The moment I set eyes on this puppy I knew there was a dog person inside my heart. This is my story on how I became a Bernese Mountain Dog mom.
My First Fur Child
I need to start off with a very important thing: Nikita is not my first animal. Tibby, my cat, is the first pet that came into my life just over 11 years ago. Since the day my parents brought me home from the hospital, I have lived in a house with at least one cat. And when I say that I mean there was typically more than one hanging around. They were always considered family cats, even though they clearly had their favourite human to spend their time napping with. When my older sister turned 12, though, the rules changed when she brought home her first pet. Instantly, me and my younger sister were so jealous and demanded we get a pet too. Of course that's when my mom decided we reached a cat capacity in the house.
It wasn't until my sister moved out for college that the number of animals in the house worked in our favour to make our wishes come true. At the age of 16 my mom told me and my younger sister it was finally our time to get our own cats. The house felt empty not only with my sister and her cat gone, but one of our oldest family cats had passed away too. And boy was my mom on a mission to fill the house up with cats again!
I remember my mom announcing one Friday that this was the weekend we would find kittens and we wouldn't return home without them. Cut to 24 hours later and we brought home Tibby and my sister's first kitten, Lily. Tibby has been a sweet, clingy, and friendly cat. Most people that meet her tell me her personality is more like a dog's; she is the first one to greet me at the door and snuggles with me each and every night. She moved with me to Oakville two years ago, and even came to University with me back in the day.
A History of Dogs
So now I'm sure the question in your head is "Why did you get a dog if you like cats so much?" A much as my home life was packed with one type of four-legged creature, there were definitely dogs that creeped in too. Plus my partner had both cats and dogs as pets throughout his childhood. Getting a dog wasn't just my choice - it was our decision as a couple.
When we first moved in together, we were living downtown in a very small condo with no outdoor space for a dog. It was a no brainer to hold off on getting another pet until we had more space. A couple years later we moved out to the suburbs to get more square footage and a yard. Tibby was with us and it was perfect for a little while just us three. Over time, though, the house began to feel more and more empty...our family was missing something (or someone). Looking back it almost feels like I embodied my mom's feelings over 10 years ago and just knew it was time to introduce a new pet to the family.
The Hunt Begins
I would say we started talking about getting a dog seriously in the summer of 2018. We had lived in the suburbs for about six months and got engaged that July. Naturally the first question we had to tackle was the "Shop vs Adopt" debate. We saw the pros and cons of both, but at the end of the day we had to take a serious look at our living situation and make a responsible decision. Since we already had a pet, plan to have kids eventually, and have very busy social lives, we felt finding a reliable breeder to get puppies from was the most risk adverse path to take.
The next, and much harder question to answer was which breed of dog we wanted to call ours. Very, very, very quickly my parter made it known he would only consider a large breed for our first dog. Apologies to anyone this offends, but to him little breed dogs are not real dogs. Personally, I didn't really have a preference either way. I didn't mind the idea of having a heavier, bigger dog - it meant more to hug and snuggle, and someone to help guard the house when I was home alone. We did some research online and asked around to get ideas and opinions on which breed could be right for us.
The two breeds we spoke the most about were German Shepard's and Boxer's. Both are known to be very high energy dogs that need a lot of attention and exercise. Although we lead social lives, we are not home all of the time and are definitely not interested in running 5km after work for fun.
The Turning Point
Around Christmas that same year, we were at my in-laws house visiting with his cousins. They had actually just gotten a Bernese Mountain Dog puppy not too long ago and very tragically lost it before the holidays. Hearing them talk about their experience had my partner and I thinking that's the exact type of dog we would want. They describe him as goofy and stubborn, but ultimately a loyal, protective, family dog that just wanted to hang out with you. Bingo! For a couple reasons, they were ready to start looking for another puppy but did not want to go with the same breeder. Knowing Bernese Mountain Dog breeder's in Southern Ontario were not super common, we encouraged them to keep us in the loop if they ever found something.
Meeting our Fur Baby
A couple weeks after the holidays I got a message from his cousin. To our surprise she had already found another breeder with Bernese Mountain Dog puppies ready to go home the first week of February. When I got home from work and had a chance to talk to my partner about this we both had the exact same looks on our face: "Is this for real?" Note to anyone reading this and considering to get a puppy yourself, please know the moment you decide to go 'look' means you have already made up your mind. We collected the breeder's contact information and the next day had scheduled an appointment to go look at the litter of puppies.
Funny enough, around this same time, my memory filled with a time back in my childhood when I met two Bernese Mountain Dogs through a family friend. After spending just a single day with them I remember little me thinking how amazing these dogs were and that one day I would get one for myself. The stars were aligning.
A few days of eagerly waiting, and a hour and a half drive later, we pulled into the driveway of the breeder's house. To our pleasant surprise, the momma of the litter greeted us at the car - yet another clue this was a friendly breed. I swear she walked us to the front door, constantly looking over her shoulder like she was so excited to show off her puppies to us. When we got into the house and entered the room with the puppies our hearts simply melted. Their little squeals of happiness, wagging tails, and jumping as high as they could to get our attention.
I know it may sound so cliched but that was about all the work we needed to do. At this point, it was up to the puppies to decided who wanted us to be their parents. This one that was on the smaller side compared to his brothers and sisters was the first to catch our eye. He was definitely the one most eager for us to scoop him up in our arms. We each took a turn giving him a little snuggle and then put him down to play with another puppy. Wrong choice. He quickly let us know this was not acceptable and we should stop looking any further. I think we maybe only held one other puppy before going back to him. It just felt right. Both of us knew we had found our son and he had found us.
Paper work was signed and we went home. Since the puppies were only 5 weeks old we still had to wait about 2 weeks before we could bring him home. It felt like a lifetime waiting for that day to arrive.
On February 2, 2019, my partner and his dad drove out to the breeder's and picked up Nikita. I would've been there too but had prior commitments with my sister for her wedding. Also another funny story - because his dad went with him to pick up our son, they found out there were still some puppies without a home yet. A week later, my in-laws picked up his sister. So including his cousin who actually ended up getting two, we have 40% of the litter in our family.
Picking out his Name
This was a pretty quick component of getting our first dog. We knew very early on what name we wanted to call our dog, even before we landed on a breed. My partner is a huge hockey fan, as is my best friend and her family. So much so that they have a fantasy hockey league group that gets quite competitive. Naturally, my partner needed to join in the fun and the only way that would happen is if I joined too. Did I mention I know nothing about hockey?
I spent most of my time in the fantasy league picking players each week based on their names (I know, go ahead and judge me). You probably know where this is going...Nikita Kucherov was one of my go-to boys. It became a running joke between me and my partner because that was the year Nikita kicked some serious butt and I actually didn't do so bad in the league. When we started talking dogs, what became a joke name somehow stuck and we really started to like it. Nikita, or 'keeta' for short.
Our First Year Together
In short, our lives changed quite a bit with this bundle of joy added to the family. We had about 5 months of seriously interrupted sleep, 3 of which involved a lot of poopie puppy messes. We don't go out as often anymore with friends. We have to vacuum and mop the floors more frequently thanks to his fury butt and slobbery face. We've stepped in dog poop more times than I like to admit, now have outfits and shoes designated as "dog clothes". I can't tell you how many weird things I have had to pull out of his mouth. Seriously, though, HOW does a used poop bag look appetizing???
All of that aside, I wouldn't change it for the world. He is my son and I love him so much. Seeing his face next to Tibby's when I come through the front door after work gives me so much joy and happiness. He loves to snuggle on the couch and really does have a goofy personality that has me laughing multiple times a day. He's encouraged us to be more active - going to off leash dog parks, hiking around in some of the provincial parks, and even just exploring our neighbourhood on long walks in the evening. He also makes a quiet home feel full. He truly feels like a part of the family.
I feel like a real mom when I talk about how big he's grown. It feels like just yesterday we brought home a 10 pound baby puppy. Here I am today, no lie, writing this blog with all 85 pounds of him lying beside me on the bed. Knowing the first year would go by like a blink of an eye, I promised myself to take weekly pictures of him until his first birthday (December 13th) so I could rematch his transformation over and over again. Check out how they turned out below.
I'm really excited to see how our live continues to evolve with Nikita in it with us. Buying our first house, having kids...the adventures continue!
Is it bad we're already talking about getting our next Berner?