Celebrating 40 Years of Amazing Animals: Olwin

Animals are not just our companions, they are our heroes – guarding our homes, working as service dogs, and even rescuing their families from burning buildings. As TVMF celebrates its 40th Anniversary, we want to take a moment to recognize some of the extraordinary animals that have been inducted into the Texas Animal Hall of Fame.

In this week’s edition, we’d like to honor TVMF’s Texas Animal Hall of Fame winner, a Golden Retriever named Olwin.

Inducted: 2000
Owned by: Dr. S. Jeffrey Wilkerson
Nominated by: Dr. Kathryn Dittman

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes those we expect the least from perform the most extraordinary acts, especially animals. Dr. S. Jeffrey Wilkerson and the staff of the Harlingen-based Institute for Cultural Ecology of the Tropics found this to be true. When a flood put their lives in danger, a four-year-old golden retriever named Olwin showed them the strength of the human-animal bond.

It began on Oct. 5, 1999, when Veracruz, Mexico, the site of the institute’s research facility, was struck by one of the worst storms on record. Flood waters gradually engulfed the facility, until Dr. Wilkerson, the other five staff members and three dogs were forced to evacuate in a small boat. As they floated among the flood waters, a surge of water overturned the boat. While most of the group were able to cling to a patch of vegetation, Olwin and a teenage assistant were swept to the other side of the torrent. Panicked, the assistant grabbed on to Olwin, who somehow summoned the energy to swim through the rushing waters and pull her safely back to the group. Unfortunately, an exhausted Olwin was then carried off by the current downstream into the darkness. When the rain finally ceased, the crew returned to find the remains of their institute and began searching for Olwin.

“Inquiring, offering rewards, placing announcements, and searching brought no results,” Dr. Wilkerson said. On the sixth day following the flood, Olwin reappeared. Even though she appeared to be injured and dirty, she possessed the energy that was characteristic of the golden retriever. “How she oriented in this maelstrom of disaster and physical stress can only be ascribed to a deep seated instinct, something hidden within her and inherited from her prehistoric ancestors,” Dr. Wilkerson said.

For several months Olwin seemed fine until suddenly in May 2000, her condition worsened. Dr. Wilkerson rushed the dog north to her veterinarian, Dr. Kathryn Dittman of Harlingen’s Altas Palmas Animal Clinic. “When I saw Olwin she was exhibiting signs of heart failure,” said Dr. Dittman, who nominated Olwin for the hall of fame. Dr. Dittman said she found the condition peculiar because Olwin tested negative for heartworms. Concerned about the dog’s condition, Dr. Dittman sent Olwin to the Texas A&M University Veterinary Hospital in June. Olwin was diagnosed with coccidioidomycosis, which led to the inflammation of the tissue sack around her heart. “Her case was kind of unusual,” said Dr. Dittman. “Coccidioidomycosis is a systemic fungal infection that usually infects the lungs and the bones, not the heart.”

Despite the 18 days Olwin spent in the hospital and the operation performed on her, she died on June 20.

“Olwin was a great pet to work on,” said Dr. Dittman. “She was a really personable and really friendly golden retriever.” Dr. Dittman said she was saddened by Olwin’s death because she knew how attached Dr. Wilkerson was to Olwin. She said she treated Olwin for three years and Dr. Wilkerson often called her long distance to ask her questions pertaining to Olwin and his other pets.

“Olwin’s exemplary strength came not from sinew and bone, but from her spirit,” said Dr. Wilkerson. “That was Olwin’s essence and that is how we will remember her.”