On December 19, 2008, I received a Christmas card from an elderly couple living in a retirement community up in Maine. They sent their usual holiday wishes, just like they have done every year for the last seven years, and then the card ended on a sad note. Winston James died this year, they have his ashes to remember him by, but they miss him so much.
For those that don’t know who Winston James was, he was the first French Bulldog to be placed by the French Bulldog Rescue Network (FBRN), back in August of 2001, only days after I founded the organization with the assistance and support of a few good friends. Winston James was a bastard of a dog, given up for biting the kids and beating up the family’s adolescent bulldog. Nevertheless, we took him into the rescue and I fostered him. He was cantankerous on his good days, downright rotten on his bad days, growling at me if I made him do what he didn’t want to do, and occasionally snapping sullenly at my fingers to make his point.
The couple in Maine, transplanted from England and missing the bull terriers of their youth, were totally intrigued by this muscular thug of a Frenchie, and they decided to give him a try, a try which lasted seven years, until his death at 12 years old. They were determined to fit him into their family, to heck with the consequences.
Winston James was not an easy dog to live with. He guarded things in his new home – first a pair of slippers, then the couch, then the bedroom. He had to be lured into his crate with biscuits, and the door slammed ignominiously on his backside. He grimly attended his owners on their walks through their retirement village, refusing to deviate from his chosen route, and turning around and heading back when he had walked enough, regardless of the wishes of the rest of the walking party. They bought him a lovely coat from Lands End, which they had to return after being thoroughly bitten trying to force him into it. They enrolled him in obedience class, but just to watch. “Winston James prefers to watch” they told the skeptical dog trainer, and after trying to handle him herself, the trainer prudently allowed him to sit on sidelines for eight weeks. His owners say he enjoyed it, as long as no one bothered him, and nobody expected him to do anything. Winston James had his limits.
The man of the house had his reservations. Winston James frightened him at first, but then eventually they made their peace, and learned to share the couch in mutual harmony. The first grandchild came along, and, inexplicably, Winston James loved him. He spent hours lying next to him and following him around as he grew.
Winston James never grew sweet tempered. For all those seven years, his owners regaled their friends with Winston James horror stories. When I asked about him, they would just say, “Oh, you know Winston James, he’s just being himself…” But they loved him. And he loved them, in his Winston James fashion.
Raise a glass to the memory of Winston James, and all of the cantankerous French Bulldogs who deserve to find good, safe homes, each to their fashion.
R.I.P., Winston James, you pigheaded devil…
Charlotte Creeley, Esq.