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Life with the World's Biggest Dog
By Dave Nasser
With Lynne Barrett-Lee
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Giant George is the charming story of how this precocious puppy won Dave and Christie’s hearts and along the way became a doggie superstar. In 2010, George was named by Guinness World Records as the Tallest Dog in the World-ever. He appeared on Oprah, and even has his own global fan club. But to Dave and Christie, this extraordinary animal is still their beloved pet, the one who has made them laugh, made them cry, and continues to make them incredibly happy.
Table of Contents
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Sometimes in life you make mistakes. It was the end of March 2006 in Tucson, Arizona—a particularly beautiful time of year—and open in front of me was a copy of the Arizona Daily Star. It was carrying the ad I'd placed there a week back, for the ridiculous sum of $40.
I did a quick calculation in my head. I'd already laid out $1,750 for our puppy, plus the cost of around six weeks' worth of special puppy food, an extra-large crate, a leash and a collar, dog bowls—both food and water—and now this ad. We were a cool $2,000 out-of-pocket by now, I figured, but I didn't care. I was out of patience. I was seriously stressed. I was at the end of my rope.
The ad had already attracted about a dozen phone calls, and two of them seemed to be genuine possibilities. One was from a woman who worked at the local animal organization in Tucson. When I explained to her that George had become a lot more than I could handle, she reacted excitedly. It was obvious right away that she was a serious dog lover, and she wanted our puppy pretty badly. The other call was from a guy who lived a couple of hours away, up in Phoenix. He said he already had a couple of Great Danes in the family, and would very much love to have a third.
So, job done. With my wife's very reluctant agreement, I had one decision left to make: who should have him? Whose home should he go to? George, who was never far from Christie and me—ever—was sitting on the floor beside my chair while I was thinking about this, as if he knew that, right now, it was the best place for him to be. I glanced down, and saw the sparkle in his intensely blue eyes. It was the same sparkle that had first attracted us to him, the same sparkle that had Christie fall in love with him on sight. Did he know? Was he already preparing for the worst? Was he already resigned to being put in yet another crate and shipped off someplace else?
But George didn't seem to be thinking about himself. While I mused about how much had already happened in his short life, he seemed more concerned about me. He lifted himself up, tipped his head to one side and looked at me with an expression that I'd already come to know. "Hey, Dad," it seemed to say to me. "What's up?"
He then did something that would be appropriate if you were writing a scene for a movie. He got up from the floor and put his head in my lap, then looked up at me with those enormous blue eyes.
I looked back at the ad, to the two numbers I'd scribbled down, and I realized that, actually, I couldn't let him go. He was part of our family, and no matter what the hassle, no matter what the pain, one thing you don't give up on is family. It was time to step up and be the bigger man.
I balled the ad in my fist and launched it inexpertly toward the garbage can. It missed, but what the hell. It was time to make the calls. Sometimes in life you make mistakes.
And often in life you make compromises too, because relationships are all about compromise. My compromise, made one day in the summer of 2005, had been a pretty sensible one, I thought. I wanted to move back to Tucson, Arizona—my hometown—and it was clear that my then wife-to-be was less keen. We had already agreed—sort of—to move there soon, and she was busy looking for a job, so it wasn't a case of "wouldn't," more a case of "would, grudgingly." I wanted the move to be special for both of us, hence the conversation. It turned out that she could be bribed.
"A dog?" I asked, seeing her determined expression and realizing this was probably a nonnegotiable part of the deal.
Christie nodded. "Yes. When we move to Arizona, I want a dog. After all, we'll have a house. We'll have a yard. We'll have the space…"
This left me pretty much out of excuses.
Christie had always been a dog lover. I, on the other hand, wasn't, though we did have dogs in the family. Growing up, my brother and I had two toy poodles. They were named Apollo and Sugar, and both of them had plenty of character. Had Apollo, in particular, been entered in an America's Funniest Home Videos contest, he probably could have won it. He would get up on two front legs, then walk along and pee at the same time—not a skill with an awful lot of practical application, but one that would have everyone in stitches.
Even so, though Apollo and Sugar were very much part of the family, I'd never considered myself a "dog lover" particularly. Both of them died when I was in my teens, and I had no desire, once I'd grown up and moved to California, to get another, even had I lived somewhere suitable. As a consequence, I'd spent my adult life in a dog-free—indeed, pet-free—environment. And that was just how I liked it. Dogs meant responsibility, commitment, hassle: all things I was happy to live without.
Christie, who'd been raised in Seal Beach, in Orange County, California—a beautiful place right on the coast—had a dog when she was growing up too. The dog was a Dalmatian–cockapoo cross named Spot, who'd been in the family since before Christie was born. Theirs was a pleasant enough, but not really loving relationship. Perhaps because she felt she'd been usurped by Christie coming along, maybe because she'd always hated the name Spot, or possibly because she was just a pretty grouchy sort of dog, Spot didn't seem to like her a whole lot, Christie told me. They got along, but they certainly didn't bond.
Spot died when Christie was about fourteen years old and she'd always planned, once she had a home of her own, to have a dog of her own too—one who was her dog, and loved her right back. So meeting me wouldn't have been the most productive move ever, in that regard, had I not seen the writing on the wall. My fiancée wanted a dog and I wanted to make my fiancée happy: if it made her happy to have a dog join the family, then so be it.
"Okay, then," I said, feeling this might be the clincher. "We move to Tucson, and we get ourselves a dog."
When I met Christie, in the fall of 2003, I wasn't really looking to settle down. I was free of commitments, and enjoying that freedom, so the state of affairs suited me fine. I was thirty-eight years old, and despite my parents' endless comments about how the situation needed to change, I wasn't in any rush to get married. I'd left Tucson for Los Angeles in order to go to college and study economics, having been seduced by California and everything it had to offer. I'd seen no reason since then to return to Arizona. Sure, Arizona was okay, and Tucson was too, but I had a good life, and a good business—pretty much everything I needed, in fact. What needed to change?
In one respect, however, I wasn't perhaps as happy as I made out. I'd recently come out of a long-term relationship when I met Christie, and though I was over it and getting on with life, I was probably still a bit vulnerable deep down. And, I guess, I was determined to play things cool. We were originally set up by my sister-in-law, who had logically figured out that since the person I ended up with would be related to her, it made sense to have a hand in the choosing. Also, Christie was her friend, so she knew both of us pretty well, and she felt sure we would get along.
And she'd been right. Christie was really attractive and fiercely independent—something I realized right away. On our first date, we went out to a sports bar in Long Beach and had drinks and some food. We had a relaxed, enjoyable time, but when it came time to pay the bill, Christie toughened up. There was no way she was going to let me pay her half. I liked that. Not because I didn't want to pay—I tried my best—but because I recognized that here was someone who wanted things on her terms. She was her own woman, and that's how she's stayed.
She was also great company; she was intelligent and feisty, and we started going out all the time. Despite my initial determination not to get too involved (some might say this had become my modus operandi), I realized that Christie and I had something good going on. Pretty soon we were serious and it was becoming ever more obvious that life without her no longer seemed so attractive.
It took less than a year for me to reach the decision that this was the girl I was going to marry. Marry, that was, if she'd have me, and I wasn't completely sure she would yet. I planned my proposal carefully. It was December and we'd arranged to go to brunch. I'd booked a lovely outdoor restaurant that was sited on a clifftop; the balcony overlooked a large expanse of water, and the whole setting was pretty romantic. It was classy too—the kind of place that gives you a bowl of mixed berries to nibble on while you sip your drinks and decide what to order. Christie had no idea what I'd planned to do over brunch, and the ring was burning a hole in my pocket; I couldn't remember the last time I'd been so nervous, and I knew I'd have no appetite till I'd popped the question. I was getting more antsy by the second. Hell, this was something I had never done in my entire life, and I couldn't stop rehearsing the words in my head. Will you marry me?… Would you like to marry me?… Would you consider being my wife?… I just couldn't seem to settle on the right words. It was almost like a job interview—really stressful.
As it turned out, there was a short wait while they got our table ready, so they sat us in this area with a fabulous view. It was private, too, with only one other couple waiting near us, and they'd been seated quite a ways away.
"Your menu, madam?" said a waiter, handing her this big leather-bound tome. "And yours, sir?" he added, giving me mine.
Decided, I put mine on my lap. My hands were getting sweaty, I noticed. Crazy… Christie had already opened her menu and started looking at it. Then she stopped, and peered over the top of it at me.
"You okay, Dave?" she asked. "You seem really uptight today."
"That's because I am," I said, pretty much bursting with the weight of it. How'd this happen? I was a man nearly in my forties, for goodness' sake. She frowned then too, and put down her menu as well.
"So," she said, looking a bit concerned now. "What's up?"
"Um," I said, rummaging in my pocket for the ring box.
Christie blinked at me, waiting, then said, "Well?"
The waiter was approaching, so I guessed our table must be ready. My timing, it seemed, was pretty lousy.
"Um," I said again (or, to be accurate, "um" was what came out). "Christie, would you like to be my wife?"
"Oh!" she said, blinking some more. "Oh, now I get it! For a minute there, you were starting to have me worried."
"So is that a yes?" I said, finally wrestling the box from my jacket.
"Your table's ready now, sir," said the waiter.
She kept me waiting, of course—right until we were seated at the table, when she finally put me out of my misery by leaning across and mouthing the word "yes." The ring was the right size, and lunch was pretty good too.
We were married in September 2005.
Getting away from LA and back to my hometown seemed a natural extension to our starting our new life together. And, for Christie at least, getting a dog was part of this. So while I searched for the perfect house for us, she searched for a perfect pet. She'd started poring over the small ads in the papers even before we'd begun packing up.
She had her heart set on getting something big. There were numerous breeds on her short list initially, including Rhodesian Ridgebacks and Labrador retrievers, but there was something about Great Danes and Weimaraners we both liked, so the choice narrowed down pretty quickly. She'd done plenty of research on the Internet too, and eventually we settled on a Dane. Apparently, if it was a large breed you were after, a Great Dane was the best dog to go for. They fit the bill perfectly as family pets, being quiet, shambling dogs who didn't bark a lot and weren't prone to tearing a house apart. They also, and I was particularly pleased to hear this, didn't have a tendency to chew up your prized possessions or shed hair all over the furniture. But, like many breeds of pedigree dog, they were also pretty hard to track down. Even with the amount of time she'd committed to doing so, by the time we'd moved to Tucson, Christie still hadn't found a puppy.
I wasn't too stressed about this myself. We'd moved into an apartment while we were searching for a house—a small two-bedroom, two-bathroom place, where I could set up the second bedroom as an office. It was pretty, with half the rooms looking out over a small courtyard, but it was also a bit cramped, and it seemed sensible to me to wait until we'd found a house to get our puppy. Quite apart from the unsuitability of keeping a dog in an apartment, there was also the small matter of the terms of our lease—we were not allowed to keep a dog in our apartment.
Christie, however, had other ideas, and dismissed my natural concerns about this little detail. She wanted to get her pet now—right away—perhaps because it was just in her nature to be impetuous, or perhaps because she worried that if she left it too long I might mount a rearguard action and change my mind. But there weren't any Great Dane puppies in Tucson, or in Phoenix. In fact, it didn't look like there were any in the whole state of Arizona.
One of the reasons for the shortage was timing: you had to find puppies that were old enough to leave their mothers, and this was clearly not a peak time of year. The other was a product of the pedigree dog business. Many breeders were pretty reluctant—quite rightly, I guess—to let their puppies go without attaching a set of conditions about the people they went to and their background, and what was going to happen next. Because of this, some already had long waiting lists for pups, some required references about your previous dog history, and some insisted on things such as committing to the show circuit and training your puppy in a very specific way—to walk on your left at all times, as they did in show rings, for example. Some would expect you to commit either to allowing your dog to breed and/or to letting the breeder have first pick of any next-generation pups. It was as though they retained control of them. But we didn't want these sorts of strings attached to our pup—all we wanted was a family pet.
Eventually our sights drifted farther afield—back to California, and to an ad Christie spotted that had been placed online in the LA Times. It was early January by now, and it had been placed by a breeder based in Oregon.
"Phone them," instructed Christie, when she left for work that morning. "I have a good feeling about this one. And we must be quick, or else we'll miss the boat again."
As we still didn't have even a sniff of a suitable house, I wasn't worried about missing any boats, of course. But I also knew better than not to call the woman, not when Christie had that telltale gleam in her eye.
"The parents are real big," the woman told me, once I'd got through and told her I was interested. "The mom is one hundred and sixty pounds, and the dad is two hundred."
And in an incredible feat of not really listening to what she was telling me (Why did that even matter? Great Danes were big dogs, weren't they?), I took this in and then completely forgot about it, as I was more interested in jotting down all the other stuff she was telling me about which of the pups were still available for sale.
"Tell you what," she said, "why don't I e-mail you a picture of them all, then you and your wife can decide which one might be suitable for you?"
Christie was understandably excited when she came home from work, particularly when she learned that the puppies were ready to leave their mother (they'd been born on November 17), and even more so when she looked at the picture. It was a real sight—a chaotic jumble of paws and snouts and tails. There were thirteen in the litter altogether. Twelve of these were entangled with one another, as young puppies tend to be, but our eyes were immediately drawn to one pup who was standing apart from the rest. He seemed the runt of the siblings, the outsider in the family, and that endeared him to Christie immediately.
He was also the perfect color. Pedigree Great Danes come in a number of shades and patterns, and the different types of marking make a real difference in the show world. There are harlequins and brindles, merles and mantles, and then the pure colors, like black and fawn and blue. If your Great Dane is a pure color, there must be no other color fur on it anywhere. None of this mattered to me in the least. A puppy was a puppy was a puppy to my mind. But to Christie, being a girl (though I wasn't stupid enough to say that), color did matter. She had her heart set on a blue one.
Happily, our little outsider was just that. In fact, he was blue as blue could be. His fur was almost the exact same steely blue as his eyes, and he had no white on him at all, which was very rare.
"Oh, Dave," she cooed. "Look at that one! That one's sooo cute! Let's see if she can send a bigger picture."
The woman kindly obliged, sending a whole stream of photos, and she confirmed that the one we'd picked, which she called "the cute runt," was one of the six puppies left for sale. It seemed like an omen and we made arrangements right away for her to ship the puppy from Oregon to Phoenix by air.
On the road trip up from Tucson to Phoenix—a journey of some two hours—Christie was pretty excited, and I knew, despite my initial reluctance to become a dog owner, that this had been the right thing to do. The only nagging doubt was about the timing, as I also knew that, because of our respective jobs, the day-to-day business of looking after our new pet would be a burden that would mostly fall on me.
Christie worked as a sales executive for a big medical equipment company, which meant she spent a lot of time on the road, visiting clients. It wasn't the sort of situation that worked well with a puppy, since there was no way she could take him along with her. I, on the other hand, worked for myself. I was a real estate agent, buying and fixing up houses for rental, which meant I was my own boss and could do what I liked—well, at least within reason I could do what I liked. I knew Christie figured that me taking a puppy to work came under the banner of "hey, no big deal." Personally, I wasn't so sure about that, but this was the plan we'd agreed on, this puppy, and I knew my wife couldn't wait to meet him. It would be just fine, I told myself, as we made our way north to pick up the newest member of our little family.
"So," said Christie, as we headed up the interstate. "What are we going to name this pup of ours?"
What to name him wasn't something I'd given a whole lot of thought to. I was much more concerned with what we were going to do with him than with naming him. But she was excited and I knew I had to make an effort to be too. "I dunno," I said, trying to think on the hoof. "How about something like… um… Biggie?"
She laughed out loud at this—real loud. "Biggie?" she spluttered. "What kind of a mad name is that?" She shook her head. She seemed to find my suggestion funny.
I didn't think I'd ever fully understand women and their foibles. What the hell was wrong with Biggie for a dog? "It's a good name!" I countered, though, in truth, it really wasn't. I imagined calling it in a park: "C'mon, Biggie! Biggie, here!" Nope. Biggie sucked.
"He'll be big," I added anyway. "You know. He's gonna be a big dog. So we call him Biggie. What's wrong with that? It's logical, isn't it? C'mon. It is! Or, I don't know, Fido, or Pluto? Or… hell, I don't know!"
She laughed again. "Pluto? Come on, hon. No. I think he should have a man's name. I like dogs with men's names."
She'd clearly decided already, I realized. "What?" I asked her. "You mean something like Richard?"
She pulled a face. "No, stupid. Something more… you know. More…" She paused. "I know!" she said finally. "How about George?"
"Yes. George is a cool name. You like George?"
I tried the park-calling thing again. It worked way, way better. "George! C'mon here, George!" Yep, I thought. George I could do. "Okay," I said. "Suits me. We'll name him George, then, shall we?"
"Yes," agreed Christie. "I think George is perfect—as long as he looks like a George when we see him."
I wasn't sure quite what set of features would indicate this, but I knew better than to waste time trying to figure it out. "Fine," I said. "If he looks like a George, then that's what we'll name him."
And at no point did either of us think—hand on heart—about how easily you could prefix that with Giant…
We'd been given a bunch of instructions for what we had to do when we arrived at the airport in Phoenix. We had to go and pick him up, apparently, from some special zone where they offload and deal with all the freight.
Once we'd found the right desk and explained what we'd come for, we were escorted through many doors and along several corridors, heading right into the bowels of the airport, to a strange silent area we'd never seen before. It was here, along with a woman who was picking up a cat, that we waited for the luggage cart to arrive that would be carrying the seven-week-old puppy.
The woman explained to us that she was waiting for her new pet, who was being flown in from LA, and that cats were also a big part of her working life.
"I own a pet modeling agency in Phoenix," she told us, "so I tend to be down here quite a lot."
"Wow," Christie said. "That sounds like an interesting occupation. What kinds of animals do you represent?"
"Oh, all sorts… dogs, cats, the odd reptile here and there… What are you two picking up today? A cat too?"
Christie shook her head. "Our new puppy," she answered. "A Great Dane."
"Oh, good choice. I've got a couple on my books. Magnificent animals. And if he ever fancies strutting his stuff at any time, here—" She plucked a small card from her bag. "And, oh, here they are!" she added, looking beyond us. "Arrived safe and sound. Aww… so cute!"
Her crate was handed over first, with ours right behind it, but all we could see at first was a stuffed animal, a rubber bone and two dishes, one of food and one of water. But then, behind all that, cowering on a crumpled gray blanket, was the puppy we'd decided to make ours. Christie opened the crate door and reached in to lift him out. He was just seventeen pounds and clearly terrified. What a journey it must have been for such a tiny animal! How must it have been for him, not only to have left his mother but then to be stuffed into a crate and put in the hold of an aircraft? We figured they must have heat—at that altitude, the animals would surely die if they didn't—but even so, it must have been one hell of an ordeal for him, all alone up there, probably in the dark.
He was no more than a tiny trembling ball of peach-fuzz blue fur, with four comically large paws at each corner. It must have been almost like a second birth, of sorts. Blinking in the harsh glare of the fluorescent airport lighting, he teetered to a standing position on our outstretched hands and moved his head slowly from side to side, taking in the wonder of it all. Then, finally, as if having weighed us up and finding us okay, he tentatively snouted forward and gave Christie her first lick. We agreed he was the cutest little thing either of us had ever seen.
And he was ours now. "So," I asked Christie, as she cooed at him and petted him, "what's the verdict? Does he look like a George?"
She paused in her stroking and considered him for a moment, tilting her head to one side. "Hmm," she said thoughtfully. "I need to look carefully. Let me see, now…" The puppy looked back at her, bewildered.
"You know what?" she said finally. "He does. He really does." So that was that. George he would be.
We topped up his water bowl and placed him back in his crate for the long journey home, but not before the woman, who'd just done the same with her new kitten, had a chance to have a quick stroke as well.
"He's gorgeous," she agreed with us. "Absolutely gorgeous. And I tell you what," she added, "big paws."
Naturally, this didn't mean a lot to us. All we could see was this cute little puppy. Who knew that one day he'd be doing what she'd suggested—strutting his stuff for the whole world to see? Right now he just looked plain old bewildered.
Once we got back to the car, Christie changed her mind about George traveling home in the crate on the backseat. She decided he'd probably had enough of being stuck in a tiny box, and would much prefer to sit up front with his new mom.
"I'll travel with him on my lap," she announced, and that was exactly what she did. She pulled him out of the crate again, cooing at him all the time and stroking him really gently, and soon his trembling began to stop. In fact, by the time we had reached the outskirts of Phoenix, he'd evidently started feeling so at home with his new mom that he decided to mark his territory.
"Guess what," Christie said, as we reached the big highway, "little George here appears to have peed in my lap."
We both laughed, of course, because, well, it was pretty funny. But I also couldn't stop myself from thinking, "Here we go…" Everything that had worried me about becoming a dog owner would now, quite possibly, come true.
I didn't say that, though, because I didn't want to be a killjoy. Two were now three. We were committed.
Things That Go "Bark" in the Night
It's one thing to cheerfully adopt a good-guy, wife-pleasing persona, but quite another to actually live it. Much as I had committed to this novel idea of being responsible for the welfare of a small dependent being, maybe I hadn't properly thought through the small print. We returned to our apartment with our seventeen-pound puppy, and it soon became obvious that the reality of having him would require a heck of a lot more from me than the set of good intentions I'd committed to.
Right off the bat, it became clear that an unbroken night's sleep was something we could wave goodbye to. Like many a control freak before me, I suspect, I had a set of rules loosely in place. The first of these—and it wasn't at all unreasonable, I thought—was that George would sleep in his crate in the kitchen. He was a dog, after all, not a baby.
"What seems like a gimmicky idea for a book-life with the world's tallest dog (with a Guinness Book of World Records certificate to prove it)-turns out to be an engaging, humorous read...But rather than the rambles of an obsessed owner, the book is a well-plotted and compelling story, which takes us into the Nasser family dynamic: when Dave and Christie start trying for a baby, they encounter heartbreak. Startlingly honest and well-written, Giant George's story stands apart from the slew of other dog books on the shelves." --Publisher's Weekly
"He may not be Rin Tin Tin, but George has one enormous claim to fame: at nearly five feet tall, seven feet long, and 245 pounds, this Great Dane holds the Guinness World Record not simply for Tallest Living Dog but Tallest Dog Ever. With Oprah appearances, 75,000 Facebook fans, and over 2.6 million hits on his YouTube videos, George is big on followers, too. And he's a sweetheart. Buy for all those dog fans-we're legion." --Library Journal
- On Sale
- Apr 10, 2012
- Page Count
- 272 pages
- Grand Central Life & Style