National Story Telling Week | Chilli the Berner

 

Many of you might know this, and many of you won’t, but this week is National Story Telling Week, and I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to tell you all a story close to my heart and became one of the reasons I work at Fetch today.  

It was a cold day in April, and mum snuck into my bedroom, waking me up early before anyone else woke. We snuck out of the house, leaving my dad and sister behind, and we drove all the way down to Frankston to visit this breeder. When we got there, Berners were everywhere. We were greeted by Julie (the breeder), who promptly had to run off after some puppies, but her dad introduced us to Purple Girl.  

“Purple Girl” he told us “Is the girl Julie picked out for you…But I’ve nicknamed her Mona.” We didn’t understand why she was nicknamed that at the time, but boy we learnt why soon after. After spending an hour in Julie’s cold backyard we had a name chosen that we thought would ingratiate the puppy with my dad, and that we thought would suit the glimmer of a spunky personality she showed us. It was time to go home.  

She cried. She howled the whole drive home, and it was miserable. Mum asked multiple times if we should turn around and go back to Julie’s but I pressed on. She was nicknamed “Mona” for a reason. We mercifully got home and parked at the bottom of the driveway. We walked the puppy up into the house, and introduced her as Chilli.  

Chilli was lively. She would talk to you at dinner time, little barks and loud yawns, getting your attention when she wanted something. She never let you sleep in and would nap on your bed while you were out. She still wasn’t the best-behaved dog, but she was mine and my mum’s and she made our world brighter. She cut off depression, she didn’t tolerate anxiety, and boy if you got in an argument, she came and sat between you and the other person and woofed gently until there was no point in continuing. Chilli was who made me choose to be a groomer. I used to wash her in the DIY wash at my local pet shop, and she wasn’t keen on it, and I thought it would be nice to know how make her look the best she could, and how to get her coat softer and silkier.  

In 2015 I began a certificate course in pet grooming. This led to five years in the animal industry, learning and grooming dogs, and everything I learnt, was taken home to Chilli. I swapped her foods to better brands, I brought home better-quality beds, and tried to give her a more enriching life. In that time, I met someone, moved out, and brought home a Golden Retriever puppy. Chilli did not enjoy meeting her new sister. In fact, she refused to be in the same room as AJ for the first month of visits. Eventually Chilli integrated AJ into her pack, and all the while, reaped the benefits of continued research into providing the best I could afford. The pandemic came through after the fires of December 2019 and January 2020. I decided to move to a corporate salon, as everyone in my family moved home, unable to work. My partner was unable to work for months and I struggled to provide for us, our dog, Chilli and our bills, but throughout everything I strove to give her the best. In 2020 Chilli missed a jump trying to get into the back seat of a Landcruiser, fell backwards and landed on her rump. After a month we started noticing her not walking properly, and I did some more research. I found a local chiropractor who worked on dogs and we started up weekly appointments.  

Chilli had a new lease on life. Bernese Mountain Dogs are given the life-span of 6-8 years, and our first Berner lost her life at 6 so we were devastated when Chilli had her fall at age 6, thinking that was it for her. She proved us wrong. I lasted as a corporate groomer for two years. Chilli turned 7 in April 2021, and she was living her best life. We saw her chiropractor once a month, AJ turned 4 and calmed down a smidge. By that point the pandemic had eased, and we had moved out again taking AJ with us. Chilli came over every week for sleep overs, she visited my work for grooming, and we trucked along like this until Christmas 2021.  

They said she had the flu, which was why she was acting lethargic. I took her to work for her pre-Christmas groom, took photos in front of the Christmas display, and took her home. She seemed okay. We had our Christmas celebrations, and on Boxing Day we went raspberry picking. We got back found out we had been exposed to COVID and were stuck being at home until cleared negative. I got a call just before New Years from mum, and over the phone she told me Chilli had more than just the flu. The vets had done more tests, and believed my beautiful girl had abdominal cancer. Too far advanced for any treatment plan. It was about keeping her comfortable and happy until the end. I rushed home and spent the day saying goodbye to a dog that had changed the direction of my life. I thought of all the things she still needed to be around for, and why she couldn’t go yet. She still had to be at my wedding. She would have been the Maid of Honour. That wasn’t the case.  

 

Chilli passed away December 2021 from abdominal cancer. It was too much for me, and I quit my full time job at the salon. I looked for work in anything other the animal industry. Nobody wanted someone with little experience outside of animals, so I searched for anything other than grooming. That’s when I met Katelyn, and she talked about her ideals for a company that pushed for true health. She gave me the research, talked about holistic health, and I went home thinking. A day or two later I confirmed with Katelyn I wanted the job, and in my head I knew I chose for Chilli. I was too late to offer her things that could have made a difference, but I didn’t want anyone else to feel that way. So every day I come into work and help people make the best choice for their dog, and even though it still hurts thinking about her, and writing this has left me raw, I think about how happy Chilli would be with me today.  

Don’t wait to make the best decisions for your dog.