Mahogany girl - book cover

‘Holly, The Mahogany Girl’

By Lesley Winton

Mahogany girl - book cover

When Lesley Winton and her beloved black Labrador Holly’s paths crossed it was the beginning of a remarkable journey for them both.  Each bore the scars of some difficult years and slowly but surely they would mend each other becoming inseparable and constant companions for almost five years.  They would bring out the best in each other.  They rarely left one another’s side until Holly’s passing in May, 2013.

Holly, The Mahogany Girl has been written in memory of Holly and as a tribute to her.  A victim of neglect in her early years, it tells the wonderful story of her recovery and highlights the incredible bond that can exist between humans and animals.

It also tackles the additional difficulties pet owners can face when the devastation of pet loss is not taken seriously.

Holly, The Mahogany Girl highlights and celebrates the incredible resilience of the human and animal bond and the strength and inspiration that comes when such soul mates connect.  A wonderful read that will make you laugh and cry and move and inspire you in equal measures.

“Your book about Holly is BEAUTIFUL and MOVING.  I love this book.  I absolutely love it.  The fantastic journey you’ve been through together and how Holly and her remarkable influence has inspired you.  I love it!  It made me cry and it made me laugh…and it made me think a lot.  Thanks for letting me be the first to read it; it’s been an honour.  Holly is one of the luckiest dogs ever to have had you as her human.” – Lisbeth Rieshøj Amos (Editor)

Scroll down to the bottom of the page to read an extract from Holly the Mahogany Girl

A third of the profits of sale go to supporting the work of Holly’s Hugs, The Winton Foundation for the Welfare of Bears and Fostering Compassion.

Order Holly, The Mahogany Girl now from Amazon, or buy a copy from one of several stockists of the book.

Holly, The Mahogany Girl

“I’ve just read ‘Holly, The Mahogany Girl’ I recommend buying it – you won’t regret it!” Peter Egan, Actor and Animal Advocate

“Oh Lesley I finished the book last night. I wept for you towards the end. A wonderful book and I felt I knew Holly the way you wrote about her. What a wonderful legacy Holly left through your work with bears, dogs and people. A beautiful book written from the heart about a very special girl who was sent to you for a reason I’m in no doubt. Only a few books have a profound effect on me but Holly’s book is for sure one of them” Mrs Carolyne Poulton, Labrador Retriever Rescue Scotland

“I am sorry I hadn’t got back to you about your book. I bought a copy a while ago and started to read it before getting distracted by a million and one issues, so I picked it up again a few days ago and finished it. I have to say it is an amazing book , you really have written it very well and from the heart. I am very impressed and you should indeed write more books as you have got the ability to tell a story and keep the reader enthralled. I think your book will really help a lot of people who have gone through the same sadness of losing their loved pet. Your story of Holly is an inspiration to many – well done. Now get on and write some more!” Victor Watkins, Wildlife Adviser, World Animal Protection (formerly the World Society for the Protection of Animals)

“Fantastic book, really inspirational and a must for dog-lovers – the story of how a really special dog came into someone’s life at just the right time and how it changed both of their lives forever” Jo Rothery, Freelance Journalist (England)

“Great! A definite MUST buy indeed” Diana Street, Pet Bereavement Counselling (England)

“What a delightful and wonderful companion your amazing Holly was. There is so much happiness portrayed in this very moving story as well as the incredible care she was given by you and your very caring vet during the many setbacks she overcame during her life – a truly exceptional and very special dog. As you say, Holly came into your life at the very time you needed her and between you both, you brought so much happiness and normality into both your lives. Thank you for allowing us to share and enjoy your time with a very special Holly.” Hazel and Chris Mann (Scotland)

“Your book about Holly is BEAUTIFUL and MOVING.  I love this book.  I absolutely love it.  The fantastic journey you’ve been through together and how Holly and her remarkable influence has inspired you.  I love it!  It made me cry and it made me laugh…and it made me think a lot.  Thanks for letting me be the first to read it; it’s been an honour.  Holly is one of the luckiest dogs ever to have had you as her human.” Lisbeth Rieshøj Amos (Editor) (Denmark)

“I was honoured to be asked to read ‘Holly, the Mahogany Girl, by Lesley Winton. From picking up the book for the first time I could not put it down. It epitomizes the bond we have with our pets. Heart moving, thoughtful and well written, we will be stocking the book in our Crematoriums and online to allow our clients the opportunity of reading this fantastic book. It should help others who are suffering the loss of a loving pet/friend.” Simon Clennell, The Pet Crematorium Ltd (England)

“Have finished it! Truly wonderful!!! Honestly, honestly amazing! I read it in one sitting. I cried and laughed and didn’t go to the toilet in four hours! Five out of five stars.” Sandra Ovens (Scotland)

“I wanted you to know just how much I enjoyed your book. I have been reading it as I commute in the mornings and had I not had to get off the train I wouldn’t have put it down! I thought it was an extremely brave and honest book and I fell in Love with Holly from the start. Your descriptions had such great depth that I felt like I was watching your memories as they happened. My favourite parts are definitely the thunderstorm terror v’s Holly’s snoring and I love the picnic where you and your mum show Holly how (try to encourage her) to fetch. That part tickled me so much – I was giggling so much on the train I nearly fell off my seat! (and I also created a rather awkward situation with other commuters not knowing if I was amused or drunk or a few sandwiches short of a picnic myself! I hope that when you think of Holly that a smile overrides the sadness. I believe that some people spend their whole lives searching for their soulmate and for you to know that not only did you get to meet yours but that you got so many good years spent together – I think that is an incredible thing and thank you for sharing your Holly in your book – I loved it” Carena Smith

“Well they say that the sign of a good book is when you can’t put it down until you have read it from cover to cover. I have just finished reading “Holly, The Mahogany Girl” and it was a wonderful read. I never had the privilege of meeting Holly but after reading this book I feel that I know her inside out. Lesley, don’t let this be your only book, you have a wonderful talent and you should use it. You had me laughing and crying, sometimes together. Thank you for this beautiful book of memories.” Angela Kyle (Scotland)

“An emotional journey of a read, allowing the reader privileged and intimate access into the most amazing journey of the wonderful relationship between Holly and Lesley. Through the laughter and tears of this book, I have never been more convinced that no matter who the relationship is between, love is love, and therefore grief is grief.  An inspirational gem of a book ~ highly recommended.” Karen Scott (Scotland)

“This is an extraordinary book, which tells the story of two individuals, one the author Lesley Winton and the other, her black Labrador dog called Holly, and how together they helped inspire each other to rebuild their lives, to enjoy a renewed sense of purpose again.

As an owner of a cross breed black Labrador retriever dog, I found myself laughing as I could relate with such ease to many of Holly’s traits and mischievous nature and characteristics, which I see so readily in my own dog.

For me Lesley’s book is both beautifully and simply written. Her words describe so well the rollercoaster type range of feelings and emotions any pet owner encounters on learning sad and difficult news concerning their pet’s health. However, for me what shines through is the remarkable bond they managed to forge together, which gave them both different qualities. Lesley, the confidence to set up an animal welfare charity for bears.  For Holly, it gave rise to a dogged determination and continued zest for life, resilience and courage to face and overcome many of the health difficulties she encountered.  Like Lesley, I do consider myself, to be very fortunate to be able to have access to the same excellent animal veterinary care and treatment plus the services of a unique facility, the Lothian Canine Rehabilitation Centre, for our dogs.

On a final note, I wanted to conclude with some of the comments and observations my mother made about the book ,describing Lesley Winton as an excellent and able story teller and wants  to know “if the author has another good book in her…” like my mum, I most definitely hope so Lesley.”  Andrea Stewart (Scotland)

“I had to e-mail you as I have just finished reading ‘Holly, The Mahogany Girl’, having read it over 2 or 3 days. You have no idea how much I loved it – it took me back to May 2008 when I lost my adorable little Westie, named Sasha. I don’t know how I got through the months after she’d gone. Everything you said about the time after you lost Holly was so true for me. I asked my vet why we put ourselves through these experiences and her answer has lived with me, so simple but so true “Because we love them”. What else is there to say?

Thank you for a brilliant book and for the wonderful care and love you gave Holly. You have been very brave to write this book so soon after your loss. Thank you again for a book that in its joy and sadness can heal many of us with hearts that know the grief of animal loss but also the sheer pleasure of their company!” Monica King (England)

“A really excellent book about a very special dog and the very special person who came into each other’s lives just when they both needed it. A really inspirational book that everyone will enjoy, not just dog-lovers. Truly inspirational.” Joanne

“Just thought I’d write & say how much I loved ‘Holly, the Mahogany Girl’ – I read it in one sitting today. I completely related to every word and understand how you felt, and still feel, about Holly.  She and Freya are clearly sisters in spirit – both determined to enjoy life, despite all their serious ailments, while remaining sweet natured, uncomplaining & loving. Humans could learn a lot from girls like Holly & Freya. Thank you for sharing beautiful Holly’s story. I hope it inspires others to realise that a dog with health issues is just as loving & rewarding a companion as a healthy dog. In fact the bond with a dog that needs that special extra care can be deeper.” Helen Ashworth (England)

“I just wanted to write to say I finished reading Holly, the Mahogany Girl tonight.  One minute I’ve been laughing out loud the next minute grabbing the tissues! What a truly special girl Holly was.  How lucky you both were to find each other when you did, you had such an amazing bond.  Am going to tell all my doggy loving friends about your book and am just about to make a donation to Holly’s Hugs in memory of both our girls.  Basically just wanted to say, amazing book laughed and cried so much.  Holly was a truly amazing girl.”  Janice O’Doherty

“I am not very good at expressing my feelings but oh my goodness, your book was fantastic – what an amazing story.  My throat is sore holding back the tears, it really tugged at the heart strings.  Well done you, you should be so proud of that book and I can foresee much good fortune coming from one amazing dog.” Cilla Duffield (Scotland)

“I’ve just finished Holly’s story and wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed it. Once I started I couldn’t put the book down. She was a gorgeous girl and from the photos, it looks like she mastered the look that gets these babies just what they want! I’m sure it was meant to be that you found each other and so nice that she got to be happy and loved. It’s good to see that I’m not the only one wrapped around a dogs paw!” Tanya (Scotland)

“Holly the Mahogany Girl is truly lovely.  On one hand it made me laugh and on the other cry, however a good balance between the two.  You certainly have a gift for writing and I appreciate that you shared your personal story and struggles to show how wonderful it was that you and Holly were brought together.  Your message is positive, even amid the sadness of losing your friend and companion.  I have ordered more copies to give to some family members at Christmas.  Each one loves dogs and I would love them to share in your message of hope.

It was a pleasure to have met you and that made the book so much more special.  I swear at times as I sat reading I could hear your voice telling me the story.  I know you still miss your girl, how could you not.”  Joan Rog, (USA)

“I have just finished reading my favourite book of all time – “Holly, The Mahogany Girl”. I laughed a lot and also cried a lot but the book is absolutely wonderful just like the lady who wrote it, I will treasure this book for always!”  Carole Worthington (Scotland)

“What can I say about this book apart from you have to read it. I read it in one day – I could not put it down. I loved reading about Holly & Lesley’s incredible journey, cliché as it sounds I literally did laugh and cry at this book. I felt you really got to know the author and the love she had for her precious Holly really came through. As a dog lover I could relate to so much – especially the ‘paw of pity’! If you love dogs or know someone who does this is a must read. Would highly recommend. Holly’s legacy truly will live on.” T.B.

“I got given the book as a birthday gift on Sunday 8th December and had it read by Monday 9th, I did not want to put it down. It made me laugh and it made me cry, a lot! It is a beautiful, very moving story of a human and a dog whose love shows no boundaries and how they helped each other through really hard times. To me it’s just how a pet should be treated with love and for them to be given everything in order for them to have the happiest healthiest life possible and this is what Holly got thanks to Lesley. I loved it and I am sure everyone who reads it will love it too. It makes a great gift to give someone for a birthday or Christmas.”  Annie Galbraith (Scotland)

“I read this wonderful book in a day….. I simply could not put it down! It is so easy to read. I never had the pleasure of meeting Holly, but I feel I know her. Lesley’s writing is compelling, funny and you will laugh and cry at this heart wrenching story of a beautiful bond.  I am honoured to count Lesley as a friend and I will never forget this powerful story.” Sue Macdonald (Scotland)

“What an inspirational team Lesley and Holly made – Lesley for her unflinching loyalty and dedication towards Holly and making her life so much better and Holly for her unconditional love, fun and companionship she showed Lesley. A truly moving story that shows there are good people (and dogs) in the world.

Paws for thought:If only dogs could read too eh!!” Gemma Rosa

“Your book is amazing.  WOW is all I can say.  ‘Holly, the Mahogany Girl’ is a MUST read for anyone who has a dog with special needs.  The book made me laugh, cry and truly think about life with our furry family members, please purchase the book, you will not be disappointed.”  Wendy Chambers, (BC Canada)

“I have just finished reading ‘Holly, the Mahogany Girl’ and read it over a couple of days almost non-stop and thoroughly enjoyed it.  My husband is looking forward to reading it too.  Lesley certainly has a gift for writing and it is amazing how quickly she wrote it.  This book I am sure will raise awareness for the value of the companionship of a dog and for the plight of all abused dogs.  She really gave Holly the very best of care as well as her unconditional love – a real love story.  Holly was one lucky dog!  We have ordered copies for family members too.” Mary Elliott, Ottawa, Canada

“I just wanted to let you know that I ordered a copy of Holly, the Mahogany Girl from Amazon & it arrived this week. I finished reading it today and could not stop crying! I was sobbing so hard that my lovely boy Max – my 3 year old black lab woke up from his nap on the couch, sensed something was wrong and moved closer to me and put his head on my lap. Through my tears I could see his lovely face and big brown eyes just looking up at me as if to say “what’s up mum?” I wiped away my tears and gave him an extra big hug and snuggled into his neck and told him how much I loved him – he is and always will be my very special boy. I loved this book so much as it made me laugh at Holly’s antics and it made me cry at all the struggles she faced with her health yet never gave up and neither did Lesley. I am so grateful to Lesley for writing this book and letting people like me (who absolutely adore their dogs too) share Holly’s story – she was an inspiration and a very special girl who had the best human mum any dog could wish for! Holly you will never be forgotten as long as your human is on this earth! I have read many books in my years but this one has touched me like no other book I have ever read.” June Tilley

“This is a great book about a wonderful bond between two beings who needed, and in their own way nurtured, each other. At times amusing and at other times really sad, it really drew me in and I couldn’t put it down. I found it really inspiring and would encourage all dog lovers to read it.” Jacqui du Rocher (Scotland)

“People say don’t judge a book by its cover, but once you see this cover you just have to read it. It will make you cry and laugh. It is a lovely story of a lovely lady giving a dog a second chance in life and what a life Holly had.  As you read this book you can relate to how hard it is to say goodbye to our four legged best friends. Lesley should be very proud for what she did for Holly and still does to keep her name alive.  If you are a dog lover or not you will enjoy this book.  I have read it twice now love it thank you for sharing your story with us.” Anon

“Thank you for sharing the story of Holly in your beautifully written book. She sounded a real loveable character who truly lived a wonderful life with you Lesley. I admire your strength and courage at being able to write about your special girl which you did with heart felt emotion and humour. Enjoy your happy memories of Holly.” Wendy x

“It only took me a day to read this poignantly, heartfelt and beautifully written book…. I just couldn’t put it down! I know Lesley, but was never fortunate enough to meet Holly, sadly, but through reading this book I feel like I have known her all along! An easy to read story of the bond between Lesley and Holly, and how it saved them both, it is a rollercoaster of emotions, laughter and tears and I guarantee all who read it will love it and really appreciate the bond between humans and their pets. Holly was one very Special Lady, as is Lesley.”  Sue Macdonald (Scotland)

“After meeting you last week at the Seashore Gallery book signings and buying a copy of ‘Holly, the Mahogany Girl’, I went home, sat in the sun and read the whole book! The sunburn was worth it and I thoroughly enjoyed it – so much so that I’m just off to lend it to a friend who recently lost her chocolate lab, a real character, sorely missed by his family and by all his friends – canine and human.

It’s a great book Lesley and you are very brave to put so much of yourself in to it. I found it a very moving account both for Holly and for you. It’s only when folk write honestly about life that others can be reassured and helped along with their own problems and stresses. I can think of so many folk I know who would relate to it and find it very cathartic. I loved it and hope you will write more!” Sue Simpson (Scotland)

“This is one of the most sensitively-written books about the relationship between a much-loved rescue dog and her owner I have ever read. I read it quickly because I couldn’t put it down, feeling that I was experiencing the ups and downs of Holly’s life as I read her story. Lesley is totally honest about her joys and sadnesses with Holly and takes us with her on their walks, their getting to know the neighbours and their visits to the vet whose care and concern and skill in looking after Holly are second to none. This is a book for a dog lover who knows what it is to love and lose a wonderful companion but also for the reader who cares for people and their relationships. I think you will smile and cry as you read Holly’s story but you will have gained so much from so doing. Thank you Lesley for writing this amazing book and thank you Holly for providing the subject matter.” M.K (Kent)

“I’ve just finished reading ‘Holly, the Mahogany Girl’. What a lovely tribute to the life of Holly. Such a funny, emotional, sad and inspirational story. There were a few times I had to stop reading as I could feel Lesley’s pain. What an amazing bond between Holly and Lesley. If you’ve ever had a dog you will love this book, I did.” Lesley Simpson (Scotland)

“Just finished a personally signed copy of this beautifully written book today, by Lesley Winton. A heartwarming, funny and exceptionally entertaining book about a bond between a woman and her dog, the unique bond only a true animal lover will know of… Every emotion I’ve ever felt towards animals I loved and lost and continue to love today, happy, sad and precious, bubbled to the surface … You won’t put it down until it’s finished! I see Holly’s spirit in my own beloved pets Lesley, her memory will live always in the hearts of those who met or didn’t meet her.” Vijay Kritzinger (Scotland/South Africa)

“Just to say I finished your book, Lesley and it was very good. It is easy to read and well written. It was a lovely story. Holly sounds like a very special dog. With my horses being unwell lately it has made me think about how I will cope when they go. Hopefully that is a while off and they are on the mend now. You should definitely write some more.” Margaret McBride (Scotland)

“I read this book while on holiday in May I loved it, it’s so true to life every word Lesley wrote about Holly. Lesley lives over the fence from me and I used to see Holly nearly everyday. I gave it to a friend to read and she couldn’t put it down and at the end of the book she had a box off tissues used. Roll on the next book!” Sandra, East Lothian

“Fantastic book! I bought it for a friend as she loves her dogs. Would highly recommend it.” Anon, Edinburgh, Scotland

Extract from Holly the Mahogany Girl
by Lesley Winton


The winter gave way to a lovely spring and summer and Holly continued to thrive.  Even after her weight loss, I always felt she was very large for a bitch.  I knew Labradors could come in a variety of shapes and sizes but I always thought she was closer to the size of a male Labrador than a female.

However, considering where she’d come from, Holly’s size and weight never really fitted into ‘normal’ parameters.  She now weighed around 39kg and had lost a massive 23kg – nearly four stone and almost half her original weight.  She was amazing and I was so proud of her.  She loved life, she loved playing, she loved people and most of all she now loved cuddles.

The socially inept dog that I had met what felt like a lifetime ago, that had no idea how to react to affection, now couldn’t get enough love, embraces and interaction.  Walks that had previously been an unbearable hardship and test of endurance had now become the highlight of her day.

However, Holly seemed to have missed out on the basics of puppyhood and never showed as much interest in toys as you would expect from a Labrador or indeed the simple pleasures of chasing a ball or fetching a stick.

Therefore, one lovely summer’s day, my mother and I decided to pack a picnic, go for a lovely country walk with one of Holly’s balls and try to teach her the art of ‘fetch.’

We arrived at our picnic site and put all our bags down on the bench.  Then Mum, Holly and I lined up in a row in preparation for me throwing the ball.  I said to Holly, ‘Granny and I will show you how it’s done and all three of us can run for the ball and have a little competition to see who reaches it first’ – why on earth I thought she’d understand this, I don’t know.  Knowing Holly, she probably understood perfectly well but thought, that’s far too much like hard work.

So with the three of us standing in a row, I hurled the ball as far as I could.  Mum and I shot off as fast as two people in their mid-forties and early eighties could after the ball, eagerly anticipating Holly following us enthusiastically.  As we bounded forwards as fast as we could following the ball, we suddenly realised there was no sign of Holly.

As we had lined up, thrown the ball and darted forward trying to teach our pupil the art of fetch she had promptly turned around, hotfooted it back in the opposite direction and made her way back to the picnic and was merrily tucking in to her own private feast as she watched mum and I running off into the distance, chasing her ball and doing all the hard work while she enjoyed a snack and watched the entertainment.

It really was one of the funniest things.  It would have provided great amusement to anyone who happened to be watching.

It was and still is a lovely memory, in fact one of my fondest and one I like to hang on to, as things were about to change and Holly was about to have to face yet another battle.