Adopting Elsa was truly special. I never thought in a million years I would have the opportunity to have a dog like her since I won’t buy a purebred anything, but then again, as we can see, so many purebred animals need rescuing too and boy did she, in a bad way. Plus, Hitch had been asking for a puppy after losing our first three dogs and Hitch gets what Hitch wants!
Jake and I had decided to take a break from dogs after we lost Maple D. I had set up the whole house to accommodate a feline only environment for the first time in 15 years. I think we made it about a whopping 4 months from losing Maple before adopting Elsa. Our friends and neighbors are affiliated with the Bernese Mountain Dog club here in Atlanta. They foster and help place dogs as well as serve on the board. One night, while Jake was working late, they invited me down for drinks and to see their new foster dog. She was only to be with them a few nights before she went to her permeant foster home awaiting adoption. They knew what they were doing to me! If you cannot tell my now, we are BIG dog people, though Maple was perfection in every way, we are more of the 100# or bust mentality or else just have a cat!
It didn’t take but an hour or two of hanging out before I asked, can I walk her home and see how she does with the cats? “Of course,” they said! Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more. When Jake arrived home, I was sitting on the back deck with Elle, drinking wine. He got out of his car with a big smile on his face (this man is a good egg) and crawled up the stairs asking, “who is our guest?”. I explained her story, I told him I already had her inside and she was sweet as could be with the cats. I told him that Hitch took to her right away, and well, we are weak, weak people. To this date, Elsa was Hitch’s favorite dog, no doubt. He has known all six, but he loved him some “Smelly Elle”. We gave her a derogatory nickname purely by accident, but it stuck. She was so damn gorgeous we didn’t want her to have a big head! Sometimes we just called her Smelly! Ha!
Now, her story. Elsa was beaten by a teenage boy. The household consisted of a mother, her two twin teenage sons, other smaller children, I do not recall details and I believe two small breed dogs. No cats that I recall. One of the twin teenage boys had some challenges and I was told the mom got Elsa as protection. Have any of you met and Berner? I mean, she could have chosen a German Shepherd or a Doby, but I digress. One twin was good, one was trouble. He yanked Elsa’s feet out from under her as she tried to walk upstairs, he beat her with a garden hose (after adopting her we never bathed our dogs outside again-always in the tub), she was terrified of the sound of metal. All I know is when the mother surrender Elsa to the rescue group she did so because Elsa had tried to bite this boy (Go Smelly! Well done!) and she relinquished Elsa for her own safety. I was informed that the mother put a lock on her own bedroom door after giving Elsa up she was so fearful of her son.
Elsa was going to be safe with us. Her original name was Caribou, and while I loved the coffee chain, it didn’t roll off the tongue. Combined with the negative connotations, Elsa it became! Training was interesting. This dog did not trust anyone. Talk about positive reinforcement training. Try popping her with a choke collar and see how you fare? Clickers and treats were key here! Within just two weeks I was able to walk around her in a full circle, when previously she would not let anyone go behind her. We were building trust!
We had many tiny hurdles to get past and they were all small feats like I described above. I remember taking her to visit our family and pulling up the metal (manual – I KNOW!!) garage door and she was FREAKED out! It took us a while to get her in the house and get her to walk through that garage. Oh, and then there was the eating of things. She was our first ingester of non-food items and hopefully our last. One day she ate a gardening glove. I jumped to the task and administered hydrogen peroxide (no longer recommended by the by-do not try this at home) and successfully made her vomit. But then one day, oh this is glorious to share, she ate a pair of my underwear! Not any old underwear. OLD, workout underwear, that I had decided that day was going in the trash. I left the pair on the counter, hopped in the shower, came out-GONE! There was no getting peroxide down this dog a second time. Let’s recall she had a bite history and was about 100#. We tried; but Elsa tossed Jake across the yard with the politest “NO” one has ever seen. Off to the ER we went where they induced vomiting. Did I mention an old co-worker worked there and she puked up my 15-year-old underwear right in front of her. Just wow. Good times. Thanks Elle!
Elsa also decided that she was going to have an adverse reaction to a commonly used drug and went neurologic on us. Had to take her to the ER and hospitalize her. She was VERY out of character, and this was the only time where we both thought, “Yep, she might bite us.” It was all we could do to get her outside to eliminate, she was literally like a 100# flounder. It was very dangerous because the few times she got away from us she would flail and flop around and we were afraid she was going to knock herself out on the stone walls. It was hard to get a hand on her without her trying to bite us. She was not herself, it was not personal, but she was terrified and didn’t understand what was happening to her. She recovered fully in just a few very long and scary days and I would like to once again give a shout out to the amazing Help ‘Em Up harness, an absolute lifesaver. We’ve used it for three of our dogs now even though it was originally only purchased for Yukon.
Elsa could go everywhere with us, she was fantastic. We even went to a local fine dining restaurant that allowed dogs on the patio, she was treated like a Queen and served her own menu! The first three dogs got attention because the three of them were a lot and made a spectacle, but Elsa could not get through a single walk without us hearing, “Beautiful dog” or “Can I pet your dog?” She was quite large for a female Berner, but not intimidating because she was so friendly and sweet. We even won a selfie photo contest together for Atlanta’s Best Self magazine and she of course attended the awards party!
One summer, the same neighbors that helped us adopt her rescued a mom and her kitties and I was of course roped into the newly coined, “Itty Bitty Kitty Committee” and Elsa was the kitten socializer! We would go over one or two days a week so the kittens could crawl all over her. She was so calm; I could literally just ask her to “down” and she would stay put and allow them to approach at their own pace. They all got adopted and became well-socialized cats.
She also went on a lot of stroller walks with us and I even had her embrace her breed history and pull the stroller once! It was hilarious. She was welcome in everyone’s home, perfect manners and was rarely seen without a cat, mostly Hitch. I even had to strive to select photos that did not have Hitch in them for this post, it is her feature after all. She overcame a lot to have a life back, but after just a few months of building trust she had an absolutely great time here.
We adopted Elle at age four. Bernese Mountain Dogs are the shortest lived of all the giant breeds, 8-10 being average. When I told our internist that we adopted her the first thing she said to me was, “oh, they pretty much get their own special ‘Berner” cancer”. I thought, oh super. Well, she was right and that is exactly what happened. We had four glorious years with Smelly. She was diagnosed with exactly what was predicted. We treated it, she thrived, and we made it to the very last month of her 3–6-month life expectancy post diagnosis. She suffered little if at all. As soon as she lost interest in food and regular activities, we called it knowing the fight was futile.
Elsa, you were a dream dog. Hitch misses you so much, you were by far his favorite. We’ve have tried twice now to fill your void with something GIANT and fuzzy, but it is not the same. Jake and I are both so grateful for the chance to have saved you from the hell you were living in, you embraced all we had to offer you with open paws, and I hope you were better off for it. You were certainly loved.