Bernie (aka) Satchmo

Posted: January 17, 2012 in Dogs
Tags: , , , , ,

Bernie was another rescue dog we were privileged to know. His owners moved, leaving him locked in the garage. Somehow he chewed his way out, was found by a neighbor and returned to the garage. He got out again and Shana, founder of For The Love of Pits, rescued him. But she and her husband already had a number of dogs at their home so Bernie was living in the their garage.

The weather was cold and although Shana provided heaters for the garage, she was concerned about Bernie and since Janie was no longer with us, asked if we could take him for about a week, until his new owner was ready for him. We said yes and went to their house to meet him.

Bernie was actually poised between life and death at that time. Shana was concerned because he tended to jump up, hitting a person in the head if you weren’t careful. When you have a rescue devoted to pit bulls, every dog you sent out comes under intense scrutiny, both as a representative of the breed and for the credibility of the rescue. And if you have a dog with a head the size of a small child and that dog’s likely to jump up into someone, that’s a problem.

Since Bernie’s part dog de bordeaux, he’s not a small dog and he has a large, hard head. He didn’t get a chance to be out much during the day, so when he got out in the fenced back yard, all he wanted to do was chase down and bring back the ball. He would fly over the grass, grab the ball or, if he didn’t get it right away, run madly after it, then tear back with it in his mouth. \Naturally your simple but necessary job was to throw it again. And again. And again. And….well, you get the idea. But when you bent down to get it or if you didn’t throw it right away again, he might jump up, something you didn’t want to happen. We thought that he was just jumping up in excitement, encouraging whoever had the ball to throw it, not out of meanness, so we said we’d be glad to take him.

Bernie was a great dog but he had a few disconcerting quirks. The first, more easily remedied, was that he had no sense of personal space but did have a huge love of being near people. Consequently, whenever we sat down, there came Bernie’s large, hard head trying to get right into our laps, where he could gaze soulfully into our faces and put thoughts of things geared to doggy enjoyment straight into our brains. Only one thing to do. We immediately began to sit with the leg nearest Bernie either up on the other knee or outstretched so he had to respect our space.  At first, he’d just drop that big old head on our leg, but he quickly began to get the idea.

But the quirk that caused the most difficulties was that he obsessed about squirrels. I’m not talking about a casual interest! He was obsessive-compulsive about squirrels.  Whenever he’d see one, he would try to stop and he would stare intently at it. He would then put his considerable weight into the leash, straining toward the oblivious squirrel and then he would start making sounds. They would be quiet at first but eventually he’d be almost screaming at the squirrel which, in true squirrel fashion, would either ignore him or seem to taunt him, knowing full well that unless Bernie was loose, not a thing was going to happen.  It was quite a sight…and sound!

Janie was reactive to other dogs, but you can generally see another dog coming and either turn around or take appropriate, distracting action. But with squirrels? No way! They’re everywhere and worse still, we had a family of about seven of the formerly little, now full-grown, rascals who resided in the trees in our yard. Hey, it’s home and they were not leaving for anyone!! After all, now many dogs can climb a tree.  So when it was time to go out for a walk or bathroom break, we’d peer out, hoping that no squirrels were in sight and either wait or slip out as quickly as possible, depending upon the what we saw.

But Bernie was a master at squirrel spotting. As soon as he got outside, he would scan the yard. OK, that’s normal. But if he didn’t see any in the yard, he would transfer his gaze to the trees and look all around for squirrels there. I kid you not! This was a squirrel-obsessed dog who was willing to put his all into the quest for his quarry.   While walking, he did the same things and even though he liked treats, we never found a treat sufficiently enticing to work at distracting his attention from a tempting squirrel.

There are people who think that putting a dog in a crate is mean.  But dogs tend to like crates.  They like small, cozy spots that have soft, cushy blankets in them and if they’re really lucky, also some sort of deliciously stinky bone.  Not all dogs like to go into their crates, even though they enjoy them once they’re inside.  But Bernie loved his crate and during the day would  go in, lie down and sleep, sometimes in hilarious positions.  It was his spot and he loved it.  He also enjoyed, just as Janie before him, lying under the counter in the kitchen right in front of the heat vent.  No dummies, they.

Although the first foster didn’t work out, Bernie eventually found a home and had his name changed to Satchmo, maybe for his singing the squirrel song. Who knows? He’s living happily in his forever home and we’re richer (and have more good stories) for having known him even briefly.

  1. 2b14u says:

    Wow – Wally follows squirrls too…my pittie part lab or bird dog! I HAVE SEEN the squirrle’s tease him on purpose. They sit on a limb and talk to him too. One waits each morning by the door on the fense for Wally to be let out. Then he jumps from fense to tree to telephone wire to garage roof to tree again with Wally following below. Love the story. Bless you. Wally has his own blog. I try to write it like he was actually thinking. It has been interesting trying to write/think dog style.

    • It would be interesting to find out what dogs, or animals for that matter, really do think! My guess is it could be a long way from what we sometimes think, but that’s part of the fun. Our foster dog will be going to another foster on Monday because we’ll be in and out so much in the near future that we can’t keep her. While it has to happen, it will be so hard to let her go. If we could keep her, she’d be part of our family so quickly you wouldn’t be able to see it. Having a foster dog can be hard on the heart!!

      Say hi to Wally from me and from Annabelle, who’d love to meet him. :-0

      • 2b14u says:

        He does not think as much as I give him credit I am sure. They say that Disney movies changed the way the world sees and responds to animals…that we give them more credit than they deserve as far as thoughts and emotions.

        Thank you for all the care you give the foster dogs, especially the breed you attend to.

  2. I think people, especially those with pets, tend to fall into the generally innocuous trap of anthropomorphizing their animals (and all animals.) I love animals, but their thought processes are much simpler than we like to think. That’s why clicker training works so well!!

    I never thought about Disney having a part in that but it makes lots of sense, starting with Bambi! As for fostering, I give anyone who fosters much credit and appreciation. People really need to think before they get a pet because it’s a lifetime (the pet’s) of commitment, like having a child that never grows up and moves out.

  3. […] they’re still living in the old neighborhood.  (To enjoy Bernie’s squirrel issues, see, although they were enjoyable to us only later.)  Today was squirrel frolicking day and they were […]

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