Tag Archives: dog litters

A Dalmatian and a Broken Heart

18 Feb

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This is not a story about a Dalmatian or a Super Bowl commercial, although they both played a part in what caused my mother to end up in the hospital with a broken heart.

My mother, Eleanor Green Winters has worn many hats throughout her 82 years of life: wife, mother of three, manufacturing company president, piano teacher and grandmother. Her most recent hat—or more fittingly—crown, is on her head now because she is the Dalmatian Queen of the West Coast.

My mother got her first Dalmatian when she was ten years old. She adored the spotted breed and had been begging her parents to get her one for months, but was always given a resounding “no.” Then her five-year-old brother, Johnny ran out in the street between two parked cars and was struck by a delivery truck. He and my mother had just had a fight during which she had yelled at him, “You’re a little brat! Why don’t you just go away and leave me alone?” She still remembers hearing the screech of the brakes. She can still see Johnny’s eyes rolling back into his head as he lay on the parkway.

She didn’t go to his funeral. Her parents believed it best that she not witness such a somber and traumatic event. They didn’t understand that she already had. My mother stayed home, her child’s mind hatching a plan to get that Dalmatian. She also simultaneously buried into her subconscious the idea that her brother’s death was somehow her fault. A few days after the funeral she cried to my grief-stricken grandparents, “Now that I don’t have a baby brother anymore, couldn’t I at least have a Dalmatian?” She got her first “Pepper” shortly thereafter.

My mother carried on the “Pepper” tradition into our immediate family. If something terrible happened, a Dalmatian always made things better. When I was seven, my three year brother, Tony was severely burned in an explosion after a neighbor boy made a homemade rocket with his father’s gun powder. After he recovered, Pepper Number 1 came into our lives. Next was Pepper Number 2, who was a bit of a terror breaking out of the backyard to roam the streets looking for garbage treats. Ironically, she was hit by a car during one of her nighttime forays and was killed. My father, not a fan of big dogs that shed great amounts of white hair, was done. A third Dalmatian was out of the question.

During my senior year of college, our family was devastated after my father suddenly died of complications from the flu. My mother was only forty-eight. She drowned her grief in gin martinis and once again hatched a plan. She found an ad in the paper offering Dalmatian puppies and two weeks later I went with her to pick up Pepper Number 3, a blue-eyed beauty with a sweet disposition. We would later discover this Pepper was completely deaf. She understood sign language and was the best watchdog we ever had.

After graduation, I married. My husband and I moved in with my mother while he attended college. We began having children and my mother began having Dalmatian litters. To date, she’s had seventeen litters and 133 Dalmatian puppies. I’ve only had four. Children, that is.

My mother’s Dalmatians are national champions and are bred for their friendly temperament. Her well-bred litters have helped change the bad reputation that Dalmatians have had for many years—that they are unfriendly and not good family dogs. Even if you are a believer in rescuing dogs and not breeding them, dogs still get pregnant and puppies still need to get placed in loving homes. My mother is an expert on the birthing process, so much so that she’s recently written a book called So Your Bitch is Pregnant: Raising your First Litter of Puppies from Pregnancy to Placement.

Mom’s got connections in the Dalmatian world, as well. Last summer she was contacted by a company that trains animals for television commercials. Previously, one of her pups had been in an H&M print ad, so they knew she was the one to call. The company ended up taking my mother’s Dalmatian, Phoebe, and Phoebe’s daughter, Fancy, who was owned by a friend. The company took Phoebe and Fancy away for ten days for training and to film the commercial. My mother knew it was for a Budweiser commercial. What she didn’t know at the time was that it was for the Budweiser Super Bowl commercial. My mother also didn’t know which dog would end up being chosen for the spot. She was told not to say anything about the commercial until it aired. And she didn’t.

Budweiser published their commercial, entitled Wind Never Felt Better on YouTube on January 23, 2019. In the world of advertising, it’s a masterpiece. Phoebe opens the spot with her ears flapping in the wind set to Bob Dylan’s classic song. Mom was over the moon to see that it was indeed Phoebe who had made the cut. The identifying spot on Phoebe’s head was unmistakable. We began to share the commercial on Facebook. Our girl was a star! Two days later a local Santa Barbara newscaster came out to the house to interview mom about the “Dalmatian from Goleta.” It aired on our local network that evening. I’d never seen my mother so happy.

The next morning, the heartbreak began.

Mom received a call from the company that hired Phoebe for the shoot. They were freaking out that our dog was on the news and that we were calling her Phoebe. On their own social media, Budweiser had referred to the dog in the commercial as “April” which is the name of the dog they own. The dog-training company was saying that Budweiser was concerned about the attention Phoebe was getting as the Dalmatian in the Super Bowl commercial. The animal training company wanted us to remove all of our social media posts. We took down everything from our own pages, but there was no way we could stop all the sharing that had been occurring on Facebook.

I’ve never seen my mother so upset. Her hands were shaking and she could barely speak. She thought that it was all her fault; that she was responsible for causing problems for the animal training company, not to mention, Budweiser. No one ever told her that she shouldn’t talk about the commercial after it aired, or that she couldn’t say Phoebe was in the commercial. She figured that since it was on YouTube, it was considered aired.

That day was a nightmare. My mother’s blood pressure skyrocketed. She had a major anxiety attack. She finally got word that Budweiser saw the news spot and were fine with it. They asked only that my mother wait until after the Super Bowl commercial aired before she talk any more about it. Even though several news organizations had already contacted her for interviews, she agreed to wait until after the Super Bowl to talk about Phoebe and the commercial.

The following morning, my mother was chatting with a friend on the phone when she started slurring her words. She had trouble forming complete sentences. We thought she was having a stroke. We rushed her to the hospital where they informed us she was experiencing the symptoms of a heart attack. We explained to the doctors about what had transpired the day before and they said it might be something called Takotsubo syndrome, also known as “Broken Heart Syndrome,” which mimics an actual heart attack. This syndrome is only temporary; it’s caused by a sudden stressful situation—often by the death of a loved one. That evening Mom had an angiogram to rule out any coronary blockages. We were relieved to learn there were no blockages and no sign of an actual heart attack.

I can honestly say that my mother was the most popular patient in the hospital that night. The doctors and nurses adored her because she has such a wonderful sense of humor (translation: potty mouth.) And she couldn’t stop bubbling about Phoebe and the Budweiser Super Bowl commercial, as well as the recent publication of her book. The cardiologist told me she was a “breath of fresh air after a very long day of surgeries.”

My mother has now completely recovered, although she still has moments of panic, thinking she’s done something terrible that she can’t fix. She’s been thinking a lot about the connection between what happened to her 75 years ago and her obsession with Dalmatians. How it’s so difficult for her handle any kind of adversity without thinking it’s her fault. Through this experience, she’s realized that she still hasn’t dealt with the deep emotional scars regarding her little brother’s death.

Broken heart or not, my mother is a strong, charismatic woman who still has much to share with the world. Her love of dogs knows no bounds, and her knowledge of the Dalmatian breed is unparalleled. She deserves all the accolades she has received.

Wear that black and white crown with pride, Mom. You are the Dalmatian Queen, and Phoebe is your Super Bowl princess.

Mom will have her book signing at Chaucer’s Bookstore in Santa Barbara this coming Thursday, February 21 at 7:00 p.m.