BY BRITTANY MURRAY
FAIRMONT — Winston, the now-viral sensation miraculously found alive in a zipped-up cooler bag last month in Rivesville, is regaining some normalcy at the Marion County Humane Society, outside of Fairmont.
With cataracts in both eyes, Winston is blind but otherwise in good health and spirit.
“His blood work showed a few liver enzymes a little out of whack, but we think that might just be inflammation from something,” Shelter Director Jonna Spatafore said. “He gets blood work checked again on the 22nd and hopefully he’ll be good to go, which means he gets to find a home.”
Winston was first brought to the shelter on July 31, when a man who was walking his Saint Bernard found the bag containing Winston along an access road behind the power plant in Rivesville.
“We got him to a veterinarian immediately, and he checked out pretty good,” Spatafore said.
Spatafore said the staff then took Winston to Rachel’s TLC Grooming.
“If you saw the pictures that are posted, he was in bad shape,” she said. “She got him cleaned up, got the fleas off of him and everything else. We just started taking care of him and trying to find out who would do such a thing.”
Now, Winston is making friends at his new temporary home at the shelter.
“He loves his kennel … but I think because he can’t see, he feels very secure when he’s in it,” Spatafore said. “He’ll walk the sides when we put him in, and then he’s just like, ‘OK, good,’ and he’ll lay down and sleep.”
However, he is still a little anxious.
“We do have him in a quieter area of the shelter. He is in our isolation room,” Spatafore said. “He recognizes our voices and gets a little bit excited when he ‘sees’ us and gets real excited when it’s time to eat. He loves to eat.”
With Thursday’s arrest of Justin Lancianese, 35, of Rivesville, Winston’s case got an ending that Spatafore said many abandonments don’t see — a charge for animal cruelty.
“You know really, Winston’s good. We’re going to get him a good home, but people just need to know that you’re not allowed to do this,” she said. “It’s just wrong, and we’re not going to let you do things like that. Someone’s accountable for it. He definitely got justice, so we’re happy. We’re real happy.”
Animal shelters such as the Marion County Humane Society unfortunately see many dogs from situations like Winston’s.
“It’s actually far more prevalent than you would ever imagine,” Heather Severt, the West Virginia state director for the Humane Society of the United States. “We’re very lucky that in this situation law enforcement acted very swiftly and did an excellent job at pursuing the case and bringing the individual allegedly responsible in for an arrest as soon as possible.”
Severt said despite animal abandonment being illegal, in West Virginia it still happens quite a bit.
“And often times because it’s abandonment, there might not be a witness. It’s hard. That’s why we offer the reward,” she said. “That could be a big issue, but in this case, luckily the officer did an excellent job at investigating and we got very lucky.”
Although it took a tragic story, Winston has become a bit of a local celebrity.
Many have stopped into the animal shelter to see him, Winston’s story has gained over 186,000 views on Facebook, and most recently a group of Winston’s fans in the United Kingdom have shipped him handmade sweaters.
“Yes, he is tiny and he is adorable, and he had a horrendous thing done to him, but I have 45 other dogs and 70 cats here,” Spatafore reminds folks.
Spatafore said many of the pets at the Marion County Humane Society have also come from bad situations. At least 20, she said, were seizures from neglect cases.
“Stop by your shelter,” she said. “You know, there’s all kinds of amazing animals here.”
Even those who can’t adopt due to living situations or other reasons can help by donating to their local shelters, either monetarily or by volunteering their time.
“Come work at the shelter,” Spatafore said. “I always tell people, ‘I will work you so hard, but it will be one of the best days of your life.”
And to prevent future cases like Winston’s, Severt said people can get involved to create action.
“You can also advocate for legislative change because if we don’t have strong animal cruelty laws then situations like this happen all the time and without any type of repercussions,” she said. “So it’s very important that those that care about animals take the time to speak up and speak to their legislators, their elected officials and let them know that they find this issue very important and want to see the strongest laws put in place as possible.”
As for Winston, the Marion County Humane Society hopes to do one last act of kindness before he finds his new forever home.
“If his blood work comes back OK, I’m going to try to start a fundraiser. I want to get at least one of his cataracts removed,” Spatafore said. “A lot of animals live perfectly with one eye, and if we could get one of his cataracts, think of what kind of life that would give him.”