Little Survivors

Moose and Bernie’s brave tale

By Pam Wagner

Bernadette, affectionately known as Bernie, and her brother Moose were the only survivors of a litter of nine puppies born in rural Morgan County, Indiana, in June 2002. Initially, five of them were still living when they were brought to Wags Stray Animal Foundation, where I help rescue and rehabilitate stray animals.

Although valiant efforts were made to save all five 4-day-old puppies, an unnamed female died directly upon arrival at the Emergency Center. Despite emergency staff efforts, another female named Annie died later that night as Moose, Bernie, and Simon clung to life. Providing medication, love, and care around the clock for three weeks proved unsuccessful for little Simon, who never had a chance. Our hearts were broken when he passed away.

Moose and Bernie, on the other hand, began to thrive and continued to do well until November, when Bernie unexpectedly went into seizures and then a coma. Comatose for more than 12 hours, we frantically tried to determine the cause. We were ready to give up when Bernie suddenly awoke from her coma alert and hungry. We were ecstatic before soon realizing she was now mostly blind and deaf. The ER vets had no idea why, or if it would be permanent, so they sent her home and instructed us to monitor her. That is when the special bond between the two siblings was strengthened tremendously. Moose, always happy to let Bernie dominate, became the primary caretaker and protector of Bernie. He led her everywhere, her head gently placed on his shoulders for guidance. Although she gained back strength, sight, and hearing daily, Bernie was still deathly afraid of the dark and required a night-light (as well as Moose’s direct contact) to sleep through the nights. As the weeks went by, Bernie became stronger each day with no solid explanations as to why she fell into a coma in the first place. After months of investigation, it is believed that the possible cause was Ivermectin, a substance found in some heartworm medications that can be lethal to dogs with white feet, primarily Collie mixes. Apparently, the saying goes, “white feet/don’t treat.”

Unfortunately, Bernie’s illness caused brain damage (albeit very mild), resulting in her being slightly slower than other dogs. However, she continues to thrive in the company of Moose and because of their bond, we set out to find a home for them together. Having two large dogs can be overwhelming, but the fluidity of Moose and Bernie as they move and act as one is a joy to watch.

After hearing about their tragic story, their soon-tobe new dad came into our adoption facility having recently lost his elderly, beloved dog. He spoke of this dog with such love and kindness that when he said, “I’m here for Moose and Bernie,” I knew he would be perfect for them. He said when he learned of their situation, he knew they were destined for him. We could not have been happier. We arranged a home visit the next day. Moose and Bernie took over as if they had lived with him their entire lives. Their new guardian dotes on them and his world revolves around them, and vice versa. Moose and Bernie are still as close to each other as the day they were born. It is a joy to see the happiness on their faces.

My first visit with them about one month after they were adopted last year was bittersweet. I will never forget Moose and Bernie, and from the reception I received at our reunion, I don’t think they will ever forget me.

Pam Wagner and her husband Dale have been formally involved in animal rescue since 1993. By day, Pam is a business analyst for St. Francis Hospitals and Dale is the manager of operations at a manufacturing plant. They live on 15 acres with their dogs, cats, and a Percheron horse named Max.

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