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Authors: Dave Nasser and Lynne Barrett-Lee

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BOOK: Giant George
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Was it a displacement activity, or was it inevitable? Christie and I weren’t sure, but, as we approached the end of George’s first year, he seemed to have found something different to do instead of humping furniture. He’d calmed down, and then some, in the furniture department, but he’d replaced that activity with
eating—eating, that is, as an Olympic sport.

It wasn’t that he was obviously scoffing a lot more. He’d been eating an awful lot of food since we’d gotten him, and had never shown any sign of wanting to slow down. If we’d have let him, we knew he’d have eaten way more. But his growth spurt had become something different—not so much a spurt as a heavy-duty juggernaut. He was putting on weight in
spades, and it was showing.

His last weigh-in with Doc Wallace, which was done as a part of his post-op check, had seen him tip the scales at one hundred and eighty pounds. He definitely weighed more than me now—more than a whole lot of other guys, in fact—and he wasn’t showing any sign of stopping.

And he’d not just grown wider; he’d grown taller as well. By now we’d learned not to leave anything
edible on the kitchen counter, as any foodstuff that was placed within reach of a quick tongue-swipe would be gone long before you could open your mouth in amazement, let alone say, “No George! Get down!”—although “get down” was no longer the right command; he was
already
down, wasn’t he? Likewise, the business of having a barbecue, previously such an undramatic, everyday pastime, had become similarly
fraught with new dangers. Either he was too stupid to recognize it (which, on past evidence, was unlikely) or too sassy and too quick (
way
more likely, we figured), but a steak on the coals was like a siren to a passing sailor—you didn’t dare turn your back for one minute or he’d have the meat off and away like lightning, and he’d have devoured most of it before you could tell him, “Hey! That’s
hot
!”

Nothing, basically, was off-limits to our dog, so we had to have eyes in the back of our heads. Not only could he reach the counter, he could reach the
back
of the counter—unsurprisingly, since he could get his whole head in the sink. So it wasn’t just a case of moving things out of his reach, but of putting everything away. It was either that or have things up so high on the walls that
Christie couldn’t reach them herself. Once again, we knew this because we tested it out. We were exploring new territory all the time.

And it wasn’t just food that attracted George’s interest; he’d also developed a passion for the sound of the doorbell. He would have made a perfect recruit for Pavlov—it was textbook conditioning. He’d learned, as puppies do, that the doorbell
meant visitors.
And visitors meant new things to smell, and lots of stroking. Visitors meant fun and a whole load of attention. So when the doorbell rang, George jumped—all one hundred and eighty pounds of him—to go see what was up. And when one hundred and eighty pounds of excited dog is on a mission, very little is going to stand in his way.

He’d also bark like you’d never heard barking before. The bigger
he’d grown, the louder it had become—it now sounded pretty much like a string of sonic booms, and would terrify anyone who heard it. And though this obviously didn’t apply to anyone who knew him for the softie he really was, for those who didn’t, it must have sounded truly awesome. Plus if he made it to the door with you (most of the time, it was
before
you), it was a mammoth job to stop him from
greeting any visitors into trembling submission, overwhelmed—literally—by his boundless affection and great quantities of flying Georgie-drool. We were beginning to learn that if we were expecting any callers, it made a lot of sense to keep him penned in the bedroom just before they got there, and to let him out only once the doorbell had rung, and the visitors were in the house, prepared for
him.

We also had to be careful around paper. Georgie was developing a real personality, and it seemed that, if he’d been human, he’d have been office bound, for sure, or, if not, he’d have had a job working at
USA Today
. But it wasn’t just newspaper he loved: George had a mania for any kind of paper. As with steaks and chops, nothing made from wood pulp was safe, as George’s jaws were completely
undiscriminating: magazines, reports, paperbacks, cardboard boxes, shopping bags, toilet
paper, writing paper—he didn’t care. Any and all of these he’d trail all over the house. But his absolute favorite to get his paws around was a roll of paper towels, which would send him into raptures of excitement. We pretty soon decided against the idea we’d had of putting a paper towel dispenser on the
wall.

As well as turning paper into mush, George could also turn heads, which he did every time we went out. And nice though it was at first to have him arouse so much interest, the attention wasn’t always that positive. We started noticing that the jokes were coming thick and fast: “Is that a horse?” and “Hey, do you have a saddle for that thing?” If we heard it once, we heard it a dozen times.
And everyone, of course, thought they were being real smart, like we’d never heard any of these wisecracks before. It was getting a bit tiresome, but then it was pretty understandable too. You took George out, and people noticed him. People stared.

Much less pleasant was the flip side of this attention when we were out. It soon became clear that some folks were a little scared of our gentle giant,
and some folks were a
lot
scared. We began noticing that some people—particularly people with children—would cross the sidewalk or the parking lot to avoid coming too close to him. This was sad to watch, because our Georgie clearly wasn’t any sort of threat to anyone, but we couldn’t do anything much about it. He was big and, to a lot of people, big equaled scary.

“I wonder,” I said to Christie
one day, when we came home from Christmas shopping, “how big the rest of his litter has turned out?”

“You know,” she said, piling all the bags of gifts on the kitchen counter and kicking off her shoes with a relieved sigh, “I was thinking the exact same thing yesterday, when I went down to the dog park with George. I saw Drake in the park and, you know, the difference in his and Georgie’s size
now is incredible. He seemed so big when we first saw him, d’you remember? But Georgie towers over him now—like,
already
. And Drake is what now, five? Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Perhaps our boy is part of some big genetic mutation or something.”

I recalled what the breeder in Oregon had told me. It was finally beginning to strike a chord. “You know, we should get back in touch with her and
try to find out how the rest of the litter are shaping up,” I said. “Be interesting to know how they’re doing, wouldn’t it?”

“Particularly since she said he was the runt,” she pointed out. “He may have brothers and sisters who are even bigger than he is.” She ruffled the fur around his ears. “Imagine
that
!”

George, at this point, climbed his front paws up Christie’s torso, in that way he always
liked to do when we came home. I swear if he could talk he would’ve had something to say about his mom calling him a genetic mutation—not to mention calling him a runt, come to think of it. He looked about as runty as a mammoth these days. And he’d be right to be annoyed, too—up on his hind legs, he was now taller than Christie by about a foot. Instead, he licked her face.

“I really don’t think
I
can
imagine that,” I said.

But I did like the idea of tracking down George’s family, if for no other reason than simple curiosity about the genes
that had made our pet so astonishingly big. So I got back in touch with the breeder from Oregon, who still had Georgie’s mom as a pet. I told her how big George had grown since we’d bought him.

“One hundred and eighty pounds?” she said. There was
silence for a moment. “Wait a minute. One hundred and eighty pounds? You’re sure? But he’s not even a year old yet, is he?”

“This month,” I confirmed. “He’ll be one at the end of this month.”

“Wow,” she said. “
Wow
. That’s one pretty big boy you’ve got there. His dad tipped two hundred, so he was big too, but not at a year old. He was
way
older when he hit that weight.”

I told her we’d been
wondering about George’s size, and we’d grown curious about what had happened to his siblings. I said we’d thought we might try to get in touch with the people who’d bought the other pups, and she told me she’d forward them my e-mail address and phone number. It was only a day later that I got a call from a man in Phoenix who had taken one of George’s sisters, Bella. He was really friendly (Great
Dane owners, I was beginning to realize, almost always seemed to be) and said he’d love us to come and visit any time we were passing through town.

As we hadn’t done anything for our first wedding anniversary and as we’d both been working nonstop, pretty much—not to mention spending so much time up to our eyes in plaster and dropcloths and clutter and tools—when the call from the guy came, we
both saw it as the perfect excuse to take off on a spur-of-the-moment anniversary road trip.

The distance from Tucson to Phoenix is a little over 120 miles by road, so this would be one big adventure for George to make too. We took the truck, as he was way too big for the car now, putting the backseat down and making him a nice bed with plenty of soft blankets for him to lie on. We’d also packed
a picnic, or, rather, Christie had. She’d made us turkey salad sandwiches, brought some sodas and some chips, and packed plenty of dog food and water for George. “So now it’s a proper family outing,” she’d remarked.

Bella’s owner turned out to be a really nice guy, who was around our age, and lived in a beautiful and clearly much-loved home on the outskirts of Phoenix. It was new and sprawling
and set in lush gardens full of hibiscus, bougainvillea and aloe. Maybe one day, I thought, we can have a pretty yard like this one, though it wouldn’t be any time soon, I knew, given the junkyard that ours was at the moment. And it was good to see that big dogs—he had two of them—and nice homes could coexist without chaos.

It turned out that Bella’s owner was as curious about George as we were
about Bella, and he welcomed us all pretty warmly. Right off, you could see that George and Bella were siblings. Even though he towered over her, they were the spitting image of each other: the exact same pure blue coat, the same head shape and look. They sized each other up in the middle of the backyard, his one hundred eighty pounds to her modest one fifteen counting for nothing: he was a guest
on her patch. You could see they both knew it, and he acted with due deference to his sister.

It took no time at all for them to say hi to each other. George did the thing he always seemed to do with new dogs now: he got close, rested his head and neck patiently on the other animal’s flank, and waited for them to make the first move. As ever, we marveled at his gentlemanly conduct; the word “gentle”
really seemed to sum him up. It wasn’t long before the two of them went into full-blown play mode, bounding around the backyard like they’d been together all their lives, while our kind host made us cold drinks and told us all sorts of stuff about Great Danes. It was a shame, we all agreed as we ended our short visit, that our pets didn’t live a little closer to each other.

We parted with the
promise that we’d be sure to keep in touch and that if we were in Phoenix we’d stop by again. Little did we know that in less than a few months, we
would
be back, but for a very different reason.

In the meantime, George’s birthday was looming. He’d been in the world for a whole year now, and living with us for not much less time than that. And Christie, it seemed, had plans for the celebrations.
“We’re going to throw him a party,” she told me.

“A party for a dog?” I gaped at my wife. “Honey, you have to be kidding me.”

It didn’t look like it, though and, really, I should have expected it. Christie had, after all, only a few weeks before, dressed Georgie up to celebrate Halloween. She’d chosen him a superhero outfit, for reasons that weren’t clear, complete with the whole collar and
big cape thing. I had, at the time, risked a
killer rebuke by commenting that George was our
dog
, not our kid. But it seemed it had fallen on deaf ears. Now she blinked at me as if I’d failed to understand, or was just stupid. Then she shook her head.

“No, I am
not
kidding, honey. It’s his birthday, so he has to have a party.”

Despite the previous flight of canine dressing-up whimsy, my wife
was, and is, a very levelheaded woman, not generally prone to bouts of sentimentality. She’s certainly not the sort to get crazy ideas—not if I keep her out of Nordstrom and Macy’s and similar high-risk shopping environments, at any rate. In one of those stores, let me tell you, she could go crazy in a
second
. But was I hearing her right? Was she seriously suggesting that we throw a birthday party
for a
dog
? Sure, I loved our gentle Georgie—he was a pretty special kind of dog, but he was still a
dog
the last time I’d looked—not a superhero, and definitely not a baby.

But then I thought a bit more. Maybe she was thinking it would be an excuse to have some friends over. Maybe that was more what it was really all about. With the remodeling, we hadn’t been able to do that a whole lot, and
I was aware of how short a time she’d been in Arizona, and how important it was that we develop friendships and put down roots in our new home. “Okaayyyy…” I answered. “And where’s this celebration taking place?”

She pulled another face that suggested I was lacking a few brain cells. “At the dog park, of course,” she said. “Where else would we have it?”

Christie was right. Maybe I
was
short
a few brain cells. It probably
was
a stupid question. If you weren’t planning to throw a house party—and she obviously wasn’t—where else would you hold a birthday party for a puppy? T.G.I. Friday’s? McDonald’s? Of
course
it would be at the dog park. There were dogs, doggy owners and plenty of space there. But it still sounded ridiculous. “But with
who
?”

BOOK: Giant George
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