Memories of Winger...

Winger and Lisa visiting Saskatchewan

Doesn't this photo say it all. Winger and his ball. When I adopted Winger on April 11, 1998, he came with a ball. Never one to lose a ball, Winger played with that ball, and so many others, for the rest of his days. I always had to check his mouth after a walk through the Listowel Park because his big floppy lips usually hid a ball he scooped up from the grass as we walked.

This is a photo from Saskatchewan. Winger and I went with my Dad to a family reunion in Yorkton, Saskatchewan. That was my Dad's first vacation with a dog. It was remarkable how quick he forgave Winger for puking all over the armrest between the front seats when the heat and the long drive became too much to bear for Winger!

Winger was my first dog. I was at a bit of a cross-roads in my life in 1997-1998. My parents had split up, my social circle was changing, I had a semester off and was unemployed. Basically I really needed a best friend, so I adopted one. His name was Winger and he was 4 years old.

And I still have that ball...

Lisa and Winger - First Day

I met Winger in Duluth, Minnesota. He was living with his breeders after being returned to them a few weeks prior. Winger was a special boy and Joanne, his breeder, wasn't sure what do to with him, but he knew this special dog needed a second chance. She picked my home over 11 others.

I never liked dogs. Seriously. I grew up hating dogs. I lived on a farm but we didn't have a dog. But every dog I knew was big, smelly, had no manners, chased me on my bike, and sniffed my crotch. It wasn't until I moved in with 3 fellow forestry classmates, who each had a dog. I had NO idea that dogs had personalities! During my semester off from University, I spent most of my days with their dogs. I spent the rest of my day sufing the internet. I knew I wanted my own dog, but what did I want? I researched breeds, and took online dog breed personalities. One of my favourite dogs was my roommate's brother's dog who was a Golden Retriever mix. She was so cool. And smart! I loved throwing sticks for her.

I guess it started from her. I narrowed down my search to the Golden Retriever. I joined the big G@H e-mail list and started reading and researching. It was nearing spring and I knew I wasn't ready for a puppy. As a forestry student, I knew I'd be in the bush for the summer, so I needed a dog that was a few years old. One day, while I was surfing and looking at Golden Retriever photos, I saw the most beautiful male Golden Retriever. He was standing beside a body of water. He was big and had a big head, with long flowing Golden locks! I wish I could find that photo again. I think his name was King but I'm not sure.

Winger and his cookie

Anyway, so I decided to apply to the closest Golden Retriever Rescue Organization. It was 6 hours south of where I was living in Thunder Bay, Ontario. It was called RAGOM and was centred out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. I decided I would send in my application, and if anything came of it, then fine, otherwise I'd look again in the fall. I remember filling out the section of the form where I had to describe what I was looking for. I said something along the lines of I wanted a male Golden with lots of hair, with a big head, and I wanted him to be the kind of dog that was so interested in what I was doing, that when I opened a drawer, he'd peak his head in.

Ann from the club called me and gave me a phone interview. Once I had passed the interview, she said she knew of a dog that fitted the exact description I was looking for, but he wasn't a foster dog in their rescue organization, he had actually been returned to the breeder where she her dog was from. She told me about him. His name was Winger, and she said he was "drop dead gorgeous". She told me he had a few issues, and referred me to Joanne, his breeder, for full details.

I was so nervous to call Joanne. It was becoming real! I called Joanne and she was very straight forward and honest with me. Winger was never to be around male dogs because they brought out the worst in him. He had hip displasia. He hadn't been exercised much in the last couple of years. He was beat up by dogs of another breed he had lived with and would fight back. She told me to think about it and let her know and that she was willing to drive him half way, up to Duluth, on a Saturday so I could meet him. Luckily everyone I was friends with had female dogs!

I talked it over with my roommate Jen. I recall that I could never remember his name. "It starts with a W", I would say, "but I forget!" Jen offered to join me for the trip down to Duluth. I remember getting there early and I was so nervous! Just incase he was going to come home with me, I had bought a dog dish, and a yellow stuffed duck.

When they arrived and opened the van door, the first thing I saw was a crate with two puppies! "No, that's not Winger!" Joanne was quick to point out! Behind them was Winger. I was surprised that he already had a bit of grey on his face! He was sooooo excited. They could hardly get a leash on him before he leaped out. They grabbed a cookie so he could show off a trick he knew, to balance a cookie on his nose until they told him "okay". Well he squirmed, but he did it! But when they said "okay" he tossed it too far and under the next parked vehicle beside the van. But he crawled and got it!

We decided to go for a walk in the park. I gave Winger the yellow stuffed duck I had brought, and he carried it for awhile, and then dropped it to roll on it! Ahh he was such a happy dog, how could I say no to taking him home with me?

I remember Joanne saying later that she knew I was the right new home for Winger when he jumped right up and into my car without a hesitation.

Winger and I went treeplanting shortly after he came to live with me. His treeplanting adventures are recorded on another page: He grew into a muscled, healthy dog, and learned that other dogs weren't going to beat him up so he didn't have to fight!


Then in the fall I went back to school. Winger had to stay home all day by himself. Luckily he found ways to amuse himself, like watching tv and reading the paper. hehe

Actually I felt bad for him. I'd be working on my thesis, or homework, or our big forestry management plan. He'd toss me the ball (yes, he could actually toss the ball out of his mouth to you with great accuracy!) and I'd toss it back a few times, but then I'd have to get busy with my work. He'd stand beside me for awhile, and then with a loud humphf he lie down with his ball staring at me.

All the internet sites and message boards professed that a second Golden was the way to go! Two is easier than one! (which is so so so not true). So by the middle of winter I was looking again for another dog. I had a few rescue contacts in the states, and was starting to go through the process for a 6 year old female named Lady in Arkansas. But when the breeders got word of this, they would have none of it. They didn't want any crazy rescue dog with Winger! Who knows where this Lady could be coming from! They offered me Surf, Winger's sister from another litter. They had the same parents, but Surf was 1.5 years younger. She was a Canadian Champion and was meant to be bred, but after several retries, her hip x-rays kept coming back as borderline. So less than a year after Winger's adoption, I headed back to Duluth again to meet Surf. And wasn't she a cutie!! Here is a picture from their first night together.

Surf and Winger
Winger & Julie

No one in my family was much of a dog person either. I remember my Mom telling me he'd have to sleep in the garage when I brought him home to visit her. Ha! You should have seen her face every morning that Winger was there and I sent him and Surf up to her room to wake her up in bed :-) Everyone fell for him quickly, as you can tell by reading the memories of Winger from my family here, and in the photos. Here is Winger with my sister Julie.

Okay, there was a few treeplanters who didn't like him. He was too clingy and they wanted to plant fast and make money! Of course there was that sandwich he stole from someone's bag one day.. oh and that bagel he grabbed right out of that girl's hand on the way to the bus one early morning before planting!

Winger and I had so many adventures! He was a therapy dog, as was Surf, for a couple years. I remember on one of his first visits to the hospital he made a nurse cry. A man had Parkinsons, amoung other ailments, and he spent most of his day in a coma-like state in his wheelchair. Winger sat beside him and he reached out to pet him! Apparently he was a dog breeder earlier in his years. He probably heard the familar panting, and with his eyes still closed, he reached out right to where a dog's head should be, and there was Winger!

His ability to toss back a ball really excited a very handicapped little girl in the special needs classroom we visited a couple years ago. She loved playing with the balls, and here was a big furry animal who tossed them back! She was so excited, if you could have only seen her! Winger was so gentle too, he knew exactly where to toss it for her so she could toss or roll it back to him!

Winger and I tried out obedience for a couple of years. He even earned his CD! That was after 10 tries though! He just turned deaf on the recall a few times!


Winger and Surf have been a constant in my life. Geez, when I think back, Winger lived in 6 different house with me in 4 different towns! He always got a little extra clingy when the boxes came out and it was moving time.

When I think of all of Winger's favorite things, I can't help but smile. He rarely slept in past sunrise, there were things to do! Ball to fetch, sticks to chew on, grass to roll on! He loved swimming. He loved eating! When I asked him if he was hungry, he'd do a dance! Then he'd pace back to the fridge and back. He always let me know when it was dinner time. And I don't think there was a single kind of food he didn't like. Well maybe celery, it wasn't his favourite, but lettuce - he loved it!

He loved being groomed, never putting up a fuss. When I would take the grooming table out of the garage, he'd jump his front paws up on to it and wait for a boost.

So often when he was younger, he'd wake me up by tossing toys on me, and if that didn't get me up, he'd jump up on the bed and steamroll me, by rolling on his back beside and over me!


Winger died on September 15, 2005. He lost his life to mast cell cancer, which is an evil predator that snuck up on us and took him far before he was ready to go. I have written a page all about mast cell cancer - I have included the timeline of his illness there with excerpts of posts I made on the discussion board describing events as they happened. I really hope it will help someone else who is faced with the same diagnosis. Please pay attention to any lumps you find on your senior dogs and have them biopsied by your vet.

He's been gone for almost two weeks now, and I miss him so very much. I imagine I'll be grieving for a long time to come. Winger was just such a special dog who loved everything about life. He was so excited about every new experience. Surf misses him very much too. They were the best of buddies and did everything together. In reality, Winger was my dog, and Surf was Winger's dog. She looked to him for guidance on everything! She wouldn't eat anything unless she saw Winger doing it first. She wouldn't come in from the yard unless Winger did. She wouldn't get up on the bed unless Winger did it first. Now that he's gone, Surf and I are really working on figuring out how to cope without him, and with each other!

Lisa Verkley, September 28th, 2005

Ode to Winger    Comment from Lisa's Blog

Winger & LisaI first met him at the Toronto airport, Lisa and him flow in from Thunder Bay, he had already made friends with the airport staff and was ready to add me to his list. He was the most friendly non threating dog I have ever met. He didn't even bark. His most favourite thing to do was play ball with you. He would return the ball, catch the ball and run it back until he got tried and then he would sit and chew on it till he was ready to do some more. He was Lisa's dog, and he guarded her where ever they went. Not with a bark or growel but with a pant or a smile. Winger was a gentle giant. My many nights sleeping at Lisa's, if I didn't close the door he would snuggle up to me in bed. In the morning you could count on a wake-up lick or a wet nose to start you your day. He was always ready to play and always welcomed a good scratch from my hands. I found Winger's most favorite thing was swimming. You would have to really hold him back or splash he was gone.

You know we all could learn from him. He loved you period. He always was ready to play, he never would hurt anyone. He always had time for you. He was eager to greet you even if you only left an hour ago.I took that picture of Lisa hugging Winger which she has posted. It says it all. Winger thanks for walking into my life in Toronto with Lisa and enriching it.

~ John (Lisa's Dad)

Winger & LisaWinger, my sister Lisa's dog, has passed on.
From Brian's Blog

Back in 1998 when her life was full of uncertainty and she lived so very far from home, Lisa adopted a dog. I say adopted because it was much more than just picking out a pet; Winger became part of her family. She had a dependent now. Winger needed her to be there for him every day, to provide food and to make time to go for walks and play. I think Lisa needed him too.

Now, I'm not a dog guy. I'm not really a pet person, although I enjoy my fish, and someday will name that bunny that keeps eating my clover, but you couldn't help but love Winger. He always had that face with his head slightly tilted to the side, one eyebrow raised, an a small smile that seemed to say, I know, but wouldn't you rather play ball than talk about it?.

Winger has been much more a part of Lisa's life than any normal pet. He inspired her to start which has blossomed in to a site boasting thousands of hits per day. Many people world-wide have used this resource to learn about their Golden Retrievers and discuss various issues from behaviour to diets to awards. This is a legacy that Winger inspired, that has touched the lives of countless people and improved the lives of so many dogs.

I think along the way somewhere we all got very attached to Winger, obviously none more so than Lisa. I think that that is why it hurts to know he won't be around anymore. We've never really thought of him as a pet, but more as Lisa's child, and as a friend.

I'll miss that look of his...

~ Brian (Lisa's Brother)

All things end but it isn't pleasant for the ones that remain behind. You did a good thing ending his suffering. Winger was defiantly a lucky dog to have you as his friend and companion. The best behaved dog I have ever come across and you know that is high praise from a not such a dog lover like me. I know you were expecting this but it still hurts like hell when it happens.

I read the posts from your friends on the Golden website. How wonderful that you have such a group of understanding fellow dog owners that totally understand what you are going through. Makes my heart glad that you have such a terrific circle of supportive friends. They really appreciate the effort you have made to bring them all together. That website is a good thing you are doing. A fitting tribute now to Winger.

Love you,
Aunt Cecilia

Winger & SurfI am so proud of you for coping so well so far Lisa. I have lost a grandbaby in Winger and wish I was there. You deserve such praise for the love you brought into Wingers life and Surfies too.
Sure hope tears are healthy!
You made a very tough decision and a very loving one for Winger and I know you will both be reunited some day, just hope I am there too...what a sight!
always and forever, your friend and mother


If it should be, that I grow frail and weak,
And pain should keep me from my sleep,
Then you must do what must be done,
For this, the last battle can't be won.
You will be sad - I understand,
Don't let your grief then stay your hand.
For this day, more than all the rest,
Your love and friendship stand the test.
We've had so many happy years,
What is to come can hold no fears.
You'd not want to suffer so,
When the time comes, please let me go.
Take me where my needs they'll tend,
Only please, stay with me until the end.
Hold me very firm and speak to me,
Until my eyes can no longer see.
I know in time you too will see
It is a kindness that you do to me.
Although my tail its last has moved
From pain and suffering I've been saved.
Don't grieve that it should be you
Who has to decide this thing to do.
We've been so close - we two these years,
Don't let your heart hold any tears.