Archive for the ‘Animal rescue’ Category

Two years ago we brought our first Bernese Mountain Dog home.  We had driven all the way to Dallas TX, where a super shy Berner girl was being fostered by a member of the BARC rescue group.  (For details see the March 2009 posts.)  We brought her home and named her Sophia.

After two years as a member of our family, Sophia has learned a lot.  She has become an excellent office dog who loves to lie under my desk while I do my work.

Sophia under the desk with Sammy off to the side.

She loves the out-doors, especially when there is some stinky spot to be found with the possibility to roll in it. 

She has literally become my shadow and follows at my heels everywhere I go.  And most of all, she comes running whenever there is a chance to collect some petting.

Oh No, mom is petting Sam!

My sweet Sophia, you have made great strides in adjusting to a normal life.  Our family would be incomplete without you.

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Last year we lost our cat Stanley to the ravages of old age.  Stan had been ‘quite the cat’ who, as a kitten, was adopted from a Chicago shelter and first lived with us near Chicago’s downtown.  Stan had a long and exciting life, as my daughter can attest, because he came to live with her in Minnesota.  Life in a college town suited Stanley very well; there he was able to pursue the indoor-outdoor life he craved.  A life which had been impossible in the City of Chicago. 

Fast forward eighteen years and Stan came back to us to enjoy ‘his retirement’ at Sontheim.  He was dropped off with the comment that “there was a warrant out for Stanley’s lynching” because the neighbours were no longer able to endure his nightly yowling concerts.  There was also a longstanding lack of song birds in the neighbourhood which rightly or wrongly had been attributed to Stanley’s hunting skills.

So Stan came to Sontheim where he yodeled to his heart’s content.  Initially the dogs, Sophia and Lilly, were terrified by his sounds.  Neither one of the girls had encountered a cat before and especially not a feisty one like Stan.

Within a year Stanley’s health declined and he left for the happy hunting grounds in the big sky.  Once he was gone, we made the decision not to bring another cat into our home.  The family was complete, especially after the arrival of our big boy Sam.  A house without the litter box, without the necessity to prevent a prowling cat from escaping out-of-doors, without the constant vigilance to keep birds safe from cat attacks, that was the goal.  

But alas, it was not to be!

Within a few days of Stanley’s passing, his mirror image appeared on the porch of our apartment in Chicago.  George called to let me know that a shy Stanley was hanging around.  For months I occasionally heard about the budding friendship between the big guy and the little alley cat.  Then one evening I got the news that the stray had overcome his fear and followed George inside; and I was told that he would be taken to the Chicago Humane Society in the morning.   A few years ago George did precisely that, he rescued a pretty little alley cat, took her to the Humane Society, and she was promptly adopted out.  But alas, this is the year of over-crowded shelters and George was told that Stanley’s double would have to be transferred to the City Pound were he would likely die alongside so many other unwanted cats.

In a panick George called and we decided that certain death was not an option.  The cat would have to travel to Wisconsin, get checked over by our vet and get a name. 

So let me introduce our new cat to you.  Meet Felix, who we suspect was sent or way by Stan who just could not imagine the family without the company of a cat.

A happy Felix with his dad and Sammy who pretends not to notice.

A curious Felix watches his dad prepare the fire.

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Quite a bit has been said about the importance dogs have played in human evolution and it comes as no surprise that many people love their dogs.  That love seems to be especially stong in the folks who are devoted to the Bernese Mountain Dog.

I learned this fact after becoming a Berner mom myself.  It has been almost two years since we brought Sophia home from her BARC foster home in Dallas, where she had spent several months recuperating after her traumatic start at a puppy-mill;  and as you all know, our little Berner girl has been joined by a bouncing Berner boy not too long ago.  So the question is this, what makes this breed so irresistible?  And why is it that there is no such thing as a One Berner Household, provided there is room for a second, a third, and maybe even a fourth?

Sammy on the couch with Sophia by his side.

The addition of our second Berner was initially strategic.  Our girl had come a long way from the frightened pup she had been when she first arrive, and she had learned to love her new home and family.  But something was still missing.  She did not fit the description of the Bernese:  loving, outgoing, goofy, fun to be with…  None of that seemed to be possible in her live.

Our Berner girl needed help in the final adjustment to a normal life.

When Sam arrived, he entered our lives in true Berner fashion:  a big boy with an even bigger heart, he walked in and claimed us as his own.  There is no shyness about this boy and no hesitation.  And ever so slowly he has done precisely what we hoped he would do – he has helped Sophia to a nearly normal life.

Today our Berner girl showers us with Berner love and she comes running to claim her share of  hugs and kisses.  She is practicing the Berner-lean and often now she shows a goofy smile and participates in Sammy’s adorable silliness.

Luckily a member of the Berner community has produced a video that makes my point most clearly and I’d like to share it here.  Watch and enjoy:


Before you click, please note that there is a slight problem with the video link, but if you type in “Bernese go together” at the Youtube screen, the video will pop up.  Or better yet, if you go to Cyndi’s comment at the end of the post you will find the video ready for viewing.  Please also note that the video has a slight delay at the beginning. 

Many thanks to Lori in Minnesota for this wonderful video.  It will make you smile.

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In the three and a half months since his arrival Sammy has brought pure joy to all of us at Sontheim!  In true Berner fashion, he is a bundle of love as he divides his attention equally between his mom and dad.
Upside down Sammy on the couch, showing us that life is good.

He has drawn Sophia further out of her shell and has learned not to run over Lilly when they play.  But most of all Sammy is the silly pup who makes us laugh. 

Tired or not, Sam is always ready for a snooze and a snuggle with his Dad.

He lives so thoroughly in the moment that we forget all worries by watching him.  “Climate change, natural disasters, religious hatred, political strive,” are all gone when we engage with Sam. 

Recently I have realized that Sam is also my medicine-man.  When Sam looks straight into my eyes I lose sight of  my intense struggle with the devastating effects of Multiple Sclerosis.  He seems to know when a depression is imminent and knows how to stop it before it takes hold. 

Much to my surprise I have learned that he will come running and place himself directly in front of me when grief and hopelessness threaten.  He looks straight into my eyes until my nervous system calms down and the danger dissipates.  This is no small feat, because over the last year depression induced thoughts of suicide had become a life-threatening part of my struggle with MS.   

Needless to say, my silly Sammy boy has become a life-line for me.  He is a true help in my daily struggle to survive and I am surprised beyond words that I have been given such a miraculous gift.  It is hard to believe that after years of  escalating struggle such help is brought to me by no other than a six-year old rehoused rescue dog.  

Our abode has been home for many rescued dogs and cats.  Some came from shelters, but most came directly from Chicago’s streets.  We were happy to take them in and save them from a miserable life and violent death.   They were:

Buffy the blue-eyed kitten, found in a wood pile outside a factory in Michigan.

Pingan, the gorgeous but neurotic cat, adopted from a group of students leaving the University of Chicago.

Obilot the blind Border Collie mix, found wandering the streets of Chicago after being hit by a car whose driver did not bother to slow down.

Georgely the little Bearded Collie, who was scheduled to be euthanized because he had been at the shelter for too long.

LuLu the Dachshund-Spaniel mix, adopted from the Chicago Humane Society, who became Georgely’s true love and playmate.

Bear the black ChowChow was snared in the parking lot of the United Center after three weeks of feeding him.

Lucile the Coyote-Shepard mix was rescued with her remaining puppy whom we named Toby;  she was Bear’s mate and followed him eagerly to her forever home.

Haley the little pup who was heared crying at midnight in driving rain in an alley behind the house.

Charlie the tiny kitten, who was rescued after falling into a sewer pipe in an alley in Chicago; and Fergy cat, who was saved from being smashed by a sledgehammer wielding boy.

Beanie the gutsy little Terrier had to be lured into  in the car by a passerby’s little female dog, because he was mortally afraid of people after spending a lifetime on Chicago’s streets.

Freddy the pure bred Pekingese, who showed up at our gate and asked to be let in.

Leo the Chow was adopted from a humane society in Iowa, where he had been abandoned in an outdoor cage.

So many pets first discarded or lost, but then finally found.  It was a privilege to provide them with a family of their own where they could live in harmony and peace.  And now our Sam who pays back all the care we gave along the way.  I find him “a miracle” beyond compare.

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The hazards of grooming!

Our poor Sophia had a mishap at the groomers when the back of her right ear was cut. 

When I arrived to pick up my crew after grooming I was greeted at the door by Briann with a worried look on her face.  Briann showed me Sophia’s ear where the skin had been cut during an attempt to remove a mat.  The cut was not bleeding and looked small enough that it may heal itself, so off we went to go home and rest after our big day in the City.

Sophia paid no attention to her ear and showed no discomfort which made me decide to take her to the vet the next morning.  All went well during the night and Sophia showed  no discomfort. 

The following morning I checked on the ear right away and was shocked to see that a big triangle of cut skin had turned up and dried during the night.  Near panick I called Dr. Sander who thankfully was at her office early, and YES, she told me to bring Sophia in right away.

Upon examining Sophia, Dr. Sander assured me that the ear could be repaired, but she needed my permission to sedate Sophia and keep her for the morning.  So I left my Berner girl to be sedated for the second time since she came to live with us in 2009.

As much as I try to keep her safe, some things seem to be out of my control.  First the bloat and now a nasty cut on her ear.  It does not seem fair that  bad thing continue to happen to our sweet Sophia who had such a rough start in life at a nasty puppy-mill in Montana. 

Rescued at seven months, Sophia showed all the signs of inbreeding, malnutrition, and lack of socialization that is associated with puppy-mills.  Quite a few of her problems and anxieties have been ameliorated since her rescue and since she has become a much-loved member of our family.  However, two years after rescue, it is very clear that Sophia will never be a “normal” dog.

But back to the ear. 

Dr. Sander called at noon to let me know that the surgery was a success and that our sweet Berner girl was ready to go home.  I went to fetch a sad Sophia with a BIG band-aid on a well shaved ear.  The dead skin tissue had been removed and the wound had required eight stitches to close. 

 Today, after a fairly restful night, our Berner girl no longer tolerates a bandage on the ear.   Now the challenge will be to keep the wound clean and  Sophia from scratching, as the ear heals.   Your thoughts and prayers for Sophia’s speedy recovery are welcome on our blog, so please leave a message for Sophia.

Needless to say, there will be no scissors allowed near our dogs from here on out.

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Getting a new collar for Sammy had been on my to-do list for a while when much to my surprise I ended up not having to make any effort to secure one.  

Unbeknownst to me we were entered into a raffle after making a donation to Charlie’s medical fund.  Charlie is Ashley’s and Joe’s beloved berner boy who had needed life saving emergency care.  In true Berner fashion, the Berner community got together to help cover the medical costs.   


Much to my astonishment we won the raffle that entitled Sam to receive a custom-made collar.   I was contacted by Marissa whose business while in college is   http://www.CollarsbyMarissa.blogspot.com.   

Marissa had donated a collar to the fundraiser for Charlie.  Now all I had to do was pick out the style and fabric and wait for the collar to arrive.   

Marissa e-mailed a picture after completing Sam's collar.

When it arrived Mr. Sam knew right away that the package was for him.  He literally wrestled the gift wrapped collar out of my hands and proceeded to open it.  After the exuberant unwrapping I photographed Marissa’s gorgeous gift and Sam was eager to try it on.   

Here are a few pictures of Sammy sporting his new collar:  

The package arrives.

Sammy takes charge of the unwrapping!

A beautiful fit...

Well we had to adjust the size of the collar a few times until we had the perfect fit.  And here is the result, a gorgeous berner boy with a splendid collar: 

On the porch with the new collar and name tag.

Sammy enjoys some petting before the morning walk.


It’s a foggy morning with Sam and his Dad waiting for Mom to catch up with Sophia.  As always, Lilly is doing her own thing. 

Sophia has cought up and Lilly is following her nose.

Sam is doubling back after catching the scent of a critter nearby.

As you can see, the new collar is beautiful and Sammy wears it well.  Let me give a big thank you to Marissa for such a lovely gift.

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Sophia and Sam, off-leash in the meadow after the hay harvest.

You already know that Sam “I Am – Green Eggs and Ham” has brought an abundance of  Berner hugs, kisses and smiles galore into our family.  As I watch him settle so easily into our somewhat neurotic dog family I have to say that it warms the soul to have such an easygoing and loveable Berner boy in our midst. 

After a year and a  half of patiently and ever so gently working with Sophia to help her overcome her fear based phobias, and taking delight in every tiny improvement she has made along the way,  it surely feels good to have a healthy and normal Berner in the family. 

The difference in mental health and physical appearance of our two BARC Berners could not be more pronounced.  

Poor Sophia was whelped in a puppy mill and rescued by BARC when she was seven months old.  She was fostered in a loving  home until we adopted her when she was one year old.  Sophia’s development and trials are well documented in this blog and I don’t need to repeat the full story here.  In a nut shell, she was terrified of riding in the car, terrified of leaving her safe spot in the kitchen, terrified of stairs, terrified of anyone entering the house, and definitely terrified of her dad who loves her unconditionally… etc. 

Sophia is a diminutive Berner at less than sixty pounds.   For the first six month here she ate  and drank lying down which clearly indicates that she spent her formative months confined in a cage.  Her sensitive stomach led to untold bouts of explosive diarrhea and many trips to the out-of-doors in  the middle of the night.  Needles to say, during her first year here, Sophia was a challenge. 

Initially she would suspiciously sniff any treat offered to her, but now she begs for bananas and watermelon, and she definitely loves yoghurt and her food, 

Thankfully our Sophia has grown into a relatively self-assured Berner girl and we hope that her maturation will continue to giver her more and more freedom from the demons she carries in her mind. 

Enter our second BARC dog Sam who knows nothing of fear,who suffers neither from demons nor phobias, and who’s company  brings pure joy.  So the question is, what accounts for such striking differences in temperament and appearance?  The only answer I can find is here: 

As far as I could learn, Sammy was whelped at a BARC’ member ‘s home.  Unfortunately, I have not been able to learn about the circumstance or the exact date of his birth, his mom or his siblings.  All I know is that Sammy was whelped and raised in a loving BARC home.  He was well fed, exercised and well socialized and placed with his first adoptive family as soon as he was old enough to join a family of his own.  I was told that after a few months he was returned to BARC because the young couple who had adopted him were splitting up and neither one could keep him.  

At about seven months of age he was adopted by his second family in Up-state New York.  There he spent about five years with this family and judging by his appearance and behaviour he must have been treated well.  I am told that he grew up with the family’s first child and he saw a second child come into their lives. 

Sadly for Sam who is now about six years old, his second family also decided that they no longer wanted him.  They surrendered him to BARC who placed him in a nearby foster home.   A few weeks later Sammy made the journey to Wisconsin where he found his third and definitely his forever-home.  

I am happy to say that Sammy is here to stay; as the saying goes “come hell or high water,” we are never going to let him go!

Here are a few more pictures to chronicle his full integration into our family that is now complete: 

Sammy and his Dad, taking a nap on the couch.

Sam the snuggle pup.

On our morning walk - Lilly wats for Sophia while Sammy leads the way.

Sam waits for mom to park her electric bike in the garage.

Sam and Lilly are waiting ever so patiently for mom to come and open the door.

Three happy dogs - tired and ready for a nap - but patienty waiting for mom to let them inside.

And there you have it, now there is happyness all around. 

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