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JOLLY OLD SAINT... BERNARD by Ken Keckler DVM

by Ken Keckler DVM on 12/25/10

All I wanted for Christmas was a dog. It sounds so cliche, like a "Peanuts" holiday special, but it's true. I was in kindergarten, and talked my parents into buying a book called "The Dog Crusoe": only because the cover had this gorgeous St. Bernard that I became infatuated with. I never actually read the book, (sorry Mom and Dad), but became determined to have a St. Bernard of my very own. They are so awesomely large, with all that hair, and a big bushy tail. (Yeah, they shed and slobber all over... what of it?) What could be better than romping in the yard with a spectacular beast like that? Could you ever feel insecure with a monstrous dog like that by your side?

Christmas time was coming and I pestered my parents for a St. Bernard.  Christmas Eve was always spent at my great grandma's house with a large number of my relatives. Hopes and expectations would skyrocket as we'd hear Santa Claus tromping around on the roof. The jolly, fat, red-suited man would come in and take all our requests from his lap, right there in front of the Christmas tree. You can guess what I asked for, and I'm pretty sure that Santa said I was going to get one. (When all my cousins had finished, the aunts would take their turns on Santa's lap and the adults would whoop and laugh. I should have known something was amiss with this old St. Nick.) All of us kids would get one present that night, just to whet the appetite for the next morning. Believe it or not, my gift was a St. Bernard!

Stuffed animal.

Talk about crushing a dream.

Thanks a lot, Mom and Dad.

(Another dream was crushed when I found out that Kris Kringle at great grandma's house was actually an uncle with a pillow stuffed under a red velour suit and a really fake beard. That explains the cackling aunts, and my lack of a St. Bernard.)


Well, I did get a  St. Bernard puppy, but not for Christmas. I named him "Bandit" because of the black "mask" around his eyes. He was adorable: soft and fuzzy, full of energy, just what a puppy should be. He was exactly what I wanted. Thanks a lot Mom and Dad! Unfortunately, before we could vaccinate him, he picked up Distemper from my uncle's Dalmation, and died shortly thereafter. More dream crushing. The helpless feeling of watching my dying puppy is fresh in my mind, and I think the experience contributed to my desire to become a veterinarian. If I could have eased his discomfort, I would have.Bandit1.png

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Finally, several years later, Hannah came into our lives. An adult female St. Bernard, she had a crooked muzzle and was not going to be used for breeding purposes. She was awesome! Big, strong, full of hair and drool, she was fun to tackle and galumph around with in our back yard. She loved to ride in the bed of the pickup truck, wind fluttering her jowls, tongue lolling over the side, saliva spattering the truck fenders and the windshields of the cars that dared to follow too closely. Only problem was getting her into the truck. Dad would put down the Ford's tail gate and, even if she wasn't invited, Hannah would waddle over. Plopping her front feet up on the tailgate, she would sit on her haunches and look expectantly around, waiting for someone to forklift her large backside up into the truck.

She was a happy dog and she made me happy too. Occasionally, against Mom's wishes, Dad would let her in the house, and she'd make herself at home, crashed out on the floor in front of the console TV. If it was snowy or wet outside, it was pretty likely that she'd make it snowy and wet on the carpet, but I didn't care. She'd stay until her snoring got too loud, and then it was "Back to the barn!"
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My other dog was a thin black female with a white patch on the top of her neck, a white chest and belly, and four white feet. Being horse people, we knew that these were really four white "socks", so we called her "Sockie". (No, no, not Sake, the Asian rice wine. I was a little kid for goodness sake. No, no... for goodness SAKE, not Sake, the rice wine..... Never mind.) Although Sockie wasn't a St. Bernard, she was devoted to me and she would run in circles while I chased her, until we would both sprawl in the grass, panting. I would rub her belly and scratch her neck until we could breath again (she recovered much faster than I did), and she was off again, like a little greyhound, loving the chase, and knowing that this human could NEVER catch her unless she stopped.  Spinning in to face me, front legs extended on the ground, butt in the air, tail wagging, she'd taunt the slow biped. "Really, boy, is that the best you've got?" As soon as I'd get close, -zoom- Sockie was sprinting in circles.
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 But mostly I've been a fan of bigger dogs: St. Bernards (of course), Newfies, Rottweilers. The super models of the canine world have to be Bernese Mountain Dogs. That beautiful long, shiny coat layered in black and brown, with white chest and feet (you could name some of them "Sockie") and the big, blocky, head with intelligent eyes. If you're having a three dog night, I think at least two of them should be Bernese Mountain Dogs.

So, eleven years ago, when my wife brings home a puppy, what did we get? A big dog I could roughouse with? Hmmmm, no.

A Cairn Terrier. Named Otter.

That's right, like Toto on the Wizard of Oz. In fact, Stephanie dressed as Dorothy for Halloween one year and Otter completed the costume. (Otter is lighter in color that Toto, but he can fit in a basket).

He's a good dog: gentle with the boys when they were little, not too yappy, doesn't eat food off the counters, and pretty darn lazy. As Otter has aged, he's developed a wide black stripe down his back, dramatic when he's clipped. It looks like someone took a paint roller across his topline. A little quirky, he whines until we say "Grace" at mealtime, and then runs in circles around the table barking his head off. It's pretty amusing having a religious dog.

But he's not a St. Bernard.


I hope you got what you wanted for Christmas (or whatever holiday you celebrate)... and not just a stuffed facsimile! 

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Addendum: 12/29/12

A New (Unnamed) Chapter

Another Christmas puppy arrived!IMG_4165.JPG

She's a seven week old Miniature Australian Shepherd, as yet unnamed. Losing Otter just before Thanksgiving made the holidays a little gloomy, but I think we’ve all perked up a bit. Everything you try to do takes seven times longer when you have a puppy. Maybe it’s because she’s so cute that you forget to do anything other than play with her. Or watch to see there are no “accidents” on the carpet. (Why do we call them accidents? It seems pretty deliberate to me.) Priorities definitely change when the critter is galloping through the living room, or attacking your feet with tiny stiletto teeth.

With her docked tail, skittering away she looks like a baboon butt. There is nothing within her reach she hasn’t tried to chew on, including the Christmas tree. After four days, Padfoot our cat, has finally toned down the growling and hissing, and seems resigned to having a new housemate.

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We definitely need a name…

Kody is pushing hard for “Scout”, as in the character from “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Stephanie likes “Kiwi”. I think “Sloopy” would be appropriate. No one will agree, and I think we need a consensus.

She’s going to start answering to “Hey, you!”

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