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In memory of Winston.
Packing on the pounds!
Chubby butt!
Famous meatball tricks.
Hurry, more meatballs!
All dressed up .. with some place to go!

Winston: One Bulldog’s Journey to Justice.

Winston came to HeavenSent Bulldog Rescue on July 22, 2006, in the worst condition of any dog ever surrendered to us.

He was so weak that he could barely stand. The outline of his backbone and hips stood out; we could count every rib. A healthy bulldog with a large frame like Winston’s would normally carry more than 70 pounds, but Winston weighed only 42 pounds. His emaciated condition shocked even seasoned rescue volunteers who have seen it all, as well as the veterinarian who works with our organization.

Starvation was not the only issue this poor boy was dealing with. An untreated yeast infection left Winston with no fur on his legs or belly, baring his irritated skin. The little bit of coat that remained was filthy. He had infections in his eyes and ears, on his tail and on his feet. What made this case especially sad - and infuriating to our volunteers- was that Winston’s owner had adopted him from a shelter two years earlier. Despite this shameful neglect, Winston’s disposition was gentle and compliant. He could still wag his sore tail, and he willingly rolled over for tummy rubs.

The day after Winston came to us, he was examined by Dr. Christopher Keefe at Creek’s Edge Animal Hospital in Hainesport, N.J.  Winston had to be carried into the office.

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Dr. Keefe, who treats all of our rescues, told us that malnourishment had brought Winston to the brink of death. He needed to gain weight and strength immediately so he could tolerate the antibiotics and other medications he needed to recover fully. That was good news to Winston, who was ready to eat everything offered to him. Because Winston had a crooked jaw, Dr. Keefe suggested forming Winston’s food into meatballs that would be easier for him to handle. He estimated that Winston was about 8 years old.

HeavenSent volunteers became Winston’s personal chefs, cooking pan after pan of homemade beef and rice meatballs. Medicated baths twice a week soothed his skin. Lavished with love, meatballs and medicine, Winston gained 15 pounds in just 8 weeks. His solid white coat filled in quickly. He battled pneumonia and recovered. His milestones were documented with many photographs. We couldn’t count his ribs any more.

Winston’s condition was so extreme at the time of surrender that HeavenSent decided to file animal cruelty charges against his owner. The man was not a stranger to us—he had maintained occasional telephone and e-mail contact with HeavenSent during the two years that Winston was in his care, sometimes asking for advice. When he told us he wanted to surrender Winston, he said it was because he had developed a severe allergy to the dog. He sent us a photo to post for potential adopters that showed a healthy bulldog.

But that picture looked nothing like the starved dog he turned over to us. When asked what had happened, the owner blamed a temporary caretaker. Winston had been living with an acquaintance, the owner said, because of his allergy problem. After we pressed him for details, the owner admitted that there was no caretaker and no temporary living situation. Winston had deteriorated to this point in his own home.

On Nov. 2, 2006, slightly more than three months after he was surrendered, Winston’s case went before a District Court justice in Elkins Park, Pa. Eleven volunteers from HeavenSent Bulldog Rescue came to the trial, wearing white ribbons with a paw-print pattern. Winston’s owner, stunned by the turnout, asked the judge to postpone the hearing, allowing him more time to prepare his defense. The request was denied.

Dr. Keefe testified in detail about Winston’s physical condition. He said Winston clearly had not received adequate medical care for his many advanced infections, all of which were treatable. He said he was concerned that Winston might not be able to tolerate the treatments he required, because he was so malnourished.

On the witness stand, Winston’s owner claimed that the bulldog was in poor condition when he was adopted from a shelter in Michigan. Even with regular feeding, the man claimed, Winston could not gain weight. He admitted lying about Winston’s living situation and apologized. The owner insisted he loved Winston, and that he surrendered him reluctantly because of his allergies.

District Justice Elizabeth McHugh weighed that testimony against many compelling photos taken throughout Winston’s care. The “Before” group showed a nearly bald bulldog that was a living skeleton. The “After” group, taken as Winston progressed rapidly toward normalcy, showed a bulldog that looked like a family pet.

 Justice McHugh found Winston’s owner guilty of animal cruelty by neglect, and fined him more than $400. Pennsylvania law classifies animal cruelty as a summary offense, which limits the penalty to fines in most cases.

Winston unfortunately did not live to see his day in court. Shortly before the trial date, he was diagnosed with several rapidly-growing tumors that eventually made breathing a struggle. On Oct. 17, 2006, he died peacefully at Dr. Keefe’s office, hungry no more.

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