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Giving homes to ‘gentle giants’

An article about the group I volunteer for…

by Jacqueline Mah
Staff Writer
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Sep. 1, 2004

Rick Steele/The Gazette
Kara Feidelseit hugs Bentley, a 155-pound Great Dane owned by Greg and Lori Mooradian of Germantown, at a meet and greet held by the Mid-Atlantic Great Dane Rescue League Saturday.

Blue, a 2-year-old Great Dane, has seen the good and the bad sides of humanity.

Before she was rescued, Blue’s owner locked her in a basement for 90 percent of her life. She was not socialized properly and developed a fear of men and an abnormal shyness.

In April 2003, the Mid-Atlantic Great Dane Rescue League found her, took her away from her previous owner, and gave her to Lori Mooradian, 32, of Germantown.

The rescue league is a volunteer group with branches in nine East Coast states and Washington, D.C. Each region has a separate area coordinator who works with the other regions to find and place the Danes. Often dogs are taken from a location in one state and transported to a foster or adopting family in another state.

Last year, the league helped improve the care of 523 dogs, said Debra Rahl, president of the Mid-Atlantic Great Dane Rescue League.

Blue weighed 70 pounds when she was adopted, Mooradian said. Pictures of the dog back then show a dramatically different animal. Her ribs, hip bone and back bone protruded from underneath her skin.

“She was skinny,” Mooradian said.

Blue would eat very fast and seem very nervous when she ate, Mooradian remembered.

“She didn’t realize she would be getting another [meal] in a few hours,” she said.

After three months under Mooradian’s care, Blue’s weight was up to 105 pounds.

“It’s amazing what a little love can do, right?” Mooradian’s husband, Greg, 35, said. The couple also owns Bentley, a 155-pound Great Dane, who was adopted in January 2003.

The league doesn’t only rescue Great Danes from abusive situations, group members said. It also gets dogs who are simply unwanted by their owners. Sometimes an owner feels their dog has gotten too big to handle. Other times, the dog is neglected because of a divorce or change in the owner’s life situation, like many unwanted pets.

In addition to giving the animals new homes, the group also gives the dogs proper training and medical attention before they are placed into a foster or new adoption home.

The group also teaches some Great Dane owners how to better care for their dogs.

Many of the dogs, like Blue, come into the group’s care with deep behavioral scars, group members said.

Blue’s owner was a “backyard breeder” who cared more about turning a profit than advancing the breed, Mooradian said.

Her mother was a deaf Great Dane who should not have been bred because of her handicap, Greg Mooradian said. She could have passed the defect on to Blue. But luckily, she didn’t, Greg Mooradian said. The only thing she passed on was her unique eyes and pink nose, giving Blue her striking looks.

Because Blue’s owner neglected her, Greg Mooradian said he had a hard time earning Blue’s trust. For the first four months of her adoption, Blue would cower and try to escape every time Greg would go to touch her, Lori Mooradian said. But she seemed fine with women and children, Lori Mooradian said.

To gain Blue’s trust, Greg Mooradian said he sat on the ground every day for four months and held a treat behind his back. Day by day, he would move the treat closer to his front. Finally, after months of patience, Blue let him pet her.

Now, Blue is socialized enough to come with the Mooradians on the rescue group’s meet and greets, which are bi-monthly events the group holds at local pet stores to familiarize the public with the breed.

For the most part, Blue sat behind a table Saturday at the Germantown PetsMart, sticking close by Lori Mooradian’s side. Blue ventured out from time to time to let a visitor pet her or to take a treat.

“In my opinion, abuse and neglect of animals should be treated the same as abuse and neglect on a kid,” Greg Mooradian said.

Visitors to the group’s table seemed to range in their exposure to the breed. Some already owned Great Danes; others gaped at the dogs’ size, which can average about 130 pounds for females and 150 pounds for males.

“You could put a saddle on this guy,” one man said.

Mooradian said she hears comments like that a lot. In fact, she said she thinks she likes Danes because she used to have horses when she was younger.

Another passerby, a young girl wearing an orange shirt and blue-jean overalls, stood back from the dogs with her mother, casting a slightly wary look in one dog’s direction.

“She’s, like, that big,” the girl said, holding her hand level with her forehead.

Mary Beth Krammer, 42, of Howard County, came to the meet and greet on her way to a soccer game with her two daughters, Kerry and Kelsey, who are both 14. The Krammers saw the adoption sign in the parking lot and stopped because they have already adopted two Danes through the rescue league.

“You’d think they’d be like these really scary dogs,” Kerry Krammer said. “But they’re actually really friendly.”

Misconceptions about the breed only cause more dogs to be turned in to a shelter or to a rescue group. Despite their size, Great Danes are not guard dogs, volunteers said. In fact, lounging on couches is probably one of their most favorite things to do. Danes also make surprisingly good apartment dogs, owners said.

They’re known as the “gentle giants,” Mooradian said. “They definitely are.”

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