By Bob Freund
In the far northwestern reach of Wisconsin, a small group of dog lovers has created a last home for some lucky Great Danes. All of these large, sometimes majestic, canines will live out their remaining days at a complex on a former farm near Siren, Wis., with their food and shelter provided. They come from places throughout the United States.
Some are ill; some have been aggressive in the past for one reason or another. Some will be there for months, some for years. But count them as lucky, because their home at the Great Dane Sanctuary often is the alternative to a more immediate demise, whether or not it actually is deserved.
Great Dane Rescue of Minnesota & Wisconsin operates the Sanctuary as a second facet of its mission to shelter Great Danes. While rescue organizations typically find permanent home for pets, few support a special refuge for unadoptable animals like Great Dane Sanctuary.
Maintaining the Danes
The Rescue and Sanctuary are located together about a mile west of the city of Siren,Wis. Ann Heinrich of Siren, founder of Great Dane Rescue, last year donated five acres of land as a home base for the non-profit organization and its operations.
“I’ve had Danes for over 40 years,” says Heinrich, 72. “I’ve owned them; I’ve shown them (in dog competitions).” Today, she surrounds herself with them in her mobile home on The Dane Farm, where she lives. They can nap on the sofa, sprawl out on the living room floor or rest in a recliner.
“I try to rotate them, so that every two days or nights there is a different group of dogs staying with me. I don’t want them to feel like they’re unloved,” Heinrich says.
Heinrich also is the main manager for The Dane Farm. She and another employee keep kennels clean, prepare meals for as many as 18 Great Danes and wash between four and eight loads of blankets a day.
Last summer, volunteers gutted the three-car garage on the property and turned it into a shelter for both the rescue and sanctuary dogs. It is big enough to hold 14 kennels,
but it also is too small. “We need another building that is three times the size of this,” Heinrich says.
But the site does contain enough space to allow the large dogs to run. They can roam and explore about three of the five acres making up the farm. Part of the acreage is wooded.
Great Dane Rescue of Minnesota & Wisconsin takes in unwanted dogs, gives them veterinary care and prepares them for adoption into permanent homes. The numbers available for adoption vary. In mid-April, the organization had five Great Danes on the list, with three being considered for placement. Nine typically would be the maximum available.
Jennifer Pecina of Rochester was among those adopting from the Great Dane Rescue. “We are certainly grateful for the rescue, as they allowed us to welcome two Great Danes into our home to love,” she said. “We were blessed to enjoy Oscar for three years before he died. He was a typical majestic gentle giant,” Pecina says.
Gracie has been with them for five years. “She is a very loving dog who also happens to be the smartest dog we’ve ever had. Both Danes have brought great joy into our lives.”
Pecina urges pet lovers to look into rescue organizations when picking a dog for adoption.
The Great Dane Sanctuary offers a permanent home for Great Danes that cannot be adopted. “These dogs are either too old or too sick or have behavior issues,” says Sanctuary president Meg Wittenmeyer. “Great Danes, because of their size, if they are not adoptable, the only recourse is euthanasia.” The Sanctuary provides another alternative for some dogs.
Biting is often the fault that brings them to Sanctuary. “We have one dog that was basically court-ordered to come to the Sanctuary or he had to be put down,” Wittenmeyer says. The dogs at the Sanctuary might have been provoked or mistreated into biting. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, these are just normal, wonderful dogs, and that’s why we feel they deserve a chance at life.” Rescue organizations won’t accept them because of liability, but Great Dane Sanctuary does accept them.
Wittenmeyer co-founded the unusual program with Heinrich. “We both separately had always felt a need for Great Dane Sanctuary,” she says,
Like Heinrich, she also has a long history with dogs, having worked as a certified canine massage therapist in Colorado. She currently operates a dog boarding business in her home of Boyceville, Wis., north of Eau Claire.
But the long-term commitment to feed and shelter the Sanctuary dogs also adds to financial strain for parent company Great Dane Rescue of Minnesota & Wisconsin. The Sanctuary produces no regular income, except whatever it can garner from grants and financial gifts. Great Dane Rescue has income from dog adoptions, and it must absorb the remainder of costs.
“We pretty much constantly have something going on to raise money for the Sanctuary, which needs $3,000 a month to pay its bills,” Wittenmeyer says.
DO Fence Me In
Heinrich wishes for a “much, much, much bigger facility” to take in all Great Danes needing a home. But, before expanding, there may be other pressing needs.
“We’re desperately trying to raise money to put up chain link fence,” she says. “With this many dogs here, we need something much more secure.” A campaign now is underway to raise the money.
Bob Freund is a writer based in Rochester.
More about Great Dane Rescue of Minnesota & Wisconsin at www.gdromn.org
More about the Great Dane Sanctuary at www.danefarm.org
Both the rescue and the sanctuary have Facebook pages.
About Great Danes
Growth: Danes usually have their height by 18 months old. A male Dane may be 3 to 4 years old before he is physically mature.
Lifespan: 7-10 years
Feeding: An average Dane puppy might eat 10-12 cups of a premium dog food daily. Once they are mature, they will eat substantially less.
Colors: The AKC lists 9 standard colors, including black, white, black & white, blue, brindle, fawn, harlequin, mantle and merle.