What a wonderful story! This is what makes all the hard work of rescue worthwhile - when a human family saves a dog and the saved dog makes a family whole. Amanda was a dog someone gave up on - for whatever reason - and then she found three years of complete joy with a new family for whom she was a treasure beyond words.
Once upon a time in 2001 an adorable Bernese Mountain Dog puppy was born. Is there any other kind? But this one was extra special with large white socks and a huge splash of white on the back of her neck – a swiss kiss big enough to bury your face in as you hugged the new little girl puppy.
She was a happy puppy and grew up loving other dogs and even had cats for friends. Her dad named her Brandy and she loved him best of all. But as she matured, the potential that we see in every puppy to live a long, healthy and active life seemed to be interrupted at regular intervals with different medical problems. She developed level three hip dysplasia, had horrible bouts of seizures on long holiday weekends and chewed her beautiful white feet until they were stained pink.
Her dad didn’t know where to turn and even resorted to taking her to different hospitals so they wouldn’t know how much he already owed at other clinics. Finally, early in January of 2007, he brought his beautiful, lame dog to yet another hospital. This time they told him that in addition to the hip dysplasia, she had two different tick-borne diseases. Her dad faced the facts of his life – he just couldn’t afford one more thing – and asked to have Brandy put to sleep.
But here’s where Brandy’s life took another turn. Despite all her problems, the veterinarian saw potential in this dog and suggested that a Bernese Mountain Dog rescue organization might be able to help find a new home that could get her on the road to good health. Brandy’s dad agreed to let her be adopted.
We don’t know anything more about Brandy’s dad, but we can appreciate his troubles. We can imagine that he discovered Bernese Mountain Dogs the way most of us do – meeting one on the street and thinking, “wow, that’s the most beautiful dog I’ve ever seen – I have to have one!” But how does one get one? Sometimes, people don’t find the right answer to that question. Brandy’s dad quite likely did not. We don’t know exactly where she came from, although there was a guess or two, but it’s easy to picture a bunch of wiggly puppies and this flashy, white-footed, friendly little girl in the midst. How crushed and devastated was he to not be able to provide the care his girl needed as she grew up? Did he gain any comfort from knowing that at least she didn’t need to die at five years old because others were willing to step in? We can hope.
Meanwhile, on January 1, 2007, we lost our battle to save Ptolli’s life. She had bloated and survived the surgery, but the complications overcame her. We were at loose ends. I remember the intense desperation of that grief. My four-year-old son clung to one of our large stuffed Berners, carrying it around the house. On walks, my three-year-old dog paced sedately beside me with her flexi completely retracted, instead of hurling herself at the end of the leash and being fascinated by everything.
And then BMDCNV’s rescue chair, Anya, put out a call for potential foster homes to get this female Berner out of the vet’s office before the upcoming holiday weekend. She was said to be good with cats, other dogs and kids, and I thought that we could finally “do our bit” for rescue and help out. I assumed lots of people were already on Anya’s list, so I didn’t remember to mention to the rest of the family that I had volunteered to foster a dog until Anya called on Thursday to see if I could meet her on Saturday morning. Surprise! We board dogs fairly regularly, though, so it wasn’t a problem.
That Saturday morning, January 13, 2007, John and I took Gillis to meet Anya at the hospital and collect Brandy. We wanted to be sure that Gillis didn’t think we had gone to the animal hospital and brought home the wrong dog. He needed to understand that this was a different dog that needed our help. It was simple enough to explain about the diseases she had from the “bad bugs” and that she’d be on medicine and would get better.
Brandy was glad to get out of the hospital and go ANYWHERE that wasn’t there. She’d had a week of x-rays and baths and containment – let’s GO, already. She rode quietly in a crate in our van while Gillis looked back at her and reported every time she lowered and raised her head. Despite the reported bath, she still reeked of hospital, so once she was home, we gave her another bath.
Her vet for that week had shown us her x-rays and felt she should have double hip replacement surgery as soon as possible. In addition, she had Lyme’s and ehrlichiosis. They thought she might have food allergies and so suggested a fish-and-potato kibble. She had a history of seizures due to hypocalcemia (low blood calcium levels). When confronted with the two steps to our deck, she didn’t know what to do and tried going off the side instead of using the steps. A few goldfish crackers and she quickly got the idea of using the steps. Considering the extreme nature of her dysplasia, we thought it would be impossible to ask her to climb the stairs to our room, but it became clear that leaving her downstairs wasn’t an option either – she would just take over Mary’s bed, including her pillow! So after a few days of pain medication and joint supplements, we decided to see if she could manage to climb the stairs once a day, which she could. For the rest of her life, she would request a personal escort up those stairs and it was a rare treat to have her make the trip to find us on her own.
Even that first afternoon, we looked at each other sideways and wondered, should we just keep her? The idea of double hip surgery was a little daunting, and we thought that if she really needed that, maybe she should go where she could be the center of attention during the long recuperation. Then we took her to see our vet. He’s always been very grounded and realistic. “She’s five years old,” he said. “If she gets around, and does what she likes, why have her spend a material portion of the rest of her life in recovery from major surgery?” By then, we’d seen her play tug of war with Jago and bounce around the yard a bit. Why not see what good nutrition, joint supplements and pain management did for her?
A few more baths and a bottle of “Angels’ Eyes” later, Brandy’s white feet and swiss kiss gleamed. She slept with Duncan during his naps. She was a superb pillow for TV watching for Gillis. She used her bed as a step to get into OUR bed at night! And even though we didn’t take her for walks for awhile, Jago knew she had a companion to report back to and was making the most of her exercise again, hurling herself at the end of the Flexi and gathering as much information as one walk could provide.
At the Winter Walk that February, Anya brought Brandy’s adoption papers and we claimed her as our own, for as long as forever would give us. Meanwhile, John wasn’t content with “Brandy” as a name, but how about Amanda? It means “lovable,” and it would fit with our astronomer name theme, as there is an Amanda Bauer – the first LIVING astronomer to lend a name to one of our dogs! It was no trouble to transition “Brandy” to “Mandy,” and then to ‘Manda which we used almost as much as the full “Amanda.” Wanting her to have a fancy name of her own, we registered her with the AKC as “Nashoba’s Keepin’ Amanda, ” because of course, we kept her!
During the early months of living with us, Amanda spent a lot of time during the day sleeping near the gate outside, as though expecting to return to her old life at any time. Gradually, she seemed to accept her new position as queen, dictator and fun police in our house. The good food, supplements and medicine did make a big difference and we would find ourselves joking, “hey, look at the lame dog – GALLOPING across the yard!”
Everything about Amanda was circles. Her tail wagged in circles, her head swirled in circles, and she couldn’t help but spin in circles when she was happy. Mary has visual balance problems and she had to ask me to stop having Amanda “spin!” prior to getting her meals because it was making her dizzy! It was fun figuring out what tricks Amanda could physically do as well as which ones she might have already known. She quickly had spin, down, head-down, wave, shake, bounce and speak. She could even do an assisted sit-up. She loved to offer her tricks and she preferred to choose which one she would do – if we asked for one, she would more than likely give us a different one. But that’s okay – SHE could pick. She couldn’t stand watching on the sidelines while another dog got treats for “working” and absolutely demanded to have her own turn.
I have been blessed to witness two moments of ultimate happiness in her life. When I think of her life potentially being cut short three years ago, it makes these two moments so incredibly special. Twice, I have seen Amanda leap to her feet and spontaneously bounce/spin around in a circle three times. Can YOU do that? If you did, can you imagine how happy you were that you just had to let it out that way? Try doing it anyway… How happy are you NOW? (So what if you’re a little mortified that someone might have seen you do that!)
Almost three years had passed when on December 9, 2009 I gathered a solid case of “Worried Mother Syndrome” and took Amanda to see my vet. He was pretty pessimistic – the jingle bell that showed up on the x-ray was an amusing bonus, but the mysterious mass in her abdomen combined with anemia and pain were not good news. Further exploration at the referral hospital indicated an enlarged lymph node (12 X 8 cm for something that should be the size of a raisin!) and blood cells that were responding to “something.” After this first round of diagnosis, they weren’t really sure what was wrong, other than that her prognosis was gloomy.
As any of us who have had this discussion about an eight-year-old Bernese Mountain Dog know, none of the choices are good ones. Other than the jingle bell, the x-ray on the screen might as well have been Tycho’s from 1998. Additional diagnostics seemed somewhat pointless to pursue. What would we do with the information?
Anya referred us to Dr. Schless who combined allopathic and homeopathic remedies to create a palliative plan. She had more optimism than I did –her prognosis of “anything beyond six weeks will be a gift” seemed outrageously kind. But I was determined to give it our all and the anti-nausea medicine was already helping her appetite. With the new plan, ‘Manda’s pain vanished, her energy was reasonable, she ate well and she soaked up the extra love and pampering. She was certainly entitled to the spoon feeding to make sure a punctured pill couldn’t ruin her whole meal, the extra car rides and the professional grooming appointments. We actually kept our one-month follow-up appointment with Dr. Schless. There were wonderful moments when she would be feeling full of herself, and get up on her toes, tail raised high, punching Tosca in the shoulder with her nose. “Look at the dying dog trying to start something,” we’d say, delighted to see her feeling so frisky. When she buried bones in the yard, it was a sign of her own optimism – “she’s saving for the future,” a friend said.
As the second month came and went, we had a trip to Arizona planned. Alison and Tom said they’d be honored to take care of Amanda for us… The idea that she was “Nashoba’s Keepin’ Amanda,” not just ours, was certainly prominent during these weeks, knowing that so many were praying and sending healthy thoughts her way. During her stay with Alison and Tom, she didn’t just survive, she really lived… She enjoyed scrambled eggs for breakfast and lots of treats. She even initiated tug-of-war games with Tumble and Fig.
She was happy to see us return for her when we got back from Arizona, but her status quickly headed downhill. That final week we consulted with four different vets either in person or on the phone. Discomfort rapidly took over and when we couldn’t touch it even with morphine, we had to let her go. It was a terrible sort of relief. It was intolerable to allow her to suffer, but the solution to that suffering had such immediate, permanent consequences. John cradled her in his lap while I told her she had been a good, good dog, that she had taken such good care of us, that she was the best puppy. And then finally we took away the pain and she was gone.
In our view, though, she is only gone from us for now. We take comfort in knowing that God took over her care and comfort when we could do no more for her, and that one day we shall see her wonderful swirly greetings again, when she will be in the perfect body God always wanted her to have… Imagine what immense expressions of joy she will be able to achieve then! But now we miss her already perfect splash-of-paint swiss kiss, huge white paws reaching out to grab us as we walk by, and beautiful soul that arrived to comfort us just when we needed it most and taught us so much about being happy.
BERNER Inc. Bernese Education & Rescue, Northeast Region
Bernese Education and Rescue – Northeast Region is a non-profit organization, staffed by a group of volunteers, working to provide medical care and placement in adoptive homes for BMDs who have been surrendered to shelters, pounds or to us. We also endeavor to educate the public on responsible acquisition, care and training of BMDs in the hope that we can thus reduce the number of Bernese Mountain Dogs who are relinquished to rescue or to shelters.