Bertie beats the odds

1st Feb, 2019

Written by Vicky Welman-Gerber

Professional photography by Cindy Allen Photography

Bertie was snatched from the jaws of death and rushed to the vet by caring animal rescuers. Skeletal, filthy and weak, barely clinging to life, the chances of his survival were slim, but as it turned out, Bertie had a lot more life and love left to give.

Networking to save Bertie

The cream Labrador-mix dog was collapsed beside the road in Leondale, Germiston, when animal lover Allan Surrier drove past. Horrified, Allan immediately contacted animal rescuer Bianka Ferreira for help; she reached out to Louise Leonard from the networking group Animal Resource South Africa.

Louise, in turn, put out a plea on the general assistance messenger group; I saw it and volunteered to go and fetch him. And so began the rescuing of Bertie.

Knowing the state he was probably in, we needed the closest vet possible. I contacted Zuerina Venter from Alberton’s Animal Protection Network, who kindly arranged it all with Brackenhurst Veterinary Hospital in Alberton, some 15 minutes away. I had to get back to work, so I arranged with Zuerina to meet me halfway. She was ready at the drop of a hat, and all was planned. That plan would change the moment I laid eyes on Bertie for the first time. 

I thought he would die in my car

What I saw when I arrived was something that will haunt me forever: he was just a bundle of bones, and as we picked him up, his head flopped heavily – he was too weak to lift it. His fur was coarse and dry; he had sores on his legs.

I was convinced he would die in my car. I called Zuerina: the plan to meet halfway wasn’t going to work – I asked her to rush to the vet and meet me there with a stretcher. I drove like mad but, to my intense frustration, managed to get stuck at almost every single red traffic light. Each time we stopped, I poked his mouth to see if he would twitch, checking he was still alive.

I was so scared that he’d die on me that I spoke to him constantly, begging him to just hang on a little longer – and I named him Bertie. And Bertie kept fighting.  

Potential organ failure

At the vet, we met up with Zuerina, the awesome vet assistants and Dr Ajit, who was ready to work his magic. Carrying him into the vet, we didn’t know what to expect. Dr Ajit recommended that he take blood as he could have organ failure due to the starvation, in which case we’d have to help him cross over.  

Waiting for those blood tests was the longest twenty minutes ever.

To Dr Ajit’s surprise, the results showed that Bertie had no signs of organ failure and only his red blood cells were low. He suggested we see if he’d eat on his own before inserting a feeding tube. Dr Ajit disappeared to the back and returned with warm chicken.

Bertie quickly lifted his head and began eating all on his own. Despite his state, there was still a bright spark of life left in him and he wanted to live.  

Bertie’s bad neck

This dog is a miracle, and his fight for life was admirable. That’s when we knew he’d be okay.

Due to severe dehydration, a drip was inserted and he remained in the kennel for a good rest. As a medium-sized dog, he weighed just 14kg, but weight gain would have to be slow and steady. In the days to follow, Ursula Hope cooked delicious treats for him and ensured he got everything that was needed to get his shrunken tummy used to food.

But all was not well with Bertie’s neck. He clearly had discomfort and was struggling to lift his head or move, so we had x-rays taken; things didn’t look good, so we decided to get an MRI done. We had to transport him, and on his trip there our hearts broke seeing him suffer and hearing him moan.

I started to think I was doing wrong by keeping him alive. But then Friday morning came and I received an incredible video of Bertie walking on his own.

Better yet, the MRI results showed that he had no broken bones in his neck – it was a huge but treatable infection. He was placed on very strong antibiotics and it all began to clear up. And so Bertie’s new life could begin.  

A much-loved boy

Today, Bertie is so very loved by so many people. He received so many cash donations that other dogs can also be saved without the stress of vet bills. He was gifted three months’ worth of Acana food for when his tummy is ready for it. He received chicken and butternut, home-cooked food, teddies and blankets – and lots and lots kisses, hugs and love.

Bertie is now known as “the most loved dog in Alberton” and has had visitors from all over. He even got a special visit from Vicki Potts Nicholson, founder of Furry Godmother, all the way from Durban.

Bianca Castleman Peens was at our year-end Furry Godmother Christmas Party when Vicki mentioned to her that Bertie was ready for his Forever Home. Bianca decided on the spot that she’d be his mommy, and a meet ‘n’ greet was promptly arranged. Bianca fell head over heels in love, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Bertie is loved and cared for, and blissfully happy. He even has his own Facebook group for updates on his journey

Thank you to each and every person for caring about Bertie.

On behalf of Bertie and any other animal, if you know of any abuse or any animal starving and suffering at their owner’s hand or on the street, please contact your local shelter or SPCA.

Be their voice!


By Bianca Castleman Peens, Bertie’s new owner

The story of Bertie is bittersweet, and it was one that I didn’t even know about as we were so busy on flights during the “silly season” [Bianca is an ER24 paramedic]. I only actually read up on his story on the morning of the 15th of December 2018, before I went to the Furry Godmother year-end party. My heart broke for this poor boy, and I prayed that he’d pull through.

I’ll do it

I headed off to the party with my Batman (a gorgeous Yorkie cross I adopted from Alberton SPCA two years ago) and little Chloe (a Morkie rescued by Kerry-Lynn Pavkovich Scott, Natascia Day and Mark Tesh after she was abandoned by her previous owners).

Bertie came up in many a conversation that afternoon. It was mentioned that he needed a foster home. Without even thinking about it, I immediately offered. I think my late mom spoke for me, as I’d never met this boy before and knew nothing about his history.

Coincidentally, the very next day I assisted Vicky Gerber and her husband, Adriaan, with the rescue of a pup found on the side of the road. We took the poor baby to Brackenhurst Vet for treatment – the same vet where Bertie was resting and receiving treatment.

We needed each other

I asked to see him, and before long I was in his cage with him. The look in his big, brown eyes gripped my heart and soul. I couldn’t help but lift his skinny, frail body onto my lap and just hold his head against my chest.

He gave a big sigh and I could feel him relax. He lifted his head and gave me a “nose bob”. It was in that moment that I knew we both needed each other. I lost my dearest mom to cancer in August 2018 and was struggling to cope, but, somehow, sitting with this neglected, sad dog calmed my soul; from his sigh I think I calmed him as well.

I went to fetch Bertie on the 17th of December. He was still so weak that the vet had to help him walk out with aid of a towel; I opted to pick him up and carry him to the car. Once inside I got him settled on my lap, head on my chest and safety belt on. During the 40-minute drive home he’d lift his head every now and again and just look at me with the saddest eyes I’ve ever seen in my life; I just kept whispering to him that I’ve got him and he’ll be okay from here on.

Ups and downs

The days that followed had many ups and downs, and there were many sleepless nights. Bertie had his own single bed next to my bed; I turned him every two hours and rubbed the side he was lying on to make sure he wasn’t in pain. He had a runny tummy, which meant lots of cleaning up, and he was still so frail that moving him around was painful for both of us.

I started him on a cocktail of minerals, vitamins, probiotics, colostrum, raw honey and coconut oil with his food. And he ate; oh boy, did that man eat! Every four hours he’d be ready and waiting for his bowl of food. In that first week, he picked up 3.5kg (when he came in, he weighed just 14kg) and could walk on his own – he just needed help getting on his feet.

He wasn’t too fond of his rescued “sister”, Saartjie, and they had a go at each other… five stitches later for Saartjie.

Weeks two and three saw the big changes, and it was amazing beyond words.

By this time he’d gained 5.5kg, become stronger and could get himself up from his ground bed. He’d give this deep bark-like noise when he wanted to go wee outside and would be very demanding with it as well. Week three saw him doing the same bark when he wanted attention, adamant on his head rubs to fall asleep.

He also decided that I couldn’t leave the room without him being able to see me. He began getting along with his siblings; his best friend is a 13-week-old Bull Terrier pup nicknamed Klein Varkie (little piglet), and they’re inseparable

Forgive and forget

Life with Bertie has been interesting, hard, tiring, but most of all it’s been rewarding. To see what he was and how broken his soul was to seeing him now – full of life and demanding attention and love – is remarkable.

It’s taught me so much. If this old man can forget his horrible past and trust again, can open his heart to a human again, who are we to not forgive and forget?

People always thank me for giving Bertie a home and a second chance, but the truth is he changed my life.