AKC Gazette Columns

AKC Gazette - December 1991

CHRISTMAS, A TIME TO REMEMBER

Memories from Christmases past unravel like the twinkling lights strung on the tree. This is the story of Caesar, a Bernese Mountain Dog who was born in December 1973. He was the tiniest of the seven puppies that were born by cesarean section. In fact, he was one-half the size of his littermates, and it was doubtful whether he would survive. What was lacking in size, was made up for by amazing strength and determination. Still the gap in size remained as he entered his eighth week.

A local family with two children expressed interest in a Bernese puppy and were eager to be the owners of this little mite of a fellow. Everything about these people signalled a good home. The children were gentle and kind; the father had discovered the breed and was enthralled by it; and the mother was soft-spoken, loving and eager to take the puppy home where she was certain that with her nurturing he would grow into a full-size Bernese. Because the family lived in the area, the breeder could monitor the progress of the tiny pup. So it was decided that this would be the perfect family for him. In expectation of a success story, his new owners proudly named him Caesar in honor of that great Roman who had brought the breed across the Alps into Switzerland 2,000 years before.

Indeed, Caesar did grow into a beautiful, normal-sized dog. When a baby girl was born, Caesar thoroughly enjoyed this new addition to the family, staying as near her as he could. Later, another change came in Caesar's life. Through a divorce, the master of the household left. In order to make ends meet Caesar's" mistress opened a day care center in her home. Caesar quickly established himself as mascot. A gentle nudge could soothe a crying child. The long feathers of his ears could entertain little fingers, and his massive body was the perfect walker for toddlers who clung to him for support. When they tired, he became a cuddly pillow. Caesar knew all his charges; happily tolerant when a younger child tugged at him, while giving a patient growl to the older ones who should have known better. The day care parents adored Caesar and gave him much credit for making it easier for the children to say good-bye to Mom or Dad when Caesar waited to greet the youngsters at the door.

With advancing years, Caesar began to slow down. He spent more time sleeping on a couch in the day care activity room than he used to; He especially enjoyed it when one of the little ones would crawl up beside him and go to sleep, and he had an uncanny sense of knowing when one of the children needed him close by. No matter what, Caesar never missed the morning ritual of greeting the children with the wag of his tail saying hello.

Caesar did have one problem. He was afraid of thunder. As he got older, his fear intensified. During a particularly bad thunderstorm, when Caesar was 9½ years old, he ran away for the first time. For five days, Caesar was gone, Unseen by anyone. On the sixth day, he miraculously returned on his own. Grateful for this second chance, every precaution for not letting him get away during another storm was discussed.

On July 17, 1982, it happened again. The humane society was notified at once, and a picture was left with them. An extensive network was notified of this lost dog. All leads were followed, but only to end in disappointments. Days passed into weeks. On August 20, one of the humane society's staff called and explained that she had been off for a few days. But when she came into work that day, she saw what she believed to be a dead dog lying in one of the pens. On closer inspection, she thought it might be the missing Bernese Mountain Dog. She added that the dog had been brought in on August 18; and since no one had come to claim him, he was scheduled to be put .to sleep in two hours. Through tears and a choked voice, Caesar's mistress cried, "Wait, please wait. I'm coming right away."

It was Caesar. He was emaciated, loaded with fleas and ticks, and could barely stand. He wagged his tail in a feeble hello. The task of restoring him to his former self seemed impossible. The little mite had made it when he entered the world as a runt, and with his literal escape from death's door at the humane society, his mistress resolved that he would make it this time, too. Clean and rid of fleas and ticks, Caesar responded by eating well. A visit to the veterinarian for a thorough exam and worming resulted in a good prognosis for recovery.

Caesar seemed to eat well enough, but he wasn't gaining weight. He didn't act the same. He spent nearly all of his time asleep on the couch in the day care activity room.

When I returned from vacation, I learned of Caesar's horror story. His breath was so foul that he polluted every room he entered. His inactivity bespoke of some deeper problem; and when he lay sleeping, Caesar drooled. I asked to come and see him.

The poor old fellow did not budge from the couch. He just looked at me. There was no signal from his tail and he smelled awful. As I stroked his head, I recalled how hard we had worked to save him as a puppy. With him being such a success story, it just didn't seem fair that the final chapter in his life should be one of such misery. Caesar stared at me with the most tragic expression.1 have ever seen in a dog's eyes. I left in tears. The look haunted me.

A few days passed, with not one passing without the memory of his eyes leaving me. Suddenly, in one of those moments when I envisioned his expression again, I knew. I knew what was wrong. I instantly called explaining, "He has a bone stuck in his throat. I just know it. While he was gone, he ate any and everything. He probably ate all kinds of bones. That's why he is drooling when asleep. Please, please take him to the vet again. I'll talk to him."

The veterinarian was also my own. He doubted my theory as he had examined the dog's throat, but would, of course, do so again. Well, there was not one bone, but two. One of the bones actually was exposing the root of a tooth. Caesar had to be anesthetized to dislodge the bones.

Caesar's recovery was rapid. He gained weight; his breath didn't smell; and he went back to his chosen job as mascot with the determination that had been his since birth. His final chapter would end happily.

When Caesar did pass on, he was buried beneath a tree on our nine acres since animal burial is prohibited on property in town. The young boy who had come with his family to get Caesar had by then grown to manhood. It was he who buried him. He notched the tree deeply, saying, "Good dogs need to be remembered. Caesar should not be forgotten."

Caesar was born 18 years ago this December. He hasn't been forgotten nor has that strange feeling I got in my heart when Caesar somehow let me know what was wrong. The notch in the tree is barely there, but the notch in my memory is as fresh as yesterday. This Christmas, treasure your memories as you recall those from the past and collect new ones.

- Miss Julie Crawford, Route 2, Box 110, Delmar, MD 21875