Viva la Vida

11th May, 2018

Written by Gwendeline Oosthuizen

Professional photography by Shuttermutts Pet Photography

We love Great Danes and their nature and, so, my husband and I decided we wanted to help foster them.

We chose to go about this through Monique Burrows from Great Dane Rescuer, a non-profit organisation. We filled in all the necessary documentation, Monique came to do the home check – and then we waited for our foster.

Used as a breeding machine

Not long after, Monique phoned to ask if we’d be willing to foster a Great Dane that she’d just rescued from a township. We said yes, not knowing what awaited us…

It was the 7th of June, 2017, the same day that Cape Town went into shut-down mode for the biggest storm in many years. As the rain poured down outside, Monique arrived with Vida, the saddest sight I have ever seen… The big black-and-white dog was unbelievably thin and could barely even walk; she was in such bad shape that you wouldn’t have said she was a Great Dane. My heart shattered into a thousand pieces.

They’d abused this poor girl, using her as a “breeding machine” with Rottweilers, and neglecting her.

She was so ashamed, she could barely even look at anyone; her face was permanently looking at the ground and her tail was hidden deep between her legs. She’d even try and hide herself in a corner. She had shut down.

Her condition was so bad that Monique had considered putting her to sleep but decided to give her another chance at life, not knowing if she could even recover from her ordeal.

You are safe now

We took things very slowly with her. On arrival we gave her a nice, warm bath; it was so sad to see how neglected she was – the bath water was almost black and full of dead fleas and ticks (Monique had treated her beforehand). When she was dry, we put her on her bed and I spent some time with her, giving her love, and all I could tell her was: “Vida, you are safe now; you are home.”

For the next month she was on medication that we had to give at specific hours of the day; we had to feed her small amounts of food four or five times a day to get her used to it again.

With each day she got a bit better. And every time there was some new improvement, we gave her so much praise and a treat every now and then to encourage her.

It took a while for her to get used to my husband – she was so afraid of him that she used to shy away and avoid him at all costs – but he never gave up trying. Eventually, he won her heart – so much so that, when he arrived home from work, she’d leap up and down as soon as she heard him stop by the gate.

We then decided to adopt her as she’d become such a part of us and we simply couldn’t see her being rehomed after healing. We kept her name Vida as she truly lived up to its meaning: it means “life” in Spanish.

Forever homes

On the first Saturday in February 2018, at 4 o’clock in the morning, we lost our home to a fire.

We managed to get our two children and Vida out and into the car; to this day I still don’t know how my husband managed to squash a Great Dane into my small Hyundai Atos! The main thing was that we all got out safely. (Our cat had run away but was, thankfully, found later.)

All of us then had to live with my parents until we found another home; on the 1st of April 2018 we moved into our new house. And Vida handled it all beautifully.

We’ve decided that, once we’ve settled in completely, we will foster another Great Dane to help give them another chance until they, too, find their forever homes.

Best in show

I saw that Cutie Pie Doggie Parlour was hosting a community dog show on the 21st of March 2018 and any dogs could enter, the fee being donated to animal welfare. We decided to enter Vida because, even though we’d only had her for 10 months, she’d come such a long way; even if she didn’t win, it was for a good cause. We entered her in the Best Rescue and Largest Dog categories.

It was such an amazing experience; for the first time we could see how she reacted to other dogs (she especially loved interacting with the smaller and younger dogs) and, of course, she lapped up all the attention she received from various people.

To our delight, she won third place for Largest Dog and first place for Best Rescue! We were absolutely thrilled because she truly deserved it.

Living the good life

Her journey has been amazing thus far, and it’s such a privilege to be part of it. Our children love her and even our cat has accepted her.

Today she’s become a true Great Dane, proud and gentle. She loves anything with peanut butter and absolutely loves a couch; she’s a real “couch potato” and, although she has her own bed and nice yard space, she prefers to be in the house on our bed, the couch or lounging in front of the TV. She does, however, enjoy going for walks and follows me all over the house, even to the bathroom.

Vida is quite clumsy at times and seems to forget her size, which often gives us a good laugh. We could not imagine our lives without this gentle giant.

We have to give credit to Monique from Great Dane Rescuer as she really goes out of her way to save Great Danes like Vida and rehome them to a well-suited family. I would love to encourage people to donate or adopt from her organisation, as she does it with passion and all the funds go straight to the vet accounts.

Thank you for this opportunity to share her story with you; we really appreciate it.

About Great Dane Rescuer

Great Dane Rescuer works with South African animal shelters and humane societies to protect Great Danes and find life-long homes for these magnificent dogs. They use foster homes for the Danes in their care, encourage their sterilisation, and educate about animal welfare and care.

The dogs in their care come from different backgrounds and go into foster care to be rehabilitated and readied for new homes. No matter where they’re from, Great Dane Rescuer does their utmost to give them the best chance at a better life. 

For more information contact Monique on 076 077 2364, email or follow them on Facebook