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Manda von der Bernsau

Our first Bernese Mountain Dog was Manda. What follows is her story. We originally wrote this to introduce ourselves to the berner-l (an online community of Berner lovers) in early 1995. It is a long post, I’ve divided it into 4 parts.

I know this is hard to read online, but it is a story that anyone considering buying a Berner should read.

dog images

In 1983, we were living in Germany, near the city of Stuttgart. We often traveled to Bavaria, Austria, France, and Switzerland on long weekends or for longer vacations. We met our first Bernese Mountain Dog in a small Swiss village called S’chanf near St. Moritz. Like many small Swiss farming villages a cobble street only wide enough for one car at a time wound between multi-storied stone buildings. Cows lived in the basements, shops occupied the main floors, and the people lived above. Every morning the cows were herded to the fields surrounding the village and every evening they were herded back. At night, as we’d walk along the street we could hear muffled “moos” coming up from the ground.

One day as we walked through the village a large black, brown, and white dog met us in the street. He had been sitting on a porch at the side of a farm house. When he saw us he slowly ambled toward us. We stopped to admire him and he sat down next to Lynne and LEANED. He almost knocked her over. After that, everywhere we went in the village, he followed. When we stopped to admire the scenery or take a picture, he stopped, and leaned. He followed us around until it was time to help herd the cattle back under the house. We still have a picture of him sitting on his porch. We fell in love with that dog.

Several months later, in the village where we lived, we saw a woman walking a miniature of that dog. It was a fluffy little puppy marked just like the older dog. We asked her to write down the name of the breed for us: Berner Sennenhund. After that, we asked around until we found a kennel that was advertising puppies. That is where we first met Manda (von der Bernsau). The dog that would become the center of, and sometimes the meaning of, our lives for the next 8 1/2 years.

There were two of them left, a male and a female, brother and sister. They were 12 weeks old, had big dark brown eyes, glistening black coats, white Swiss crosses on their chests, and dark brown “accents”, especially over their eyes. And freckles. We wanted a female and we fell in love with the freckles.

The next few weeks were hell. We didn’t have a yard and Manda was not house trained. We were naive to kennel training. And, worst of all, Manda had diarrhea. The vet had her on a diet of grated apples and carrots for several weeks until she was normal. Her entire life, she loved apples and carrots.

In Europe, it is common to take your dog everywhere. Manda went with us when we traveled, she stayed in our room, went with us into restaurants, and she charmed everyone everywhere we went. She became our constant companion, and, in the absence of children, our child. Her vocabulary grew to include a lot of English and German words. She grew fond of hamburgers and knew the word well. Her head would tilt to the left on “ham” and back to the right on “burger”. Every Saturday we went to McDonalds for a burger.

In 1985, we moved home to Colorado. Manda was something of a novelty, there were only 4 or 5 other Berners in Northern Colorado at the time. I remember going to a puppy match and Manda was the only Berner there. Through Kathy Heun we became acquainted with a few other Berner people in Colorado—some of whom later formed the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of the Rockies (BMDCR) in 1987. We learned to deal with the perpetual questions, “Is that a Saint Bernard mix?”; “What kind of dog is that?”; and, “Oh look a Bermese Mountain Dog!”. And, we learned to deal with not being able to take Manda with us everywhere we went. Except to the drive thru at Burger King, which quickly became her favorite.

Manda was bred in Austria and was recognized by the Austrian Kennel Club. However, the American Kennel Club did not recognize their stud book. Had we known this we would have registerd her with the Berner kennel club in Germany. Anyway, Manda was never registered in the US. It didn’t really matter to us, we had no desire to show or breed her. And, she was diagnosed with a mild case of dysplasia at about 2 years of age. It never bothered her.

We did a lot of obedience training with Manda, and she became a very obedient and desirable dog to have around.

We’ve always had cats and Manda was a pal to them. She would play with them, protect them, herd them, and find them when they were hiding. They’d sleep together curled up into one ball of fur.

We met a few Berner people and began to learn more about the breed. We also took full advantage of being back in Colorado: backpacking, hiking, and fishing, and Manda was our constant companion. She learned to sit in the center of our canoe as we’d paddle around high mountain lakes fishing. She loved snow. Her first introduction to a lake came when we were fishing from the shore at a mountain lake. It was Spring and there was still a lot of snow around. Manda was running around the hillside behind us chasing squirrels, and romping in the snow. Then, she came barreling down the hill to the edge of the lake and jumped. I think she thought the lake, which was reflecting a white overcast sky, was just more snow. She disappeared head-first. I saw it in slow motion. A dog, paws outstretched like a bear skin rug, flying through the air, a smile on her face. The front paws hit first, then the head, the body, the back paws, and finally the white tip of her tail. It seemed like forever before she resurfaced, in the same order, and dog paddled to shore, shivering, wet, and afraid.

In 1989, we moved back to Europe. This time to The Netherlands, near Amsterdam. And, of course Manda (and two cats) went with us. She did come back to Colorado again, but not under the best of circumstances.


Posted by Rick on 07/28/2004 at 06:25 PM

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