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Please post my story ANONYMOUSLY on your website--I know now that Burt and Tracy can't actually take our pup away legally, but they're scary people who have my name, address and phone number. So here's my story, sorry if it's too long:
We feel so lucky that our story isn't anywhere near as bad as the heartbreaking stories I've read here and on other sites, but there are similarities that make these other stories completely credible to me, even though they're written by people I've never met.
It begins with a lengthy application process. Burt Ward emailed me to let me know that Gentle Giants Rescue had approved us, that we were among 5% of potential adopters that they did approve, and that we must follow very specific instructions in order to come out and choose our dog. These instructions included:
All of this seemed strange, but we were first-time adopters and we found the micromanaging to be comforting--here were some experts who were going to hold our hands through the learning process of being responsible for an animal! We followed their instructions to the word and made the 1 1/2 hour trip to their facility in Norco on a July afternoon. Another group of people were also there to adopt, and the five of us were led into the gated area beyond the driveway, where we were seated on dirty plastic benches next to a large open dirt patch with sparse dead grass. There were flies everywhere. The unkempt outdoor environment didn't raise any red flags for me, because I figured anywhere that this many dogs are running around couldn't possibly have a well-manicured lawn. There was a group of 3-5 dogs in a fenced-in area adjacent to the house, in full sun. One of the men from the other group asked Burt a leading question about these dogs, something to the effect of, are they supposed to be outside in this kind of heat? It had to have been teetering around 100 degrees. Burt told us that these dogs were a rare Egyptian breed that went for thousands of dollars. Suffice it to say I feel really dumb for being so trusting, but remember, we had walked into what we thought was a beneficent situation with charitable people.
We were all introduced to Tracy, their daughter, and their dogs. Tracy seemed outright crazy to all five of us from minute one, which we all interpreted as an aggressive sense of protection over the dogs, or maybe she spends too much time with dogs, not enough time with people--whatever. Their own pet dogs seemed to be in pretty good shape. One Great Dane, Fireworks, especially encouraged us, because he seemed very young and unhindered by aging, despite the fact that Burt said he was 12 and a half years old. Burt attributed the dog's health to the fact that he has been eating Gentle Giants dog food his whole life, which, he said, is why they insist adopters use this food. He and Tracy both talked about how they are able to make high-quality food, higher-quality than any out there, because they aren't trying to profit from it like other dog food producers. Burt kept repeating over and over, "We actually lose money on every bag." They both said several times that the food was responsible for practically doubling the lives of thousands of dogs, helping them avoid torsion and hip dysplasia.
We told them that we wanted a young female Great Dane, we were flexible on aesthetics but could not take in a dog with any sort of problem--we felt unprepared financially and unqualified to resolve health or behavioral problems. We were assured--both via email and once we arrived--that there were many dogs that fit the description we were looking for. The other group said they had the same experience. They assured us that this is why it often takes so long for people to choose (the website says people are often there for up 7 or 8 hours). The REAL reason it takes so long is because the dogs are brought out one by one, and the selection is not as advertised. Also, between showing us dogs, Burt and Tracy left us alone for about 30 minutes at a time. We were told that we could not go into the part of the house where the dogs were all kept, because many of them had just arrived or were potentially dangerous because they hadn't been through the Wards' "training" program yet. They had a lovely story about how large breed dogs kept at a shelter were invariably euthanized because they can look frightening when they are scared and growling from a too-small cage, and thus, no one ever adopts them. We were made to understand that after being evaluated, trained, etc. the dogs were allowed out of their crates often to roam freely about. This is how they supposedly all get accustomed to using a doggie door.
The dogs were brought out one by one--here's where it became apparent that they lied about the number of dogs that fit our needs. They only had three young female Danes, if you're willing to count a 3 1/2 year old Dane as young, considering the expected lifespan is 7-10 years. When we and the other group expressed surprise over this, Tracy kept shifting blame to us--if we were willing to open up our requirements, they would have more dogs to show us. She kept pushing us to look at a blind male puppy, even though we had told her many times, both before and during this process, that we didn't feel it was responsible to take a handicapped animal we felt we couldn't properly care for. Of the 6 or 8 dogs I saw that day, the following problems were present:
The girl we ended up adopting was the only one who didn't have any complicated story--the moral of all these stories, btw, is that if these people had done what Burt and Tracy told them to do, they never would have had a problem. Let's call my dog X. X's story is that she was brought to Gentle Giants by a vet, whose sister had been X's owner. X's owner was going through some dramatic medical problems that forced her to leave X alone erratically because of lengthy impromptu hospital stays. We were assured that X loves people, dogs, animals, children, cats...pretty much everyone. We happily adopted her, shelling out $400 in cash and $390 by credit card. X, plus several bags of GG food, the collar and leash ultimately cost us close to $1100. She was extremely underweight. They told us she weighed 90 lbs., but she had already gained a few pounds when the vet said she weighed 79 lbs. several months later. They told us she was a Great Dane who would continue to grow taller and wider--this was total BS, X is clearly a mix and she hasn't grown an inch. We love her and are not concerned about breed purity or anything, but we essentially shelled out major $$ for what we had been assured was a pure Great Dane who just happened to be a little small because she wasn't done growing. The fact that her features only looked somewhat like a Dane, according to Tracy, is because my boyfriend and I haven't seen enough Danes to know the varied appearances they can have.
The other group left without adopting. They agreed with us that the only dog who seemed like a viable option was the one we had chosen. Tracy seemed unable to accept that this other group didn't feel they had seen the kind of variety they had expected, and truly all of the Mastiffs looked kind of sad and had suspect background stories. She got a little angry with him and continued to make disparaging remarks about them after they left. This fell right into our assumption that maybe she just loved these dogs so much she couldn't understand how any of them could be seen as unadoptable. Our entire time there was full of anecdotes that alternated between large breed dogs suffering at the hands of reckless adopters who go against Burt and Tracy's advice, and anecdotes about how much the Wards and GG are respected, how much of their own $$ goes into their work, how GG is essentially a beacon of hope in a sea of people who don't understand how to treat and raise large breed dogs.
We watched Tracy microchip her. Tracy said the microchip was registered with Gentle Giants, that we would not be able to take their name off her microchip, but we were able to add our own if we called Avid. She encouraged us to leave just GG on her microchip, because they're so well-known and respected all over the country that X would make it there safely and expediently before we could track her down. After I became suspicious of GG, I called to have her microchip registered with my name and found that Avid had no record of her chip # at all.
X turned out to be so fearful of people that she cowered and ran away from everyone except me and my boyfriend. No one else could get within ten feet of her without her cowering, pacing or hiding behind one of us. She consistently had extremely soft and even runny stools. I called Tracy after a week or two about the stool problem, seeking advice, and her response was defensive and practically hostile. She insisted there was nothing wrong with my dog, she was just nervous over her new environment, and generally made me feel like a first-time mother calling the pediatrician every time her child sneezed. It continued and we took X to a local vet, who found that X had giardia and hookworm. We had been taking X to a local dog park, and there's no way to know if she got the parasites there or at GG. I called Tracy again to talk to her about these problems, and her response on my voicemail was openly hostile and defensive. At this point I decided I was never calling her again. Even after X was treated she continued to have problems until our vet convinced us to change her diet--a conclusion we had already come to, but we were terrified that Tracy would realize we hadn't placed a food order and try to take X away on the grounds that we had broken our contract.
X continues to behave like a dog who has been abused. We are shelling out more $$ (this, plus vet bills and what we paid out to GG, now comes close to $2,000) to hire a trainer to help us socialize her because as we suspected, we are not up to the task of retraining a maladjusted dog on our own. She cowers if one of us holds an object in the air. She is particularly terrified of men. We can't take her anywhere except the dog park, and we can't have people over because she growls, barks, or cowers if anyone comes near her. My boyfriend was using a fly swatter once, not even looking at X while he swatted at a fly in the apartment, and she started shaking and backed into me where I was sitting on the floor, pushing herself into my lap and whining. I called to him to put it down and it was another half hour before she could even be cajoled into approaching this man who had never raised a hand to her. And even then, she cowered over to him low to the ground and remained wary for several hours. She jumps or paces fearfully if one of us: shakes out a towel before folding it, gestures with the mail or a newspaper in hand, holds a hand as if preparing for an overhand throw, etc. I read in several testimonies that people have witnessed Tracy hitting dogs in the face with a paper towel roll or her open hand. Again, I want to reiterate that I feel so lucky we don't have the worst story, and my heart truly goes out to those who have a worse experience to share. I was filled with anguish as I read these personal testimonies that echo each other, realizing that the physical abuse, disgusting environment, and near-constant diarrhea were most likely part of X's experience with GG as well.
Everything in this testimony is true and correct to the best of my knowledge. -- Name withheld at the request of the author