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I first fell in love with Winston after spotting him on Instagram. He was hiking on a long dust-covered trail somewhere in Los Angeles, looking incredibly handsome and alert in his DJANGO dog harness and leash set. Of course, before noticing what Winston was wearing, I (Steph) couldn't help but notice his eyes—or more specifically, his missing left eye.
Winston is an adventurous, loving, and strikingly good looking "tweenie" long-haired dachshund from Los Angeles. He is also completely blind on one side. When Winston was just a few months old, he was attacked and severely injured by another dog. The attack was the start of several harrowing months for Winston and his loving mom and dad.
I caught up with Winston and his mom to learn more about Winston's injury, the experience of going through such a traumatic and heartbreaking ordeal, Winston's recovery process, and how the beautiful one-eyed boy is now handling life, adventures, and puppyhood in southern California.
It is so nice to speak with you! How old is Winston, and what kind of dog is he?
A little over 9 months! He’s a shaded red long-haired tweenie dachshund.
We have a tweenie dachshund as well! Our little guy Django is 13 ish pounds. Tweenie sausage dogs weigh between 12-15 lbs and are right between miniature and standard dachshunds.
Tell us more about Winston’s eye injury. How did Winston get hurt, and how old was he at the time?
When Winston was 4 months old, we took him to a family member's house to meet their dog. It was the second dog he had met. Winston was not fully vaccinated yet and was going to be cleared in a couple days to be in public with dogs. We knew this dog had shown some aggression to other dogs before, but he had never bit or hurt anything. We figured they were family, and the dogs would have to meet someday anyways. Looking back, all humans involved would have handled this much differently.
In one quick second, while both dogs were on leash in the backyard, Winston was attacked. It was likely due to human error, puppy energy, and aggression and/or resource guarding issues in the other dog.
What was Winston's exact injury?
Winston suffered a proptosis—a bulging, protruding eye—due to trauma and pressure to his face and head, and he was taken to an emergency vet right away. The vet performed a non-invasive surgery to pop his left eye back into the socket fully. He stayed overnight at the emergency vet.
We were so sad and scared. We were told the possible outcomes of the surgery were losing the left eye, losing his vision but keeping the eye, or a full recovery where everything would go back to normal.
How awful and scary. I imagine you and Winston's dad were hopeful for a full recovery at this time. What was the outcome of the surgery?
Winston's eyelid was stitched shut for a week. After the stitches were removed, we were told Winston did not keep his vision and had lateral strabismus. This meant the muscles behind his eye were torn during the injury and his eye would be permanently looking outward instead of forward.
We were given drops and ointment to administer while the eye finished healing, and we contacted an ophthalmologist to finish his care. Upon getting Winston home, we noticed a clear line on his cornea. When we went in for Winston's first ophthalmologist appointment, we were told Winston had a corneal ulcer, which likely happened at the time of the injury. We were given more drops and ointments.
At this point Winston was getting medication in the left eye almost 20 times a day and was on 5 different prescriptions. However, the ulcer steadily got worse, protruding off of the cornea further and getting more defined. His cornea also started turning blue and bubbly. It looked so crazy!
We took Winston back to the ophthalmologist and were told he now had edema and bullous keratopathy. We continued administering his medications and tried to save his eye. Winston was also in a cone this entire time to protect his eye.
Why did Winston's eye need to be removed?
After trying to save Winston's eye for a month, we had a realistic conversation with our ophthalmologist. She said we could continue trying to save his eye, which would not have vision either way, but it would take another 3-4 months of doing this medication routine. There was no guarantee the eye would be saved. The other option was to remove his eye via a routine procedure that required only two weeks of healing time. After this period of recovery, Winston could go back to his normal life.
This must have been such a stressful decision for you and Winston's dad!
It was a very hard choice, but Winston's eye had shown no improvement at all since the injury. It had only gotten worse and developed more issues.
He had been in a cone for a month and was not allowed to play much or go on long walks per the doctor's orders. He was in a prime socialization period, yet we were unable to socialize him in any way.
Winston was getting his eye touched almost 20 times a day with either a drop or an ointment. This medication routine was also very difficult for us to execute given the time investment it required.
We were very lucky to be working remotely full time during this process. There was no way we would have been able to administer the care required otherwise.
Ultimately, we wanted Winston to have quality of life and enjoy puppyhood, and we decided to go through with the enucleation (eye removal surgery). The attack happened on February 13th when Winston was 17 weeks old, and his eye was removed on March 9th.
On March 22nd, at 23 weeks old, Winston's stitches were removed and his cone was taken off! He was a free boy again.
That must have been an incredible day for Winston and well as you! What was the recovery and rehabilitation process like once Winston's stitches were removed?
The physical recovery post enucleation was very minimal. We applied a scar and antibiotic ointment to the surgery site daily to help with its appearance and prevent infection. The doctor did an amazing job—overall a very clean, professional job.
We were given the option to have a silicone ball implant put into Winston's empty socket with the lids sewn shut over it so that the area would not look indented, but we opted out because we did not want to risk his body rejecting the foreign object and causing him more pain and suffering. Winston did not have any infection or issues after his eye was removed, thank goodness.
Were there any significant changes in Winston's behavior after the enucleation?
Throughout the first week of Winston having the cone off and stitches out, we noticed he was very unsure of himself and highly reactive to anything new and unknown. He also had to get used to his new line of sight. If we were playing tug with him and the toy went onto his blind side, he would get scared.
We had a trainer come to our home shortly after his surgery to evaluate his mental state. She brought a few of her dogs to see how he would interact with them after being attacked. Her findings were that both he and his owners (my husband and I), lacked confidence overall after the incident. She said we needed to focus on rebuilding his confidence, and that he was not ready to play with other dogs yet because he was too scared to let the dogs smell him during greetings. She recommended a few confidence building exercises to do with him. She also suggested we keep Winston around small dogs only for the time being to work on his greeting comfortability.
How did you approach socialization and puppy play dates after all of this?
Over the course of 3 months, we slowly progressed Winston to where he is today. We started with doing dachshund playdates every few weeks, taking him on long, normal walks, and getting him out in public spaces.
Remember, he went into this injury not being fully vaccinated and being first-time dog owners, we didn't realize or think about taking him out in public in a sling before he was vaccinated. So at this point many things were brand new to him, on top of him adjusting to having one eye and having gone through something traumatic that shook his confidence.
How did Winston do on these dachshund playdates?
At first on playdates Winston would get spooked easily, especially on his blind side, and would only play for 20 minutes or so before peeling off to be alone or come back to us. Over time and by progressing him to weekly playdates, this reactivity improved drastically.
Winston now has found his groove when playing with other dogs and has found his personality again. We are still working on his reactivity to other dogs and getting ourselves comfortable with letting him play with other breeds and bigger dogs. We just started putting him around other breeds and bigger dogs about a month and a half ago and still need to work more on this.
How did you and Winston’s dad handle your emotions during such a harrowing and heartbreaking ordeal?
It was extremely hard for both of us. We had different experiences with it, too. Mom was not there when it happened, whereas Dad witnessed the entire attack. We went into it with the possibility of Winston keeping his eye and his vision, and at pretty much every point the worst happened which was heartbreaking. We focused on being a team to take care of him and utilized mental health resources.
The three of you have been though a very traumatic few months. I can only imagine how difficult and emotional it was for both you and Winston's Dad.
Incredibly, Winston is now so happy and active in all of his Instagram photos and videos! How has he adapted to life with one eye?
He is doing amazing! He has such a fun, sweet, sassy personality and you would honestly not know if you didn't see that he has one eye. He will occasionally bump into something on his blind side, but other than that he faces no physical ailments from it.
Did you need to do specific training to help Winston grow more comfortable with his limited vision?
No, we were told that was not necessary by both the doctor and the trainer. Dogs are so adaptable, and it is very common for dogs to live a fulfilling, normal life with one eye. It would be much different if he were fully blind vs. having one eye. That would definitely require some form of special training.
Is Winston on any medications or supplements to promote good health in his right eye?
We give him Omega 3 tablets and Zesty Paws Vision Bites as daily supplements to help maintain and promote good health in his right eye. We also switched him from kibble to fresh dog food as that is better for dogs' overall long term health, and we incorporate healthy dog snacks that are rich in vitamins that promote eye health, such as carrots, blueberries, pumpkin, and peas.
Does Winston have moments now where he is scared of other new dogs (or humans) due to the incident that happened?
It's hard to know at this point if his reactivity is driven entirely by the incident. It could also be because of lack of socialization during his injury or some other factor. But yes, Winston can still be fairly reactive to new people and new dogs.
We are working with him on his barking. Sometimes he barks for attention, if he wants the new humans to pet him or if he wants the new dogs to play with him. Other times it seems the barking is more out of fear. His barking has greatly improved over the last month, and we will continue to work on it.
There is a chance his excessive barking is simply because he's a dachshund :) It's really great to hear he is improving with training, though!
Have you been to a dog park or dog run since Winston's enucleation?
We are still not comfortable with dog parks. We tried taking Winston to the local dog park twice since his surgery, and we as his owners got too anxious and nervous while there. Winston also really should not be at dog parks yet due to needing to improve on his recall skills, and because he isn't neutered. Our trainer that we worked with in the beginning also recommended we do not do dog parks right now—there is plenty of time for that when he is a little older.
We love doing puppy play dates! Winston has a great group of doxie friends now. We put him around other dogs once a week consistently. We will have his friends come over to our house and our backyard, go on walks or hikes together, meet at a public outdoor location where the pups can play, or go to the beach!
Do you have any tips on how dog owners can safely socialize their puppy or adult dog with new dogs?
By no means are we experts, but we can provide some tips based on our experience as first-time dog owners with Winston. If the other dog is displaying any of these red flags, we would remove Winston immediately:
These guidelines are really helpful to go off of when we are in public spaces or on walks and want to assess if Winston is safe to greet a stranger dog or not. We have conversations with owners before Winston has a playdate with new dogs - we ask questions about their temperament, if they react negatively to unneutered dogs, about their play style, etc. If entering another dog's territory or vice versa, we introduce the dogs outside the home and on neutral territory first.
We recently took Winston on a walk with our neighbor and her dog as a way to desensitize them to each other. The other dog has shown some of the red flags I listed, and we weren't comfortable throwing them in a yard together off leash. The walk is a controlled environment with distractions in place where we can test the waters and see if they're able to greet each other properly (i.e. smelling each other respectfully before play).
Those tips are incredibly helpful! Thank you. For our readers looking for additional insight into common signs of dog aggression, here is a great article published by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).
Tell me a little bit about life in Los Angeles! What do you, Winston, and Winston's dad like to do on the weekends for fun?
We love living in LA! We bought a home in the valley a little under a year ago, and it's perfect for Winston. If we're not doing a doggie playdate, we love taking Winston on little weekend road trips that usually involve glamping and hiking. We will go out to eat, to a brewery, to a coffee shop, or to a farmers market as a family. We also enjoy doing picnics in the park or while watching a sunset!
Does Winston have a favorite toy?
Right now his favorite toy is a water bottle cruncher - it's a big squirrel that holds the water bottle! He also loves snuffle mats and enrichment puzzles/toys because they will have fun treats in them ;)
Winston is a size small at djangobrand.com! The harness fits him perfectly and the straps are adjustable. He weights 13lbs.
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