I Adopted a Cocker Spaniel Who Was “Mummified” in Fur Mats

The dog underneath wiggled his way into our hearts. Now we can't imagine life without Winkie.


This is Winkie’s story, as much as I know of it. It starts before we met him. My husband and I live in San Francisco with our Cocker Spaniel, Hershey. He came from a breeder, and we had been a cozy family of three for about six years when my hubby began to make noises about getting another dog. Another Cocker Spaniel, to be specific.

Another dog? Why? I was pretty happy with the status quo, especially since I was spending about half an hour each day making sure Hershey’s thick coat was well-brushed. Another Cocker Spaniel? I was not keen, but the idea lingered. 2011 turned into 2012.

Meanwhile, across the bay, a little Cocker boy was getting ready for his adoption. He had been through a lot. Many months earlier, he had been discovered on the street by a passerby. That person saw a pile of dirty fur that seemed to be breathing. He picked it up and turned it over to Oakland Animal Services. From there, the animal was rushed to an emergency clinic, where the fur and mats were cut away until a little dog was found underneath.

He was “mummified” in the matted fur, emaciated, and his ears were badly infected. He had lost sight in one eye. As he emerged from his semi-hibernation, they named him Van Winkle, after Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle, who rejoined society after sleeping for 20 years. The shelter needed to raise a lot of money to meet Van Winkle’s medical expenses, so they made a video that was aired by a local news station.

The shelter also found a wonderful foster family to take him in. His dedicated foster mom took him to vet appointments, stayed up with him, and administered his many medications, including injections that had to be given every few hours, day and night, for weeks.

He improved day by day, and it was hoped he’d be ready for adoption in July. His ear infections defied treatment, though. Ultimately, the decision was made for him to have surgery on both ears, leaving him deaf. Months of post-op care and therapy followed. 2011 turned into 2012, and Van Winkle — now known as Winkie — was ready for adoption. The shelter produced a new video:

And that’s where our paths crossed. I saw the video on the news. These stories always capture my attention, and they always break my heart. I always think I want to come to the rescue, but I always come to my senses before taking any steps! This one was different — maybe because he overcame such much or maybe because I could see his inner Cocker Spaniel. Anyway, after much prayer and discussion with my husband, I called to apply to adopt Winkie.

A week later my husband, our dog Hershey, and I traveled across the Bay Bridge to meet Winkie and his foster family at the shelter. We weren’t the only applicants — in fact, we were the last — but his foster mom chose us on the spot. A week later, we went to pick him up and bring him home. We were concerned about his reaction to being separated from his foster mom, to whom he was deeply attached, but we needn’t have worried. He took his place in the back seat, as if he’d been riding there his whole life, curled up, and took a nap!

He walked into the house the same way: fearless. Taking his cues from Hershey, Winkie found his flopping spots in every room, his supper dish, and the toy box. He found his way into our hearts. We were already in love.

And he began his teaching career. Of course, we had to learn all about his particular quirks, which are many! Our first lesson was that being half-blind and mostly deaf is a non-issue, as Winkie has no idea there’s anything wrong.

He can’t jump up on people or furniture because his hind legs are weakened, though, but he can climb like a little monkey! His mouth doesn’t open very wide, and his bite is weak, but he’ll fetch a ball until he’s ready to drop. He snores. He drinks too much water too fast, only to cough and gag and spit it back up.

He can be clumsy if he gets going too quickly, but he always gets back up and keeps at it. Through it all, he has taught us how to take things in stride, that nothing is as bad as you imagine, and that any challenge can be dealt with.

We’ve learned by experience that change is good, and life is full of wonderful surprises! He makes us laugh all the time. He makes a party out of everyday events, like suppertime and the daily walk.

It has to be acknowledged that Hershey has never fully taken to Winkie. It isn’t that they fight or compete — Hershey simply doesn’t acknowledge him. He was an only dog for six and a half years, and he would have preferred to keep it that way.

Winkie, for his part, relies on Hershey for life cues. Hershey hears, and he knows the lay of the land and the household routines. So Winkie always makes sure Hershey is in view, while letting Hershey’s aloofness roll off his back.

We recently celebrated the first anniversary of Winkie’s adoption. We’ve introduced him to the ocean and to wine country, to Carmel and Mendocino, to trains and boats, and to the Wag Hotel. It’s hard to imagine our lives without him now. His place is in our home and in our hearts.

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