Nobody who meets Winston, a huge St. Bernard-cross known as a Moscow Watchdog, initially takes this shaggy rescue for gentle giant. The dog’s threatening appearance in turn fed local rumors that the unlucky beast had cursed by gypsies, leading residents of the Bulgarian village where he was found to try to hunt him down and kill him.
Fortunately, the village vet managed to save the dog (though not before villagers severed part of his ear and his tail) then shipped him off to Dogs 4 Rescue, a rescue organization in Manchester, England. At first, staff were wary – Winston wasn’t just big and scary looking, his bloodshot eyes felt more Hound of the Baskervilles than rescue animal in need.
In the coming days and weeks, however, it became clear Dogs 4 Rescue’s newest arrival wasn’t just harmless, he was far more afraid of them. The other dogs, fortunately, were quick to bridge this gap and eagerly enlisted the larger dog in their play.
When Winston finally found a home for adoption, staff initially feared his new family might not “get him.” He was a big boy, but also easily misunderstood, staff warned. He didn’t need a dominant, controlling taskmaster, but some kind and gentle treatment, similar to the unconditional love he’d experienced at the rescue sanctuary.
Those warnings fell on deaf ears sadly, and within months Winston wound up with animal control after his new owners inexplicably strapped the animal in a shock collar. The impact had caused the nervous creature to attack a smaller dog while on a walk, despite never showing aggression towards another animal before. The incident in turn resulted in a trip to the doggie jail, where Winston’s frightening appearance led workers to ignore him for the next 6 months.
Once again, Dogs 4 Rescue intervened, sharing videos and pictures of Winston playing nicely with smaller dogs and promising to welcome him back if and when the authorities allowed.
When that finally happened, however, staff could easily see the psychological impact of the dog’s latest ordeal. Though he’d always been fearful, post shock-collar Winston was now also suspicious of everybody. His latest ordeal, and six months in the kennel, had only taught this frightened boy that humans were not to be trusted.
“He must have been so afraid,” Dogs 4 Rescue wrote in a touching Facebook tribute. “No one was there for him – it literally breaks me to think about it now.”
It took months, and a village of volunteers, to coax the frightened animal back out of his shell, but everybody chipped in to help “Big Winston” realize that not all humans are actually bad. But just when Winston was starting to feel more secure, his physical health took a turn for the worse.
The vet noticed that Winston’s size and breeding had opened the door to a common heart condition, though medication could help him make a full recovery. Dogs 4 Rescue was over the moon, even if staff knew that big dogs like Winston often suffer shorter life spans.
“We knew it was borrowed time and that one day his heart would give out,” D4R wrote in a touching Facebook tribute, “but he was loving life again and it was as though nothing was wrong.”
Sadly, that changed in dog’s final weeks, when he stopped eating, lost more weight, and exhibited growing suspicion of people. Dogs 4 Rescue rushed him to the vet, but just days before his appointment, a local fireworks show sent him into a panic. Just like that, the big dog who’d finally found love and redemption after years of abuse suffered a fatal heart attack.
Today, Dogs 4 Rescue is still grappling with its enormous loss — and working hard to ban fireworks in Winston’s memory. “He will never bound in the door again, running straight to me to bury his big slobbery chops on my lap for head cuddles,” they wrote, describing Winston as a loved, loyal, and “incredible soul” who taught them more than any other dog. “His transformation shows the potential these dogs have for moving on and recovering from the abuse. We can learn a lot from them.”
J. Swanson is a writer, traveler, and animal-enthusiast based in Seattle, an appropriately pet-crazed city where dog or cat ownership even outweighs the number of kids. When the weather permits, she likes to get outside and explore the rest of the Pacific Northwest, always with a coffee in hand.
Help Rescue Animals
Provide food and vital supplies to shelter pets at The Animal Rescue Site for free! →