Bernie, a 95-pound pit bull with a giant head and an even bigger heart came into my life 5 years ago when I adopted him from Southampton Animal Shelter. Unfortunately, Bernie recently passed on, but the mark he has left on not only my life, but all the peoples’ lives he met along the way—and the Hamptons—has been undeniable.
Bernie was a resident star at the Southampton Animal Shelter for his infectious smile, slobbery kisses, silly antics, and unmatched snuggles. He spent 2 years there after coming to the shelter as an owner surrender with an unknown past. While up for adoption, he kept getting passed over because people were afraid of his booming bark, overexcited nature, and bias against pit bulls. But everyone who worked and volunteered at the shelter knew how loving he was and that he just wanted to meet everyone and lather them with kisses!
Everyone at Southampton Animal Shelter cared for Bernie so well and knew the real him during the long period that he lived there. He touched all their lives (coated them in lots of slobber too), and several staff members cried happy tears on the day I took Bernie to his forever home. Even after being adopted, Bernie loved going back to the shelter for visits over the years and getting to see all his old friends and receive compliments on how great he looked. His memory and important message as an ambassador for bully breeds will be honored at the shelter for years to come.
During our time together, Bernie and I went on many adventures and had so many routines and regular spots around the Hamptons. There’s no doubt that Bernie lived like a king for the last 5 years, and I hope his story inspires others to adopt one of the many amazing dogs from the East End shelters, especially the pit bull breed that doesn’t often get a fair chance due to inaccurate stereotypes. In reality, they are the snuggliest, funniest, and most loyal best friends you’ll ever have!
Once Bernie came into my life, it was my mission to give him the best life imaginable after enduring so much before. He had a whole wardrobe with his own section of the closet (we have tons of matching outfits), an assortment of bow ties and collars to go along with the seasons and holidays, an overflowing basket of toys, three beds (plus the big bed he slept in with me each night), he got car rides every day and trips to the beach and park, he had TWO houses, and most importantly, he had an endless supply of kisses for everyone who met him.
I couldn’t have asked for a more amazing first dog. Bernie has taught me so much about dogs in general, but especially pit bulls. He has taught me about myself, helped me find strength when I needed it, and how to stand up for those who depend on us—and in the face of injustice. Mostly, he has taught me what unconditional love truly looks like. I would not have traded the life I got to experience with him for anything.
If you have a furry best friend by your side, give them an extra hug today, and maybe take them on an excursion to one of Bernie’s favorite places around the Hamptons. The memories will remain long after the paw prints in the sand have gone.
West Landing Beach, Hampton Bays
West Landing was the first beach I ever took Bernie to. It’s right around the corner from where I grew up and we used to walk there all the time. He would head out onto the sand and do a full sniff down of his surroundings. Once his legs got weaker two summers ago, I decided to start coaxing him into the water more for some relief. Bernie liked to step into the water and walk out as far as he could still stand, but he was never a swimmer. Knowing he wasn’t afraid of the water, I had just the solution to get him to start swimming—hamburger meat. I would persuade Bernie farther and farther out until one day he picked his legs up and swam on his own. He had a fancy orange life vest, and for his last summer here we went to West Landing several days a week for his swims—all the way into October. He’d head right over to the shoreline and look up at me, waiting for me to strap his life jacket on and hand him a treat.
Even though I’ve frequented West Landing since I was a baby, I’ll now always associate the bay with those fun times of Bernie in the water, listening to his snorts as he doggy paddled, feel the spray of salty droplets when he shook it all off, a proud smile on his face.
Shinnecock Inlet, Hampton Bays
Even though Bernie eventually started swimming in the bay, he was much too cautious to give it a try in the ocean. A wave once crashed over his head, and he promptly turned around to head right back to land. He did love driving over to Shinnecock Inlet, though, and walking along the beach, letting the waves lap his toes and take in the nice sea breeze. Bernie was very big into sniffing out scents, so the ocean was a perfect haven for his “seaweed sniffing excursions”, along with a little bird watching and people greeting.
Southampton Village Dog Park
Bernie was more of a solo exhibitionist, but he did enjoy a trip to the dog park every now and then. Southampton has a beautiful and expansive dog park that even has a smaller gated park within it for little dogs. Bernie was always trying to get into the small dog doggy park—he had such a fascination with little dogs (he may have thought he was one seeing as he was a lap dog after all). But when he wasn’t doing that, he’d be sniffing around the perimeter on his own, rolling in the grass, and occasionally decide to join a play group where he’d whimper and whine because he couldn’t keep up with the other dogs running.
Red Creek Park, Hampton Bays
Bernie spent a lot of time around Red Creek Park over his life because it borders the Southampton Animal Shelter. He liked walking around the baseball fields and rolling in the grass, hiking down some of the trails nearby, and hanging in the outdoors with any person at all. Bernie didn’t believe in strangers, so whoever he was with at any given moment was his favorite person ever and the object of his adoration.
Penny Pond, Hampton Bays
Even before Bernie got older, he was always a rather sleepy, snoring couch potato, but he still sure did love his walks. Penny Pond in Hampton Bays is a great place for hikes that Bernie thoroughly enjoyed, whether it was just a hike to the trail leading up to the pond, or for a longer excursion around the whole pond. He’d sometimes dip his toes in the water, and he reveled in the act of kicking leaves around, and of course, serious sniffing hunts where he’d cover any scent he came across every two steps.
Dune Road Drives
One of Bernie’s favorite things in the whole world was car rides. He never cared where he was going or how long he’d be out. It was about the journey for him. But driving on Dune Road whether we were stopping off at a beach or not was one of our favorites together. We’d blast some rock music, open all the windows, and I’d laugh at his jowls flying freely in wind from my view in the rearview mirrors.
Heading over one of the bridges that connect to Dune Road, a barrier island hugged by ocean and bay on either side, feeling the breeze, and taking in the salty air has always brought me a sense of peace. And taking my best friend along for the ride, getting to watch the joy on his face, made those experiences ones I will cherish forever.
Hampton Coffee Company
Most mornings, when leaving our house in Westhampton and going on a drive somewhere I’d stop off at Hampton Coffee Company at their Westhampton Beach location. I would usually grab Bernie one of the dog bones that they keep in a cup near the register, and he’d (not so patiently) wait for me in the car, barking away from the window, and always expect me to emerge with a treat for him in addition to my coffee. And not every time, but fairly often, I would get him a pup cup, too, whether it was a special occasion or just because he was the best boy. I order ahead through the Hampton Coffee Company app, and I’d request a small cup of whipped cream on the side. When I’d go in to pick up my order, Bernie’s excited bark could be heard quite clearly from outside as he waited for me to return with his morning pick-me-up. An employee would say, “Now we know who the whipped cream is for.” What can we say, Bernie always did appreciate a nice local blend!
As much as Bernie loved venturing around the Hamptons, he also loved being home, simply enjoying the nature the East End has to offer in the backyard, partaking in some barbeques, and barking at deer. He liked to run around on the tennis court, and “help” my mom in her vegetable garden, which to him really meant devouring the contents of the green bean bush. He loved snuggling up in one of his many beds, on the couch, and snoring away on his back in the “big” bed. Shelter pets like him deserve to be spoiled that way, to feel safety, comfort, and love. Bernie’s second chance became our very best life together that I’ll treasure and keep in my heart always.
Check out @berniebighead if you want to see some of the adventures he went on, him enjoying his favorite Hamptons spots firsthand, and if you simply want to smile—because seeing a smiling Bernie brought an instant smile to the faces of those around him.