Spotlight Berlin: With some help, young Bernie the St. Bernard and his owner remain together

Bernie the St. Bernard helped by IFAW partner Tiertafle in Berlin, Germany.Bernie had collapsed while waiting outside the Tiertafel building in Berlin, Germany. When we arrived he was in the waiting room with his owner, standing still with the heavy, drooping face so well known to dogs of his breed – the Saint Bernard. It took only one look at Bernie to know something was seriously wrong.

If you’ve met a full-grown Saint Bernard you know they’re huge dogs, nearly waist height at their shoulders and tall enough to easily place your hand on their head without bending over.

Saint Bernards usually weigh anywhere between 60kg (130lbs) and a whopping 80kg (180lbs). Bernie weighed in at only 34 kg (75 lbs) and when you ran your hand down his back you could feel every ridge on his spine. Even his thick coat of fur couldn’t disguise his skeletal frame.

Bernie’s owners were relatively new to the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s partner Tiertafel, which provides “soup kitchens” for the pets of impoverished owners all over Germany. 

At least twice a month, Tiertafel opens its doors to provide food to pets who might go without, or whose owner’s would otherwise have to face the agonizing decision of giving up their beloved companions because they’d fallen on hard times.

IFAW makes it possible for Tiertafel to also provide veterinary services at their Berlin location, offering everything from routine care like vaccinations and micro-chipping to critical, life-saving treatment.

In the case of Bernie, there is no question that the trip to Tiertafel on Saturday saved his life. It turned out that the collapse outside of Tiertafel wasn’t the first. Bernie’s owner explained that over the previous two weeks he’d had collapsed several times, entering a nearly comatose state. In fact, his owner had to revive him on more than one occasion with CPR.

Bernie’s owner, like all patrons of Tiertafel, was getting by on government assistance.  Unemployed and down on his luck, it was impossible to afford the high price of regular veterinary care.  When you saw how distressed Bernie’s owner was there was no question that he loved his dog, and that Bernie’s ever-worsening health had caused them both considerable suffering.

Bernie’s examination revealed that not-only was he emaciated, he’d been having blood in his urine and was suffering from a dangerously high fever. At only 3 years old, he had the healthy eyes, ears and teeth of a young dog, but his body was quickly failing him.

It didn’t take long for the vet to make a prognosis – Bernie was suffering from untreated diabetes. Without critical care he wouldn’t last much longer, but with regular treatment he could get back on track.

When it was explained to Bernie’s owner that he would require medicine every day for the rest of his life, his face turned pale and he stared blankly at the small sheet of paper he held with both hands.  Diabetes treatment wasn’t cheap.  How could he choose to pay for his dog’s care when he couldn’t even afford to have a choice?

It’s not likely that Bernie’s owner will need assistance from Tiertafel forever. At some point his luck could change and he’ll find a job. He might have a bit of money to spare and probably enough to care for a dog.  But if there weren’t places that understood that bad things happen to good people, that time would’ve come without Bernie.

The veterinarian explained to him that everything would work out – with the dog food he’d now regularly receive from Tiertafel, he could use the money that normally went to feed Bernie to pay for his diabetes medicine; and IFAW’s emergency case fund would help get Bernie healthy again. Bernie was going to be okay and he and his owner could stay together.

-- HL

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Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Senior Advisor, Policy Development
Jan Hannah, Campaign Manager, Northern Dogs Project
Campaign Manager, Northern Dogs Project
Kate Nattrass Atema, Program Director, Community Animal Welfare
Program Director, Community Animal Welfare
Shannon Walajtys
Manager, Animal Rescue-Disasters