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Happy birthday, dog: Inside the meaningful tradition of a 'terrible friend'

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Abbie Winchester checking in.

Abbie Winchester sits on a plush courtside seat inside Gallagher-Iba Arena scrolling through dog photos on her phone.

It takes her a while to get through all 468 of them.

The senior forward on the OSU women’s basketball team has owned three Jack Russell terriers in her life and isn’t different from any other pet owner: she likes to take pictures of them.

But what Winchester does with her vast camera roll of dog photos makes her unique. She has developed a reputation for wishing friends, teammates, coaches and even Oklahoma’s Lieutenant Governor Matt Pinnell happy birthday with dog pictures.

Winchester is approaching almost 300 happy birthday dog tweets (a number she thought sounded a bit low) and adds more every week. It is a practice she started in high school.

“I might tattle on myself here, but the only reason this even started was because I'm a terrible friend,” Winchester said.

Winchester said she is not good about taking photos with her friends, so when her friend’s birthday rolled around, a problem arose.

“I was like, ‘Crap, I don't have a picture to post of the two of us. I'll just send her this picture of my dog because it's cute and she'll like it,’” Winchester said.

Her friend loved it.

And another problem arose. Everyone was asking for a happy birthday dog tweet.

“I think it's kind of become a thing that I can't control anymore,” Winchester said. “People get really excited about it for no reason.”

The voice of the Cowboys, broadcaster Dave Hunziker, told Winchester he didn’t get a birthday dog tweet and asked if she could send him one for Christmas. Winchester’s father has gone to lunch with people his daughter hasn’t seen in years but who were disappointed they didn’t get a tweet.

Cowgirl center Kassidy De Lapp said getting a personalized birthday message is a bigger deal than some might think, and that Winchester puts large amounts of effort into everything she does, including her tweets.

Winchester keeps a special calendar full of family and friends’ birthdays. The computer system the team uses lists the birthdays of each teammate and coach, so she will go in and add those days to her special calendar.

De Lapp is no longer on Twitter, where Winchester primarily sends out her messages, but still receives birthday wishes on Instagram. De Lapp recalled one time where she asked Winchester to tweet her mom a happy birthday with a picture of a golden retriever.

“(Winchester sent the tweet) and my mom tweeted under she was like, ‘Abbie, how did you know? It's my favorite dog,’” De Lapp said.

“It just means a lot to people. So, I'm glad that she does that.”

The fun and detailed part of Winchester further emerges when she prepares to wish a friend who is more of a cat person a birthday. She will keep her signature “Happy birthday _____, enjoy this dog,” but will send a picture of a cat.

But it doesn’t stop at cats. Winchester has sent happy Easter greetings with a picture of a bunny and even wished Pinnell happy birthday with a picture of her holding a baby beaver.

Jerry Winchester, Abbie’s father, works for the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and knows Pinnell. In the days before Abbie sent the tweet, she visited Sequoyah State Park, a place Pinnell works with, which had recently adopted the beaver.

“Abbie's got a lot of personality and she's got a lot of charisma,” Cowgirl basketball coach Jim Littell said.

Littell said everybody wants to feel important, and Winchester has the fantastic quality of making people feel special. He sees it when Winchester helps put younger players on the roster at ease.

“She's got a kind heart,” Littell said. “She thinks of people before herself a lot. And, you know, that's very important, especially in a team setting.”

A tradition that all started with being a terrible friend.

“She just makes everybody feel extra special. It's very, it's a great tradition,” De Lapp said.

sports.ed@ocolly.com