Best. Dog. Ever.
He's big, he's loyal, he's friendly, he's obedient, and he loves everybody. He succeeds in melting the loneliest hearts with his eccentric personality.
When Winn-Dixie meets the preacher for the first time:
He pulled back his lips and showed the preacher all of his crooked yellow teeth and wagged his tail ad knocked some of the preacher's papers off the table. Then he sneezed and some more papers fluttered to the floor. (2.21)
When he meets Miss Franny:
He came in and lay down with a "huummmppff" and a sigh, right at Miss Franny's feet.
She looked down at him and said, "He most certainly is a large dog."
"Yes ma'am," I told her. "He has a large heart, too."
"Well," Miss Franny said. She bent over and gave Winn-Dixie a pat on the head, and Winn-Dixie wagged his tail back and forth and snuffled his nose on her little old-lady feet. (6.19-22)
Who can resist that? Not the preacher, and not Miss Franny. These sneezes and smiles are a fun little example of anthropomorphizing: they give Winn-Dixie human characteristics, making him see like a real character.
Winn-Dixie actually has a lot in common with the people he befriends. Let's look at a few:
• Otis: Otis loves music; Winn-Dixie loves music. Otis's melodies charm him even in a thunderstorm.
• Miss Franny: Miss Franny loves stories; Winn-Dixie loves stories. He's always game for a good story. Until he falls asleep, at least.
• Gloria Dump: Gloria loves peanut butter sandwiches; Winn-Dixie loves peanut butter sandwiches.
• The Preacher: Neither of them likes to be left behind.
• The Dewberry brothers: Winn-Dixie is almost as mischievous as the Dewberry brothers (can we say destroying a grocery store and chasing a mouse in church?).
But most of all, Winn-Dixie brings out the best in everyone because they all want to protect and love him. Sure, he's a dog, but he has a "pathological fear of thunderstorms" (11.19). Opal keeps him safe.
In return, Winn-Dixie keeps everyone else safe: Otis feels important, Miss Franny feels protected, the preacher feels understood. You get the picture. Winn-Dixie brings everybody together so they won't get lost by being alone.
Time to zero in. Although Winn-Dixie helps everyone, Opal wins the relationship sweepstakes—maybe because she needs the most help.
Winn-Dixie saves Opal from her Summertime Slump because he:
• makes her laugh.
He smiled at me. He did that thing again, where he pulled back his lips and showed me his teeth. He smiled so big that it made him sneeze. It was like he was saying, "I know I'm a mess. Isn't it funny?"
It's hard not to immediately fall in love with a dog who has a good sense of humor. (1.22-23).
• listens to her, and she swears he understands what she says.
• makes Opal feel important when "he gets lonely without me" (6.17).
• gives her courage to ask the preacher about her mama.
• introduces her to unexpected friends.
• gives her heart something to love.
Winn-Dixie fills that big hole in Opal's heart so full that she has enough left over to go around. She helps her daddy and the whole community by showing them how to really listen to each other. You get the sense that Naomi, Florida is going to be a much nicer place to live after Gloria Dump's party.
Opal saves Winn-Dixie from Puppy Prison (a.k.a the pound), and she also:
(1) Understands his loneliness. She says,
"I bet you don't remember your mama much either. So we're almost like orphans." Winn-Dixie looked straight at me when I said that to him, like he was feeling relieved to finally have somebody understand his situation. (3.2-3)
See? They're kindred spirits. She understands him, and he understands her. And we can imagine—or at least, Opal does—that Winn-Dixie is happy to have found someone who understands that he's not trying to be a nuisance; he just really wants company.
(2) Gives him the companionship he craves. Check it out:
Winn-Dixie couldn't stand to be left alone; we found that out real quick. If me and the preacher went off and left him by himself in the trailer, he pulled all the cushions off the couch and all the toilet paper off the roll. So we started tying him up outside with a rope when we left. That didn't work either. Winn-Dixie howled until Samuel, Mrs. Detweller's dog, started howling, too. (5.1)
Got it. Winn-Dixie doesn't like to be left alone. So, they decide to take him everywhere—even to church. And who better to hang with a dog 24/7 than a ten-year-old "orphan?"
(3) Protects him from storms. As Opal tells it:
There were a lot of thunderstorms that summer. And I got real good at holding on to Winn-Dixie whenever they came. I held on to him and whispered to him and rocked him. (15.2)
Obviously Winn-Dixie can't tell us how he feels, but we can guess that he's pretty happy he's found someone who's willing to cuddle him through a thunderstorm. (Sometimes we wish someone would do that to us. Not that we're afraid of thunder, of course. Just sayin'.)
(4) Protects him from himself. Opal says, "I held on to Winn-Dixie for another reason, too. I held on to him tight so he wouldn't run away." (15.2) Does Winn-Dixie want to run away? No way! Then he'd be right back where he started. He gets so scared he forgets to think. He needs Opal to keep him safe.
Long story short: Opal saves Winn-Dixie. Winn-Dixie saves Opal.
Best friends forever.