From Dr. Suzie Gough, Caring Pathways Veterinarian
In January 2012 when Josh and I were living in Alaska, we decided we wanted to share our life together with a four legged. Josh googled “Standard Poodle”, “Alaska”, and “Rescue”. And there popped up Bert.
Bert was three and a half at the time and had been relinquished by his adoptive family back to his “birth parents”, Marion and Tim Bowser in Soldotna, AK. Marion is an amazing breeder and Tim is a gifted veterinarian. Bert’s story was that before he was relinquished he was diagnosed with an affliction called Addisons Disease. Addisons is somewhat rare in animals, but for some reason is over-represented in Standard Poodles. Addisons is really rare in people, but a little known fact is that JFK had it.
Addisons is when the body cannot produce steroids. Our bodies actually need steroids to help in times of stress, and healthy bodies are programmed to release small amounts when needed. The absence of these steroids can cause what is known as an Addisonian Crisis which typically manifests as severe gastrointestinal distress (vomiting and diarrhea) and shock and can require intensive care in a hospitalized setting. Getting a dog diagnosed and then treated through the initial crisis is the hardest part of this disease. Once diagnosed, treatment is very straightforward with daily steroid administration and monthly shots to help balance out electrolytes. I have never met Bert’s initial adoptive family, but I will be forever grateful to them for getting Bert through his initial crisis.
I have been a vet for over ten years and have yet to diagnose an Addisonian, not for lack of trying! On the other hand, Josh, an auto mechanic, diagnosed a family friends Standard Poodle with Addisons when it broke with diarrhea. When Josh told me about this, I said sure, Standard Poodles are prone to Addisons but there are LOTS of other reasons for diarrhea. Sure enough though, they took their dog in and damn if Josh’s diagnosis was correct!
Anyway, back to Bert. Like I said, he had been relinquished back to the Bowsers after his diagnosis. The adoptive family had several foster children in the home which caused a somewhat stressful household, and stress is one of the single most agitators of Addisons disease. I admire that they recognized this and opted to put Bert in a more stable home. The Bowsers already had many other dogs in their family, including Rose, Bert’s beautiful mother. They loved Bert (because who wouldn’t?), but felt he would do better in a family with fewer pets or even as an only child.
When Josh found Bert’s picture and bio online, our initial reaction was that he seemed like a cool dog, but that silly name would have to go. I was in my first year of veterinary practice after my internship, and had some questions for Tim on how to best manage an Addisonian. Tim is also a veterinarian and at the time owned a beautiful practice in Soldotna. He addressed all of my concerns and invited Josh and me to come out there for an overnight visit to meet Bert. Soldotna was several hours away from where we were living, and we immediately made plans to go down there and meet Bert.
The minute we met him, all thoughts about renaming him went out the window. Here was this giant, gangly looking goofball, and of course he was a Bert, what else would he be?
The Bowsers set us up in a guest room downstairs and Bert spent the night with us. He seemed friendly enough but was missing his birth family very much that night. He spent most of the night pacing in front of the door and seemed very worried. But we had already decided he was the right dog for us and took him home with us the next day. The Bowsers were happy they found a good home for Bert and told us if there were any problems or change of heart to bring him back to them, so we felt good about deciding to take him with us since we had a back up plan if it didn’t work out.
Tim and Marion saying goodbye to Bert
Remember, this was January in Alaska. We caught a major snow storm during the 3 hour drive back home. Poor Bert was standing much of the way and threw up at least once. At one point the snow was so bad we had to pull into a rest area to wait for the visibility to improve. The day we drove him home was January 22, 2012.
Josh and I wondered how Bert would settle in with us. I worried that maybe he was too big for our modest rental. We worried how he would adjust as an only child after being with so many dogs at the Bowsers. We worried about whether or not he would ever feel comfortable with us and attach to us.
Now we laugh so hard at these initial worries. Within days Bert had 1000% attached to us. He LOVED being an only child and having all of our attention. His personality shined through and it was as big as he was. He loved to play fetch with balls or his favorite toy, Monkey, who my cousin sent us when we first adopted Bert.
He loved to go hiking, camping, and back packing with us.
Me & Bert in Eagle River
Our first hike with Bert, Thunderbird Falls
One of my favorites, I call this picture “Deep Thoughts, by Bertrude Friedman Gough.
Bert’s Sixth Berthday
But it wasn’t all play. He loved going to work with me at the animal hospital where he also got tons of attention. When Josh and I would take him for a walk, people would stop in traffic to ask about him. Our neighbors got to know us as Bert’s parents, they knew Bert by name even though they didn’t know ours. I remember walking with Bert to the mailbox, and kids came running out yelling “It’s Bert!”.
Merry Christmas Everybody!
Long before Bert got sick, he LOVED his food. Shortly after we got him, we once forgot to secure his dog food. He woke us up having to go to the bathroom several times one night. In the morning we found the reason why – he had gotten his large bag of dog food open at the top and went crazy with it – kind of like me with a bag of Cape Cod potato chips! Needless to say he spend much of the next day pooping, and when Josh and I sat down to dinner that night, poor Bert was put in his kennel next to us and had to watch us eating our dinner while he didn’t get anything.
Another time we were walking him outside our house in Eagle River and he somehow got scent of something and the next thing we knew he was chomping on an old chicken bone someone had discarded. He would NOT give it up – this was one of the first times he ever misbehaved!
Oh boy, and did he love moose poop! He was in heaven when we lived in Alaska and these were all over the place. When we brought him to Colorado he must have been very disappointed that there wasn’t any moose poop around. But he was an opportunist and would often find other suitable substitutes, like rotten cherry tomatoes from my first garden at our rental home in Colorado. And one time we went to Beaver Meadows for a lovely weekend and lucky Bert found some delicious horse poop he dined on.
Like most poodles, Bert was ridiculously smart. He very quickly learned that 6pm was dinner time and he had a sharp internal clock. If we were late, he would let us know. The funny thing is, somehow he would also intuitively know when it was time to push the clock back an hour in the Fall. Sure enough, on that day, at what used to be 5pm but was now magically 6pm, he would let us know it was dinner time. Oddly, when it was time to spring forward, he declined to adjust his internal clock to wait an extra hour for dinner.
Downward Facing Bert
Even more than his food (and moose poop), Bert loved his treats. Bert’s favorite treat was his CET chews. These are enzymatic chews that are good for dental health. Although the chews themselves are pretty stinky, we called these his breath mint because they did make his breath smell better (Bert had
some pretty epic bad breath, even though he got dental cleanings regularly). Fortunately, Bert LOVED his CET chews. He would do anything for them. We started giving them right after he would get a bath, and he loved them so much that he would get into the bath tub by himself, sometimes even when we weren’t trying to give him a bath.
His love for his CET chews came in handy when it came to having to medicate him. Bert needed a monthly shot in the muscle to manage his Addisons disease. I would also give him his monthly delicious heartworm preventative chew right after he got his shot. Then I followed that with a CET chew. Bert learned quickly. Whenever it was his shot day, he would start getting excited just when I started to go into the medicine cabinet to get the supplies. His excitement would grow as I was getting his shot ready, he would start spinning with his tail wagging – I have never seen a dog get so excited to get a shot! We called it his “Shot in the Ass Day” – Bert’s favorite day of the month!!!
As soon as we got Bert, he pretty much went everywhere with us. When we lived in Alaska, he went to work with me everyday and got to hang with me and the other doctors in our office. Everyone loved him and he always got tons of attention. It was there that we celebrated our very first Bertiversary on January 22nd, marking the one year anniversary of Bert rescuing us. We had streamers, signs, and cupcakes to celebrate the occasion. We were lucky enough to celebrate nine Bertiversaries, the last one being just a few weeks before he passed on.
When we moved back to Colorado, I wasn’t able to bring Bert to my new job, so he started going to work with Josh everyday. Bert became Legacy Automotive’s number one employee. He quickly placed himself as the official Greeter and Hospitality Manager. He got his own business card before Josh made one for himself, and I always proudly passed these out to anyone who would listen to me long enough to talk about my favorites subject, Bert. Everyone who came in loved Bert, and often delivery drivers and customers would stop by not to deliver something or get their car worked on, but to say hi to that giant goofy Standard Poodle. But there were a few folks who were initially wary of Bert’s exuberance. Josh remembers a big burly tow-truck driver who first got scared of the big white poodle running up to him to say hi! Bert never met a stranger though and quickly won this guy over, like he did with everyone else he met.
There was one other time we met someone afraid of Bert. But it wasn’t really Bert she was afraid of. This is one of my very favorite stories. We are on our way camping and stopped at a park to feed Bert. I’m standing there with him and hear behind me “excuse me, miss”…and expected the usual “is that a poodle??” But no, this guy had something different to say. He had his young daughter with him and asked if Bert is friendly. I told him yes, and they slowly approached. He said his daughter was bit by a dog who looked a lot like Bert, and he wanted to help her get over her fear. So I brought Bert over to her and she got to pet the world’s biggest goofiest poodle, who didn’t bite her, and it was the sweetest thing ever.
Merry Christmas Everybody!
And Happy Hanukkah!
One thing Bert wasn’t very good at when we first got him was posing for a picture. The first hike we took him on was at Thunderbird Falls in Alaska. All day we kept trying to get new family pictures with Bert in them. But Bert had this amazing ability to turn around just in time to get his ass in almost every shot. He kept this gift up for a few years, until finally this one time in Colorado Josh and I took Bert and Josh’s brother Gavin on a back-packing trip at Lost Lake in Indian Peaks Wilderness. We thought that with having a third person with us it would be much easier to get a family shot of the three of us. But Bert continued to turn around at the right time and get his ass in the picture.
But that all changed when we came upon a group of about eight twenty-something year old girls. They were having trouble trying to get a picture with all of them in it and I offered to take the picture for them. This group of attractive young women positioned themselves into a pose, and there goes Bert, standing smack dab in front of them with all of them fawning all over him, and grinning into the camera like a big giant fool. That’s when he got his nickname Flirt.
Bert loved his uncle Gavin. In addition to flirting with girls together, Bert also helped Gavin out of some tricky spots. One night Gavin passed out in the middle of the sliding glass doorway. Bert barked until he woke Gavin up and got him to a safer spot, and babysat him for the rest of the night.
Bert and Gavin
By the way, Flirt wasn’t Bert’s only nickname. He had many. My favorite was Bertrude. Some others included Bertrudious Maximonius, Whisper Ridge Furbert (technically not a nickname but was his AKC registered “birth” name), Dirt (think white poodle romping around in the mud every spring in Alaska and then going to Josh’s shop every day in Colorado), and Squirt (after catching Giardia every summer). Sometimes when you think of a Standard Poodle you might picture a pristine poodle riding around on a unicycle. That was not Bert. He was the clumsiest dog we’ve ever met, he was like this big gangly teenager who just didn’t know how big he was, and was always running into things. So that’s how he came upon one of his other nicknames: “Grace”, because he was anything but!
Bert loved going camping and hiking with us. One of our first backpacking trips with him was to Reed Lake in Alaska. We made it through a narrow rock canyon, a hail storm, and the only time we ever heard thunder in Alaska. It was an epic trip. We managed to set up our tent during the hail storm and we were so content with the three of us cuddled up to get warm.
There was a scattering of other groups in the valley, and we somehow felt a camaraderie with the other groups far away enough to not have a conversation, but knowing we all made it there through the same obstacles. We were truly inspired by someone we saw on this trip. It was young woman with a prosthetic leg who made it through the same rock field and long hike and hadn’t let anything slow her down. The next morning, she came around the valley to every camp site and passed out little packets of coffee wrapped with a ribbon and with a hand-written Good Morning message. Of course she also loved meeting Bert.
Music Pass 201
Bert at the Great Sand Dunes
Bert got attention everywhere he went. I remember people stopping their cars in the middle of the road to ask if he was a full Standard Poodle. No one could believe that a Standard Poodle could get as tall as Bert was. And then there was his hair. Somehow over time Bert started to look like a rock star. He didn’t have the typical poodle cut. He grew out his gigantic ‘fro and the hair over his ears. I remember I brought him home from grooming one day and looked at him and realized he was channeling David Bowie. It just got bigger from there. We became very used to people commenting on him whenever we went out, especially when we were out hiking. People would exclaim things like “Rock-on Dude!” and “Rock Star!” when they saw him. Bert had this tall, lean body with a short cut over his body and with his epic hairdo, people often stopped and asked “Is he an Afghan?”. But the best was this one time we were out hiking with him and came upon two guys that were just staring at Bert in fascination. We were quite used to this by then. But then the one guy turned to the other, pointed at Bert, and said “He looks like Denise!”! Sounds like Denise needs to get out of the ‘80s and move out of Jersey.
Brother from another Mother
Great Sand Dunes
El Dorado Canyon
Mt. Princeton Hot Springs, my 50th
There was one time we did have to cut down his ‘fro, following a mass removal that required shaving part of his head. We were so resistant to getting the rest shaved down, he was kind of like Sampson with his hair! But it looked pretty ridiculous so I took him to the groomer to get it evened out. Since he was losing his signature look, the groomer thought it would be fun to dye the ends of his ears blue. It looked alright, but the best part was that when he went back to work with Josh the next day, Bert’s hair matched Josh’s service writer Ange’s hair!
Like I said, Bert went EVERYWHERE with us. He loved when we went cross country skiing in Alaska. And we would hardly ever leave him out of our vacations. When we lived in Alaska we went on one of our first long weekend trips to a little island off of Homer. There was a family there who had the whole island to themselves and had a little lodge and dining hall. You could only get there by boat or plane. When I called them to inquire about spending a few days there, I asked if dogs were allowed – if they weren’t we wouldn’t be going there. The woman I spoke with sounded surprised and said they’ve never been asked that before, so sure, why not? Bert had a blast. And he was very well behaved. And he helped protect us from the bear that was roaming the island. Josh and I took him on a little hike, and we got to a certain section where Bert just started whining and refused to go any further. We looked around and saw bear scat on the trail. Our protector was keeping us safe!
And then there was the Westcliffe Inn. Josh and Bert went on a camping trip with his good buddy Leif and his dog Sampson. They stopped and spent a night at the Westcliffe Inn. The next morning, they were both let outside for their morning constitutions. Well, there was an older couple staying in the room next door, and they (in)conveniently had their door open…Bert and Sampson didn’t know the difference between the different rooms and just ran through the open door full steam ahead into that other room! There was an older lady in bed, and all you could hear was her surprised laughter as Bert and Sampson just jumped right into bed with her!
Josh and his buddies bought a small plane together and kept it at a hanger in Longmont. Of course Bert got to fly in Vincenza with the boys. Josh got him his very own Mutt Muffs to protect his ears from the noise when flying (not that Bert would ever wear them). And he LOVED going to the airport with Josh – as soon as they turned into the gate he would be standing up and whining because he was so excited.
There were very few times that we actually went on a trip without Bert. When we lived in Alaska, there were only two such times. The first was when we went to Hawaii, and man did we miss him.
The second time is when we went to Vegas for a vet conference. Josh and I toyed with the idea of eloping on both trips, but when it came down to it, we couldn’t do it without Bert there with us. When we finally did get around to getting married in Boulder, Bert was our ring bearer. He was so handsome in his little tie, and of course he loved flirting with my good friend Carrie who was Bert’s “handler” for the ceremony.
Ok, so there was one other thing that Bert was not good at. Swimming. We think maybe Bert had a bad experience in Alaska of getting into literally freezing cold water. But Bert was an Alaskan native and used to cold weather, so when we moved him to Colorado, he never really acclimated to the summer heat. He was almost always hot, so we kept encouraging him to get into a lake or stream to cool off, but he just wouldn’t do it. Poodles are supposed to swim, their bodies and coats are designed for it. But Bert refused. We finally took him in for his own private swim lessons (yes, you read that right). But even after about four lessons, he still refused. There were a few times I did manage to get him on my paddle board, and he wound up in our HOA newsletter!
Despite not wanting to enjoy the few lakes Colorado has to offer, Bert did love going backpacking with us. Sadly, this ended a few years ago when we took him on a trip to Music Pass. It was about four miles
to the camp site, and Bert did really well up until about the last ¼ mile. Then he just decided he was done. He stopped to lay down, and for the next quarter mile had to be coaxed after resting every few steps to make it to the camp site. The next day he still couldn’t go more than a few steps before having to rest. We had to hike those same four miles to get back to the cars. We tried making a doggy stretcher and that didn’t work. We all came together to work out a solution. Josh emptied his backpack and divied everything out to some of the guys on the trip. Then he carried Bert in his backpack for the rest of the trail. This was a painful trip – emotional, and also physically painful for Josh. But I think Bert was in his full glory getting a free ride in daddy’s back pack.
I treated Bert with acupuncture for pain and neuropathy for his last few years. He responded well to it, and we think we may have had to say goodbye a few years earlier if it hadn’t been for this. But he also had some chronic intermittent gastrointestinal issues that needed attention as well. A few years ago I brought him in for an abdominal ultrasound to see if we could find the root of his GI problems. Well, we didn’t find any reason on the ultrasound for his gastrointestinal issues, but we learned that Bert was apparently born with only one kidney! Somehow for his entire life, however, he never had any kidney issues.
Bert’s life was lived to the fullest. He got to see and travel more than most people do. A few years back we went to a friend’s place up in Wyoming to watch the Eclipse. We were so happy to have Bert with us for one of the most amazing things we have ever seen.
Bert and Chester at the Eclipse
His memories are everywhere. It is taking time, but the sting of the punch in the gut feeling I get whenever I come across something that makes me think of him is slowly feeling more like a warming of my heart. I never knew before that those two feeling were so damn close. There will never be another dog like Bert.
RIP my friend.
July 13, 2008 – February 15, 2021