Bert the dog with Seaman Nina Bowen. Staff photo by William F. West
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Bert the dog with Seaman Nina Bowen. Staff photo by William F. West

Bert joins station after retiring as bomb-sniffing dog

By William F. West

Staff Writer

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Coast Guard Small Boat Station Elizabeth City has a new mascot that, after six years as a bomb-sniffing dog in the Lone Star State, has settled into the good life along the Pasquotank River.

Bert, a 7-year-old German shepherd, is an honorary chief after retiring from an elite Coast Guard unit in the Texas Gulf Coast region. The long-haired canine is filling a vacancy left by Mako, a golden retriever who died in May at age 8.

Bert has an enthusiastic caretaker, Seaman Nina Bowen, who joined the Coast Guard nearly a year and a half ago and is on her first assignment at the station.

Bert kept near his bed chewing a large bone for most of a recent interview with Bowen.

“He’s just a beautiful dog, all in all,” she said.

Bert’s arrival was arranged by his former handler after a friend heard about Mako’s death on Facebook.

Station Chief Steve Christy said a friend stationed in Galveston read on Facebook about Mako’s passing and knew Bert needed a home. Bert’s handler Chandler Nuttal had adopted him after leaving the Coast Guard and took him to the Midwest but could no longer keep it. Christy’s friend from Galveston relayed the situation to Christy, saying if the small boat station was looking for a new mascot, then a great choice was available.

“It ended up being a perfect scenario,” Christy. “We love having him.”

In late October, a small team of station personnel including Bowen met Bert’s handler in the Pittsburgh area to make the exchange. Video on Facebook showed Bowen, fighting back tears, as the SUV approached a parking lot and she got her first glimpse of Bert.

The tears were “in part because I had a lot of pride in Mako... and I was really fond of him,” she said. “So, I was actually a bit nervous to get a new dog. And I was really emotional because you could just kind of see that it wasn’t an easy decision for the guy to give Bert up.”

Her first impression: Bert was a quite lively but well-behaved dog.

“I loved him from the minute I saw him and he hopped out of the car and he was just running around sniffing everybody. I had a big old smile on my face,” she said.

On the eight-hour drive back to Elizabeth City, the two became better acquainted.

“You could tell that he was a bit nervous. But he was very friendly and definitely open to human touch,” she said.

Bert brought back memories of a long-haired German shepherd Bowen had as a pet growing up.

“He kind of just took me back to my childhood for a second,” she said.

Now Bert spends his days at the station and his nights at the base’s barracks.

“He likes to sleep underneath our beds,” said Bowen, who wants to work as a veterinary technician after completing her service in the Coast Guard. .

The 80-pound dog eats dry food twice daily, once at no later than 7:30 in the morning and once at no later than 10:30 in the evening. He’s about five pounds lighter from when he first arrived.

Bowen said Bert has a sassy side on occasion. He will knock over his food bowl with his paw so that someone has to refill it. Station personnel pay for his food and personal care.

Bert has no fixed routine during his daytime hours at the station, she said.

“He typically gets attached to one person when we come on duty, and he’ll follow that person around,” she said.

Bert remains the same gentle he was dog when they first met, Bowen said.

“He likes to keep to himself when he wants, but he does seek attention when he needs it,” she said.

One of the station personnel, Petty Officer 2nd Class Calvin Hernandez, likes Bert’s temperament. “He’s very calm, but if you want to play, he is willing to play. He loves everybody. He is very friendly,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez said the small boat station is like a family. “So, he just adds to it,” Hernandez said.

Seaman Roman Khayat said he believes Bert is awesome. Having him as a mascot lifts morale at the small boat station, he said.

“It’s really nice to have a dog that was pre-trained coming in. It makes it easier on everybody in the station,” he said.

Khayat said Bert doesn’t require a leash when taking walks outside, whether nearby at the base fire station and far away, like the beach-like recreational area along the Pasquotank River.

Wherever he goes, Bert attracts attention from other base personnel, with the reaction generally being, “Oh, that’s the new station dog.” said Khayat.

Despite his popularity, Bert is not considered Mako’s replacement or successor.

“He’s just a different dog, really, for us,” he said.

Bert left behind an impressive track record in her previous service with the Coast Guard.

During Bert’s six years of service stationed in the Lone Star State, he conducted 56 high profile security missions.

Also, he was selected to participate in the Coast Guard’s inaugural deployment of K-9 bomb detection team assets along the U.S. and Mexican border.

During this deployment, he served 50 shore-based patrol hours, assisted in 40 boardings of recreational boats and conducted 50 sweeps of vessels.

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