Ten years ago, I had just lost the best stock dog I’d ever had, and I knew better than try to replace him. On our farm, however, a dog is almost a necessity to ward off raccoons, possums, skunks and other assorted vermin from around the house and barns. In need of a dog and not willing to spend much, if any, money, I came across an ad for a puppy. “Small rehoming fee required.” Fifteen dollars later, Bernie and I became best friends.
I figured from the start that Bernie was not bred to be a cow dog. She didn’t disappoint. Her mother was a purebred Bernese Mountain Dog, and her father…wasn’t. I suspected that if the little puppy would ever grow into her feet, she would be a large dog. Bernie, again, did not disappoint.
As a puppy and later as a young dog, Bernie was the most awkward and uncoordinated canine I’d ever been around. More than once I witnessed the gangly dog fall off the front porch for no more apparent reason than inattention. This trait only endeared her to her best friend because I could certainly relate.
As Bernie grew into her feet, she eventually stabilized her weight at 75 pounds, and she certainly earned her keep by keeping the farmstead free and clear of varmints. The dog was never more than a few feet from me for those first few years and never (I mean, never) missed the opportunity to ride in the UTV whenever the engine started. And, when I said, ride IN the UTV, I mean INSIDE the cab. In the event of my wife or a visitor going along, I could make Bernie ride in the back, but she didn’t like it, and would rather jump over the passenger in order to ride in the front seat.
Over the years, Bernie learned that calves would often jump over the concrete cattle guard that separates our yard from the surrounding pasture, and she assumed the role of yard guard. It didn’t take long for each new crop of calves to learn that Bernie meant business in keeping the yard free of bovines. The last couple of years, she wouldn’t even give them the chance to come close to the yard fence.
Bernie was also a great protector of her best friend. On more than one occasion, as I tagged a newborn calf, Bernie has jumped out of the UTV to keep the momma cow from getting too familiar with me. Bernie never disappointed, and I’m convinced she would have sacrificed her own well-being to assure mine.
A couple of months ago, Bernie jumped in the UTV as I set out to spray thistles. She has never liked the sound that the sprayer makes, and as soon as I started spraying, the old dog jumped out and started amusing herself, as she always has, by chasing birds, butterflies and bunny rabbits. Like her best friend, she is both overweight and hard-of-hearing, so I’m sure she never heard the vehicle coming. A good neighbor found her body and returned her to her home, where we gave her a proper burial.
Bernie never became a cow dog, but she was the most loyal friend, protector and confidant that this farmer ever had the pleasure of knowing. Bernie never disappointed.
R.I.P. Bernie 2012-2022
Jerry Crownover farms in Lawrence County. He is a former professor of Agriculture Education at Missouri State University, and is an author and professional speaker. To contact Jerry, go to ozarksfn.com and click on ‘Contact Us.’