda responds yes.

I could barely bring myself to get my hopes up, but the rest of the trip I was thinking about whether this little man was going to be the one for me.

The day after I got home I was back in touch with Amanda, and on my way to Peiville to meet Burt. Right away, I could see he was a sweet, curious boy who l-o-v-e-d food. Amanda must have sensed my hesitation following Orson and said that I was welcome to take Burt on a foster basis over the Christmas period, as they were expecting to get more dogs in. If it turned out he wasn’t for me, no worries, he could come back. In the meantime, I’d get to know what it’s like to live with a shar pei. I breathed a sigh of relief and after saying goodbye to his mates, Burt got in the back of my car.

Winston’s first night. He is laying on a bed with grey triangles and a pink trim. He is looking at the camera. His expression seems mournful.

As I took him into the house, he trotted beside me, so trusting that he was going somewhere good. He sniffed around inside and out, then followed me as I tried to act normal when all I wanted to do was sit down and cuddle and play with him. That night, he went straight to his bed and lay there watching me. I felt a wave of love wash over me and I knew — this was my dog.

Five days later, I wrote to Amanda:

Dear Amanda,
It’s with a very heavy heart I write to tell you that:
I don’t think Burt will be coming back to Peiville. He passed another day at home alone with flying colours and we’ve just got home from our third visit to the dog park where after some timidity, he made three new canine and two new human friends! It’s been five days and I simply cannot imagine life without him. We’ll definitely be coming out to the Christmas party but he will 100% be returning home with me.
I hope this is okay with you! I talked it over with Burt and he seems pretty happy with the arrangement.

The response:

Facebook message which reads “lol, this is exactly the kind of devastating news I love to hear. Goooooooo Burt! Soo soo happy for you both xx

In the coming weeks his name changed to Winston, and we gained each other’s trust. Me by taking him for walks, feeding him regularly and coming home every day. Him by coming when I called him, even off lead, and not destroying anything when I was out of the house. We met new people and new dogs and began a life where family has a new name.

Pack.

A photo of Erin and Winston. They are laying in bed together with their heads resting on a pillow. Winston is cradled in the crook of Erin’s arm. Both have their eyes closed and appear to be sleeping.