Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Great Times for Great Danes at Ruff House Dog Park

On any other day, Ruff House Dog Park looks like any other dog park. There is a large fenced in area for running, small pools of water for drinking and splashing, shaded awnings for taking a break from the sun and plenty of dogs of all breeds romping with their playmates. But if you visited Ruff House Dog Park this past Sunday and saw the large number of giant animals running to and fro, the scene may have resembled something more like a miniature Colonial Downs.

But these weren't horses – these were dogs; big dogs. Ruff House Dog Park played host to the inaugural “Dane Day at the Park”, an event which occurs every second Sunday at Ruff House Dog Park, located in Rockwood Park in Chesterfield and invites Great Danes and their owners to meet up, swap stories and give their dogs a chance to socialize.

Ruff House Dog Park is a fairly new dog park. It began roughly five years ago and changed management two years ago in order to revitalize it and increase attendance. Rebecca Rogers-Overstreet, the president of the Ruff House Dog Park volunteers association says that having events such as Dane Day are instrumental in reaching that goal.

“We're working with Southside SPCA, but since we've only been going for two years, we're really still in our infancy stage, you know I see us growing even more and doing more partnerships like this to get dogs adopted and you know just work with the community to make the dog world a better place.”

The event began in conjunction with the Mid-Atlantic Great Dane Rescue League and local volunteers, like India Lipton who headed the organization effort.

“Well we're having Dane Day at the Ruff House, just to kind of raise awareness and give the Great Dane owners a place to meet up and talk to each other and have the public really just come to meet these giant great dogs and see what they're really like, you know 'Are they really like Marmaduke? Are they really like Scooby Doo?' Well, yeah that's partially true. ”

Great Danes are one of the largest breeds of dog in the world. With an average height of about 30 inches from floor to shoulder and an average weight of over 100 pounds, Lipton points out that awareness for Danes still needs to be raised beyond the amount that their size already commands.

“Also, having a Dane, you kinda have to be okay with people asking you a lot of questions in public, because they will, it's kind of inevitable. You can't really go through a store or go quickly through anything with a Great Dane, mostly because people will stop and ask you all kinds of bizarre questions.”

Dane Day at Ruff House Park began partly because of Lipton's experience with the public's general curiousness with a dog of this size. However, organizers say it was important for the Mid-Atlantic Great Dane Rescue League, or MAGDRL, to get involved, because many of the Danes present at Dane Day are rescues themselves.

Scottie Hamer is the Richmond area liaison for MAGDRL and has worked with Great Dane rescues for years.

“I've worked with rescues since I was 15 and I've had Danes since I was 18. It wasn't until just in the last couple of years that I had a house and a yard and I could actually contribute to the rescue and foster and things like that.”

Hamer says that because the reasons for Great Danes needing a rescue group aren't as obvious as those for, say, Greyhounds or Pitbulls, it's even more important that people be made aware of them.

“The number one reason why they're turned in to rescue is people get them as a puppy and don't realize how big they're going to get and how expensive they are to keep. The median age for turn ins is about 2 years old, which is about when they hit maturity, but they still have the puppy energy and puppy mentality.”

While you would think the name Great Dane alone lends itself to a perception of a large dog, many owners and volunteers, including Stacy Gilbert, the Southern VA coordinator for MAGDRL, echoed this reason for many Great Danes being turned over to rescues.

“The economy, you know people get them and don't realize they can be very expensive to maintain health-wise and they have an incident or an illness and they can't afford the vet care, so they turn them in. So unfortunately we get them in with broken legs from hit cars, digestive problems, or people just decide they don't want them anymore, the novelty is gone.”

Stories such as those give Great Dane owners even more reason to group together for the sake of their beloved canines. Dane Day was organized through both traditional word of mouth and its 21st century equivalent, Facebook. Dane owners responded in what organizers say was a big success for a first-of-its-kind event.

Richard Zucker heard about the event from Ginger's Pet Store in Henrico and attended with his Great Dane, Zeus, who weighs in at a hefty 165 pounds – slightly less than that of the average adult male. Zucker, however, was prepared for Zeus's rapid growth.

“Well we got him at 2 months and he was 25 pounds. When he was born he was 1.8 pounds, so in just two months he had grown about 22 pounds and he's just taken off from there.”

Although Great Danes can be intimidatingly large in size to some people, Zucker and other attendees are adamant about their mild tempered nature and hope that events such as Dane Day at Ruff House Park continue to inform the public about the larger than life canines.

“You know they are loveable dogs, they're great house dogs, they love to be with people. They're not the kind of dog you would want to leave in the backyard all day long, they need to be inside. They're very caring and very protective when they need to be and they're funny.”

/Brad Fulton

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