Our story begins when India Opal Buloni enters a Winn-Dixie grocery store to buy some necessities. And comes home with a dog. This is how it happens:
The manager is upset and screaming about a big ugly dog, who happens to be terrorizing the store—or maybe mostly the employees—but, in any case, he's making a big stinking mess.
When the dog notices Opal, he smiles at her—seriously, smiles— and wags his tail hard enough to spill more groceries on the floor.
Oops. The manager is not happy.
It gets worse. The dog jumps up on the manager in order to thank him (Opal believes), but instead knocks him to the floor, where he (the manager) starts to cry. Okay, maybe a bit of an overreaction?
The dog licks his face. Doesn't help.
The manager asks someone, anyone, to call the pound. Opal steps in. She begs them not to call the pound and claims the dog is hers. (Yeah, yeah, she knows this is a big deal, but she can't help herself.)
She calls the dog "Winn-Dixie," since it is the first thing to come to her head, and he comes to her. Sweet. Then she apologizes to the manager and leaves the store… and Winn-Dixie follows her out.
She takes a look at him once they get outside. He's not in very good shape, what with ribs showing and bald patches… so he probably doesn't belong to anybody. He smiles at her again, so big he sneezes.
Obviously Opal falls head-over-heels in love with him, because dog sneezes are hilarious. They walk home.
Opal wonders what her dad (whom she calls "the preacher") will think of Winn-Dixie.