WHAT MADE MARIAN SUCH A GREAT DANE?

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S. Bollini

Most dog guides will tell you that a Great Dane’s life span is eight to 10 years, since molossoids generally have shorter lives than other breeds, and big dogs don’t live as long as some of their smaller cousins.

Fortunately for Marian and her devoted owner, Stefania B., there are always exceptions to the rule. Marian, a striking harlequin, may not have surpassed the longevity record for Great Danes worldwide (a documented 16 years), but she may be the record-holder in her native Italy. When she died, she was 14 years, five months and 13 days old, an honorable age for any breed and an almost unheard-of age for Danes.

How did she do it?

Marian was born on February 19, 1994, in Legnano, Italy, in a 4th floor apartment that also housed a Persian cat, a talking bird, and two small mixed breed dogs. She was one of a litter of eight puppies born to Cristina and Ivan, Great Danes with noteworthy longevity genes. This was their only litter.

{Cristina eventually died at the age of 13. Family members say Ivan searched for her the first day, whimpered the second day, and was found dead the third day. He had been with his mate for 12 years and his owners decided he had died of a broken heart.}

Marian was first placed in a local home when she was a couple of months old, but was returned after a few days because the family hadn’t understood the work involved in taking care of a puppy. Then she was sold to a young man named Paolo D., a student from Brindisi in Southern Italy who was attending university in the North. He had always wanted a Great Dane because to him the breed represented class, refinement, aristocracy. He spent almost 40 solid days with Marian to train her. He was living with two other students; they conceded him the only double bed in the apartment because Marian slept with him.

Meanwhile, Stefania, a successful young businesswoman who sells accessories at street markets in the area, had received a male Great Dane one-year-old as a present in 1993. His name was Pluto and he was a striking black male with a white diamond on his chest. She was used to bringing Pluto with her when she worked. He would stay in the cab of the truck or behind the counter where she laid out her merchandise.

One day Paolo brought Marian, then a three-month-old puppy, with him to the Busto Arsizio street market, and she did a huge dump next to Stefania’s stall. Paolo was mortified but Stefania found it funny. That was the beginning of a relationship between the two humans . . . and between the two dogs. Pluto was interested in Marian in part because he had finally a female who wasn’t afraid of his size. She in fact was to become an oversized female, even by Dane standards. At maturity she measured 42 inches at the shoulder and weighed 157 pounds.

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S. Bollini

When Paolo finished his studies in 1995, he prepared to go back to his hometown in the south. He knew he would be returning to his family’s 10th floor apartment in town, and he didn’t think that was the best environment for Marian. By then Marian and Pluto were almost inseparable, and Marian was spending more time at Stefania’s house — with its large fenced yard — than at Paolo’s rental home. Meanwhile, Stefania wasn’t willing to leave her thriving business or the dogs.

Stefania recalls that one day Paolo said to her, “You know, Marian LOVES you.” She didn’t realize at the time what he meant but later she understood: Marian had come to love Stefania more than she loved Paolo. And Marian loved Stefania more than Paolo loved Stefania.

“Marian and I were born under the same zodiac sign, only two days apart,” explains Stefania. “We really understood each other, every nuance of the other’s emotions.”

Neither Pluto nor Marian was fixed, so whenever Marian was in heat, Stefania would make sure they were separated. She would tie them at opposite ends of her bed at night so they couldn’t get too close. But in 1998 she miscalculated on the timing and Marian became pregnant and gave birth to nine puppies. Two died almost immediately but Stefania managed to place the other seven with homes she considered reliable. To all she said, “If you have any problem with this dog, don’t bring it to a shelter. Give it back to me.”

Pluto died suddenly of tick bite fever in January 1999. He was 5 ½ and it was hard for both Stefania and Marian. “I didn’t let Marian smell the body and that was a mistake,” reflects Stefania. “Dogs comprehend death differently from the way we do, and I think it would have helped her to accept the fact that Pluto was not coming back.”

For two months Marian moped and whined and paced and was off her food. Finally, one day Stefania snapped. “I yelled at her and told her to stop acting like she was the only one suffering. I was suffering too but you have to get on with your life. I told her that and something clicked; she started to pull out of her funk.”

S. Bollini

The healing process was helped by the arrival of two of her now-grown children, Cecilia and Miguel. Cecilia’s family had a newborn baby and couldn’t attend to the dog’s needs adequately. Miguel was jostling for attention in a family with three children, a Yorkshire, a cat, several parakeets, and a python, and the exuberant young male Great Dane was now too much for the household.

Cecilia and Miguel accepted Marian as top dog among the animals, and Stefania was alpha overall, so territorial spats were eliminated.

In December, 2006, when Marian was 14, an astounding age for a Great Dane, she began having mobility problems. She lost the use of her rear legs and spent most of her day lounging on a comfortable bed on the floor. Stefania would help her go outside three times a day, then would wash and dry her and reinstate her on her bed. The dog was otherwise so attractive that during this time a local sculptor used her as a model for the head of a Great Dane for a client. The dog still commanded attention; when you entered the room you immediately noticed Marian — not Cecila or Miguel — for her majesty and the intelligence in her eyes. Stefania began looking into the option of wheelchair assistance.

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S. Bollini

Then at the end of July 2007, Stefania noticed pus coming from the dog’s uterus, and a strong unpleasant odor. Marian seemed uncomfortable, though she was still eating. On August 1, 2007, the vet delivered the bad news: pyometra. Euthanasia was advised in light of Marian’s advanced age and immobility, to avoid what could have been a painful death. Stefania agreed with a heavy heart, because the alternative was unthinkable.

She has had many Great Danes since then. Cecilia and Miguel lived into their early teens, astonishing old ages for the breed. Other relatives became national champions and sought-after sires. Some were powerful, some were goofballs, and one or two have been simply stunning canine specimens. Stefania has loved them all and glows when reciting their exploits and accomplishments. But she still can’t talk about Marian without tearing up.

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S. Bollini

Five rules for long life (on two and four legs)

No surprise that what bodes well for human longevity is the same for dogs: 1. good genes

Marian’s dam and sire were both long-lived, so her chances of living a longer-than-usual life for a Great Dane were enhanced.

2. proper nutrition

Stefania had been feeding her male, Pluto, a French premium brand, Royal Canine. Paolo had opted for Hills, a different blend for each stage of Marian’s early life. Stefania decided to stick with Hills for consistency when the two dogs bonded, and she continued with that brand for Marian and her offspring.

3. a daily routine

Stefania had a daily routine for her dogs and she stuck with it regardless of the weather or the demands of her work. The dogs knew what to expect and therefore avoided stress and anxiety in the course of their day.

4. a healthy environment.

Stefania didn’t smoke so none of her dogs was exposed to second-hand smoke. She made sure her home environment was clean, well-ventilated, and comfortable. Since Marian accompanied Stefania to her work at outdoor markets, Stefania made sure that her dog was well-protected from the elements. In the winter Marina would wear old sweaters of Stefania’s cut down to fit her. In the summer Marian would rest in the shade of the outdoor stall, and always had fresh water to drink.

5. consistent social interaction

Not only did Stefania bring Marian with her to work every day, she also brought Marian when she went horseback riding, to restaurants, bars, even a discotheque. Marian went on vacation with her owner (no small thing for a 157-pound dog) and appeared in several local advertising campaigns.

If people had it this good, we’d all live to a ripe old age.

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S. Bollini

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writer, PR professional, mother, dog-lover, traveler. See more at www.paroleanima.com

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