Bernie the Super Friendly Pittie, like so many rescue dogs, has had a very rough start to life, but he is making up for lost time in his new foster home.
Handsome guy Bernie (not Sanders) was born in July of 2012 to a couple on Staten Island. It was unknown if they were intentionally breeding or it was just another unfortunate scenario of unaltered dogs, but it was described as overcrowded and a “hoarding situation” by his rescuers Rachel Gozman and Linda Montgomery of Twenty Paws Rescue. This proved to be detrimental during his first year of life. Bernie, being the lovable squish that he is, was bullied and attacked by his siblings and the older dogs. As the owners were unable to sell or rehome all of the puppies, they eventually reached out to Twenty Paws and asked for help.
Sadly, their patience was thin and they ended up carting 1-year-old Bernie and his brother Brutus to the Staten Island Animal Care Center without giving Twenty Paws the chance to pick them up first. Rachel and Linda spotted the dogs on the website and rushed to collect them before their time ran out at the shelter and they were euthanized, something that happens far too often. Pit Bulls make up about forty percent of those dogs killed, and with so many shelters and rescues already being full to the brim, Bernie and Brutus had a very low chance of being rescued in time.
Bernie (left) and Brutus (right)
Rachel and Linda, being the big-hearted animal angels that they are, pulled the dogs and set to work on finding them foster homes. Rachel, who I spoke with, began her journey as a rescuer by finding and fostering dogs until she no longer had the space. After that, she and foster friend Linda Montgomery joined forces in 2011, growing their network with loving volunteers to start Twenty Paws Rescue. Rachel admitted that they have a soft spot for the Bully breeds and focus on rescuing them due to their overpopulation and lack of adoption interest, but they will take in any animal that they are approached with if they have the resources. Once Bernie and Brutus were picked up, they were taken to a boarding facility that helps the rescue while Rachel and Linda figured out the next steps.
Bernie’s bully brother Brutus was adopted out quickly, but Bernie’s story was shaping up to be a longer one. He was placed in a foster-to-adopt home after about six months at the boarding facility and all paws were crossed that it would be a furever home. He had been working hard on his skills, and Rachel and Linda even set the foster parents up with a PhD Behavioral Therapist to continue his training.
You see, Bernie is a loving boy, but he is also very similar to a teenager and he loves to test boundaries to see what he can get away with. This isn’t uncommon for many dogs, particularly Bully breeds, but not all fosters/adopters are experienced or assertive enough to handle this type of behavior. On top of that, the fosters weren’t keeping up their end of the training so Bernie was left confused and struggling to understand how to behave. After a few months, he was sent back to the boarding facility to wait again for a family of his own.
Following another six months or so of adoption drives and living in the boarding facility, Bernie’s next foster stepped up. The young man who took him in reached the same realization that so many new dog owners are faced with once they get a dog, and the thing that lands them in rescues frequently: Dogs are a TON of responsibility.
This means no more late happy hours after work because you have to go home and walk your dog. It means no more sleeping in because they need to get up and go out in the morning. It means no more staying out all night because your dog will miss you too much, and most of all – it means you have to spend a good amount of time hanging out with them because they are pack animals and need your company. Cats are great pets for party animals and people who have to be away from home frequently because they’re independent and pretty self-sufficient, but dogs depend on their humans for everything from affection to approval, stability, exercise and beyond. Many behavioral issues with dogs arise when the dog isn’t getting the proper amount of attention that they need and deserve.
Once again, Bernie was returned to the care of Twenty Paws. Through all of this change and abandonment, he never failed to keep smiling his big, gorgeous smile and loving any humans that would come his way. Shelter life is incredibly hard on dogs. Even though they’re being cared for, they spend a lot of time by themselves without the social interaction that they require. This can sometimes lead to fearful, distrusting, or even aggressive behavior which then makes it even harder to find them a home. Fortunately, Bernie never stopped loving humans through all this. It was hard to understand why he couldn’t find his perfect forever owners, other than the fact that he is a stigmatized breed – and a little bull-headed.
I mean, how can you NOT love this guy?
Bernie’s one flaw is that he is very afraid of other dogs and needs to be the only dog in his home. Given his history and being relentlessly bullied and attacked by other dogs for the first year of his life, this has manifested in some fear-based aggression. He has been conditioned to believe that all dogs are going to attack him, so he displays barking and sometimes lunging/jumping to protect himself when he sees one.
However, he was lucky enough to have a backyard in one of his foster homes, and the neighbor had a dog that he would often see on the other side of the fence. It only took Bernie a short time before he realized that the dog couldn’t hurt him, and he would actually run out to the fence to look for his friend with his tail wagging and bowing down to play. They never met snout to snout, but that little glimmer of hope and the fact that Bernie is so sweet and loving with all humans leads his handlers to believe that with a lot of exposure and training, he could learn to socialize with other dogs. It’s a long-term goal, but with the right owners it could potentially be achieved.
A major selling point for Bernie, though, is that he loves kids. LOVES THEM. He has been around kids in foster, during adoption events, and has even volunteered his love with special needs children. He is an extremely tolerant boy with so much love to give. He isn’t discerning one bit about how big or small the human – he just wants to love them all! He would be the ideal family dog to go to a home with kids of any age.
Those of us behind the scenes of rescue organizations know that some dogs can spend their whole lives in rescue sanctuaries without ever knowing the love of a family of their own. There is often no clue as to why some of these sweet and loving dogs are passed over again and again, as heartbreaking as it is for us to see. Though they are safe and cared for by the rescues, there really is no substitution for a dog to know that he or she belongs to a human of their very own.
Sarah Brasky, founder of Foster Dogs NYC and The Dog Matchmaker, hatched a plan to help some of the dogs that have been in boarding the longest by creating Operation Foster Bound. This amazing program offers a host of goodies and resources to those willing to take a dog into their home to foster, giving them a better chance at being adopted and also freeing up space in the rescues to take in more homeless dogs. Fostering is a crucial step for many of these dogs because it helps them to socialize, adjust to life outside the shelter, and gives them hope again. Many dogs thrive in foster situations and begin to realize their potential as a loving pet.
One couple that has been dying to have a dog of their own but unable to meet the cost found Operation Foster Bound and jumped on it immediately. Kiersten Spence and Matt Kleckner saw Bernie’s goofy smile in his lobster costume and knew right away that he was just the misunderstood pup they were looking to help. They reached out to Sarah and took now 3.5-year-old Bernie in right before Winter Storm Jonas dumped two feet of snow on NYC.
Bernie and his foster owners, Kiersten and Matt
As you can see, Bernie is loving life with them – and being the center of attention! Through Operation Foster Bound, Bernie and his foster parents have been provided with a crate, harnesses and walking gear from PetSafe, toys and treats, a bed from Den Dog Beds, a portrait from The AdoptADoodle Project, some training sessions from Gonzo Dog (that’s ME!) and more! When they submit receipts for food and other things that they buy for Bernie, they will be reimbursed via Foster Dogs NYC, making the financial burdens of fostering a dog practically obsolete. All of these things are provided in return for Kiersten and Matt opening their hearts and their home to Bernie and taking care of him while he waits for his forever home.
Bernie on his Den Dog Bed (left) and his AdoptADoodle drawing (right)
According to his foster mom Kiersten, he is “a handful, a ham, a lush, and he loves to snuggle.” She says that he is a fast learner, very smart and loves to go for long walks and explore all around their neighborhood. He has been very trusting and made himself at home right away, but they were careful to set up boundaries with him and work to make him earn his place in the family so that he didn’t automatically start running the show.
Kiersten attests that he will definitely try to test his limits (never in an aggressive way, but rather seeing if maybe TODAY is the day he will be allowed on the bed), but is very responsive to training. He’s a smart guy too and is sometimes bored by their daily lives when they’re busy with work so he looks for mischief to cause, but if he gets an after-work walk and fifteen minutes of snuggles, he will lump on the sofa for the rest of the night with them. He has a pretty big scar under his chin from his former life that they particularly like to focus on with kisses (D’AWWWW!). Kiersten and Matt are falling in love with him more and more every day, but they also know the timing isn’t right for them yet and would love to see Bernie go to a home with a backyard and kids to play with.
I have had the pleasure of working with Bernie as a trainer with my company Gonzo Dog and can vouch that he is indeed a sweet fella. He responds well to positive reinforcement and really wants to please his people. His favorite spot is on the sofa with his friends, with his awesome dog bed being a close second. In the few sessions that we have had, I have already seen him relax on walks and focus on his foster parents when another dog passes by instead of going into the usual self-protective mode. I’m looking forward to seeing him again in the future to see how he is progressing!
Kiersten and Matt giving a silly pose with Bernie during a training session
Kiersten and Matt are dedicated to keeping Bernie as long as it takes until he finds his forever home and happy to do so, but of course we are all hoping that he doesn’t have to wait much longer than he already has. They have set him up his own Instagram account for people to follow his follies and share to help find him a home. If you are interested in adopting this lovable goof or want more information, please email [email protected]. (Due to a glitch, emails sometimes don’t come through on their end, but they respond to every email they do get. So if you don’t get a response, please follow up!)
Bernie is a shining example of how wonderful rescue dogs and Pit Bulls can be, so please consider making the commitment to give him the home that he deserves after all these years of waiting. He will be your most loyal friend and brighten every day with that winning smile and his goofy antics!
Operation Foster Bound is raising funds to help this project via BarkGive. If you are unable to foster but would like to help, please donate and help more dogs in need find their foster and forever homes!