“Oh honey, look at this one!” my wife gesticulated to me one night, holding out her phone with glee.
It was a picture of a small, tan-and-white dog named “Axel.” Felines & Canines, one of the local shelters in Chicago, had just posted his info. Apparently, he was a corgi-mix that had just reached the shelter after being rescued from Kentucky and he was already charming everyone with his gentlemanly demeanor.
I wasn’t sure. I’d never had a dog before and, to tell you the truth, I hadn’t always had great experiences with them. Plus, we were about to close on our house, and I figured we’d wait until that was over with before we made any big plans.
But Kelly was undeterred. “Let’s just meet him and see how it goes,” she said. I replied that short of him attacking us or using us as a toilet, we’d fall in love with him at first sight and take him home.
Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened (the falling in love part – not the attack or toilet stuff).
We loved Bernie the moment we saw him and knew he was the right one. He was a sweetheart with a kind, gentle attitude. Bernie loved eating, sleeping, lounging out in the sun and taking walks. He could be snippy with other dogs but was always the sweetest gentleman with people. Whenever he saw someone he wanted to charm, he’d sashay over with his butt wiggling and gaze at them with his deep, soulful eyes. It usually worked – everyone who met him loved him. We joked that more people loved Bernie than they loved us. We were probably correct.
We also liked to joke that Bernie probably had lots of illegitimate children, since he wasn’t fixed until he arrived in Chicago. Whenever we saw a dog that bore the slightest resemblance to him, we would ask Bernie if that was one of his many children. It was bit corny of us. But I think we drew comfort from the idea that there could be lots of dogs as sweet, loving, and wonderful as our Bernie.
In fact, we didn’t know much about his history at all, other than the fact he had been rescued in Hazard, Kentucky. He had a bad stomach problem when we got him – something that took months for us to figure how to treat, since he would have bad reactions to a whole host of foods. He was also house-trained and understood basic commands, which means someone had him before us. He always got nervous in cars – shaking like a chihuahua that made us wonder if there was a bit of that in him. So it didn’t take much for us to hypothesize that his previous family probably got rid of him because of his stomach problems and drove him somewhere and abandoned him. Maybe it was true. Maybe it wasn’t. Either way, we swore we’d never give up on him and would do anything for him.
When Kelly and I were told that Bernie’s heart was enlarged, we were devastated. But, in a way, it was appropriate. After all, no one had a bigger heart than Bernie. He survived being abandoned by his original family, living on the streets and surviving off God knows what despite having a serious stomach condition (or maybe the latter was caused by the former), yet he never lost his sweet, loving demeanor.
And for a little bit, he survived having serious heart disease. He fought that horrible illness with everything he had, showing an incredible amount of strength, intestinal fortitude and determination. We thought he was finished two months ago, but he bounced back, rallying with such ferocity that even his doctors were a bit surprised. He was tough – much tougher than he looked. But then again, you don’t survive what he did without having a tremendous reservoir of inner strength to draw on. As my mom, who fled the Communists in China said about Bernie, you don’t become part of this family without being tough.
And at the same time, he was a sweetheart. He probably sensed we weren’t ready to say goodbye to him and gave us an extra two months he didn’t have to. That was Bernie in a nutshell. Tough, stubborn, and sweet as can be.
Yesterday, Bernie’s fight ended. He gave us absolutely everything in his being and soul – it wasn’t fair, possible or humane of us to ask him to give us more. It was the toughest decision we’ve ever had to make, but we can take solace that he doesn’t have to suffer anymore. He’s off to doggie heaven where he can do all the things he could no longer do in his deteriorating state. Kelly and I are devastated, but are comforted to know that he isn’t in pain anymore.
Goodbye my sweet little boy. Your mother and I will love you forever. Thank you for opening our hearts and giving us nothing but happiness and joy. We’ll miss you.