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But when Winston's husband brought August to their home in Houston, Winston knew immediately the dog was seriously ill. She limped. Her spine was curving awkwardly. The vet in Laredo confirmed that August had bone cancer.
The next morning Winston drove August from Houston to Laredo. The vet euthanized the dog that night. August, three years old, now rests by Shakespeare and Barfy. And Winston has become foster mom to another basset.
In the pet grief session, Winston said she still has difficulty talking to her mother and wonders why she didn't tell the truth about August's condition.
"Do you two need to work out this 'mother issue'?" counselor Calaway asked.
"Yes," said Winston. "I've got a lot of 'mother issues' to work on." The group laughed. Calaway concluded the group session with optimism.
"You've shown you know how to give and receive love," she assured them. "If you felt that once, you can get there again."
Back at the Houston Pet Cemetery, caretaker Alpert makes his final daylight rounds.
A large man, his work boots still step lightly among the small markers. He passes by the plots for Dude, Boy and Fido, not far from the rows with Napoleon, Vodka and Picasso. Tiny plastic or glass ovals embedded in some gravestones show owners and animals embracing.
Over 20 years, Alpert has encountered the living as well as the dead here. Strays came and stayed. An owner leashed one dog to a tree and left him to be discovered. Alpert adopts them. He had four watchdogs at one point.
"They weren't special-trained or anything, but they did good," he says. "One of 'em, he died just before my birthday. I hated to lose him like that."
As he makes his way through the cemetery, the two living mixed breeds trail him. "I think it means more to them, the dogs, to be able to protect their own kind," John says. "That's the way it ought to be.