Events & Information

Adopter of the Month

Deb with her pups

In December of 2012, my 20 yr old university daughter arrived home at Christmas and informed me she was going to adopt a boxer who could keep her company and go running with her. Our local shelter had two up for adoption and off she went. Two hours later Dallas became a member of our family. The only issue, Dallas was not the intended boxer, but instead a very malnourished and as we came to learn, abused Great Dane. I looked at my daughter and stated the obvious, that Dallas was not a boxer but in fact a Dane. Her response “I know isn’t she great”. I honestly think the pun was lost on her.

The downside to my story, my daughter had failed to pre-approve the upgrade from Boxer to Great Dane with her father, with whom she lived during the summer. Realization quickly set in that for various reasons Dallas could not live at that household. By this point Dallas had been in our home for three days, I’d already fallen in love with those soulful eyes and there was no way she was going anywhere. So started the path to Great Dane obsession.

I had bred and showed St Bernards, was familiar with large breeds, and knew that they came with unique problems. I knew nothing specifically about Danes so I decided if I was now an owner of one I’d best educate myself. Knowing that breeders often supply sunshine and rainbows about a breed I knew to get the true scope I should visit the rescue sights so that I could get a realistic idea of what I had now gotten myself into. I found myself on Great Dane Rescue Inc’s website and following their Facebook page. I was able to gain lots of valuable knowledge and glean advice from everyone who commented. When it was time to have our girl spayed I decided to have her stomach tacked, after following the debate raised on a particular post. I enjoyed the website and Facebook page, reading the comments, looking at the pictures and then it happened.

I’d like to say I mistakenly clicked on the “available Dane” section, but that would be a lie. There was no mistake it was intentional, but I was just looking. While scrolling through the pictures I found one of a white Dane with merle markings, he was a puppy standing on a porch. His name was Henry and it truly was love at first sight. That picture stole my heart. I then found more pics and even a few short videos. Henry was about 6 months in those videos and pics. After reading his bio I found out that Henry had been in foster for almost a year and that he was blind and deaf. I think that made me love him even more. Something inside of me said Henry needed us and that he was destined to become part of our family.

The family was not immediately as enthusiastic as I was. We had two dogs, along with Dallas we already had a lab. We don’t need another dog was their argument. My response was simply “No we don’t but Henry needs us”. This debate raged for several weeks until the day the family came home to find stuck on the fridge; that picture of that little white spotty dog on that porch with a speech bubble that said; “I promise to be a good boy if you let me come home”. With a roll of eyes I was asked if that was the best that I could do. They weren’t quite so smug when upon opening every laptop, and IPAD they were greeted with Henry’s pic as the wallpaper. A little further debate and it was agreed we would “inquire” about Henry. Within three weeks our application was completed and approved and we had a date to go meet our boy.

After a five hour car trip and overnight in a hotel we were finally going to meet Henry. I truly felt like a child on Christmas morning. As his foster mom showed us into our meet and greet area, Henry caught a whiff of someone new and happily came to greet us. As I bent down he smothered my face with doggy kisses and snuggled in, I was overwhelmed with emotion and began to cry and as I looked up, his foster mom Julie was crying as well. I said I knew why I was crying but asked her why she was. Her response

still to this day makes me well up (yes I’m tearing up at my computer). She told me it was because he’d be “going home” tomorrow.

I knew that was not an easy decision to make. Let me pause right here and say that I have the utmost respect and admiration for those who foster. To bring these gentle giants into your home, shower them with love, grow attached and then are able to watch them go to their Furever Homes is one of the most selfless things I’ve ever been honoured to be part of. And in our case, Julie had Henry for a year, I knew from our conversations prior to our meeting how much he meant to her. I also knew that she had, with a move pending, considered keeping Henry and then I showed up. The ultimate decision had been hers and to this day I am thankful that she gave me the chance, and shared her boy with me. The next day my excitement was tempered with sadness as Julie and Parker said good bye to the boy they had loved for a year, and watched us drive away.

And then life with Henry began. I’d been told, deaf dogs don’t bark, blind dogs don’t jump up and Great Danes don’t like to swim. Clearly Henry didn’t get any of those memos. Henry does all of those and so much more. A lot of my preconceived ideas went out the window. I had no idea how remarkable our boy was until I started to live with him. The baby gate purchased for the stairs never got installed because within 30 mins of arriving home he had systematically went up and down the stairs a half dozen times and then he knew where the landings were. Within 24 hrs he had the house mapped and moved about it with ease. He quickly found the comfortable spots, the couch, every bed in the house and a dog pillow on the floor if no other option was offered. I originally had a little vest made for him with a stop sign on it saying “Stop! Blind and Deaf, please ask before petting” I had read that blind and deaf dogs sometimes would startle easily and could snap. I soon realized Henry wasn’t nervous about someone suddenly touching him, the real danger was not him snapping, but rather his spinning around to get a nose on them. He’d put a few people off balance. It quickly became clear, Henry loves people and people love Henry. A favourite afternoon out for us is a trip to the Outlet Mall in Niagara on the Lake. Once there we simply sit in the sun and the people are drawn to him. He gets all that attention and I get to educate about life with a blind and deaf dog. Of course there is always a trip into Bass Pro for a new toy as well. It speaks volumes that more people know his name then mine. He touches the heart of everyone he meets.

Living with a special needs dog can be trying but not in the ways I anticipated. Henry loves to chew kongs, or should I say anything that “smells” like a kong. Henry has chewed the ends off of three vacuum cleaners, a treadmill, the plug for the electric wall mounted fireplace and an extension cord. I’ve now had to add a note to our dog sitter instructions to make sure nothing with a rubber end is left in his reach when he is left alone. Because Henry’s sense of smell is so heightened he is intrigued by every new smell especially animal smells, often to my surprise as we abruptly change direction while walking because he’s gotten a whiff of something or other. Because touch is so important to him, Henry can be very persistent when he wants to be cuddled. He routinely backs up into company’s laps when they are seated on the couch and he tries his luck with nudging company at the dining table until I can physically redirect him. Not being able to see or hear leaves him at a disadvantage if we encounter a dog that is aggressive. Our neighbour’s dog got free and attacked Henry while I had him on leash. Before I could even react his big sister Dallas sprang to his defense. Sadly something similar happened at our local dog park. Although no one was hurt it has left Henry nervous when he encounters unfamiliar dogs.

Although Henry is special he is also typical in so many ways. He hates having his toenails clipped. Last night I had to scold him for drinking out of the toilet. All my doorknobs have teeth marks on them because he knows doorknobs turn so he bites them trying to open doors. He likes to spin in circles in the mud and a simple walk outside to do his business ends up with him needing a bath. He and his sister play and sometimes that goes a little too far. He is unable to identify her cues. He will push a little too far and she occasionally snaps at him. Then he pouts, all 130 lbs of him. He eventually wanders over and lies down beside her, nudging her with his nose. This is his way of saying sorry.

The hardest part for me in having a “special needs” dog has been dealing with other people’s preconceived notions. People pity him, or praise me for adopting him. I’m quick to point out that he does not need to be pitied, he’s known no other life and is one of the smartest dogs I’ve ever encountered and as for praising me, no need I merely adopted a dog who does dog things and that his ‘special needs” simply means adapting the way we do things. One of my biggest struggles however, was finding the right trainer to work with on obedience. Most trainers immediately want to put a vibration/shock collar on him. For my own reasons this is not a viable option for me. We have recently found a wonderful trainer to work with. Mainly our focus is on socialization to overcome his fear of new dogs. Henry and I have been working on and developed our own communication starting the day he came home. We have a series of touch commands for sit, no, down, follow, crawl and our currently working on left and right while walking on leash. Our trainer uses Henry and I as an example in her new/puppy obedience classes. He is slowly starting to come around and feel comfortable, however the dog park is only visited now when we are the only ones there. It’s safer that way.

My first Dane came into my life not by my own doing, but I can honestly say I cannot imagine my life without them. For Christmas I received a special picture frame that said Rescue Believing in Miracles. Life has its ups and downs and there are times when things aren’t quite right and as an empty nester life can get lonely. It’s during those times that I can’t wait to get home to my two babies who love me unconditionally. They brighten my day and in a sense recharge and refocus me. Leading me to ponder who really rescued who.

Debra Ruffley