Discovering the Great in a Forlorn Dane

Meet Tyra, rescued dog turned rescuer
By Shirley Zindler, March 2012, Updated July 2016

On what would be a fateful afternoon more than a year ago, a fellow animal control officer received a call for a stray dog in traffic. When he arrived, he found a scrawny, half-grown Great Dane puppy running in terror from everyone who approached. When he finally cornered her, she fought wildly and tried to bite but he was able to get her into his truck.

At the shelter, the dog shrank in fear from everyone. She was about six to eight months old and unable to cope with the slightest challenge. Her behavior probably came from lack of socialization. Dogs who don’t receive critical exposure to a variety of positive experiences during puppyhood have no idea how to deal with anything new. She didn’t know what a leash was and was terrified of everything. She sat through her stray-hold without being claimed and was too freaked out, with the potential to bite, to be adopted.

Something in the dog’s total helplessness and depression spoke to me and I took her home to foster.


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Her coat had a moth-eaten appearance and the vet found that she had mange as well as a respiratory infection. In addition to her other issues, she required daily medications and horrible smelling dips. Getting a freaked-out dog with mile-long legs into the tub for a twice-weekly bath and dip was an experience.

Having fostered and re-homed hundreds of dogs, our family is used to visiting canines but the Dane, whom we named Tyra, was almost completely unresponsive other than fighting the baths. She showed no interest in me, my family or my other pets. I finally got her walking on a leash and she followed me dismally until I stopped and then she would lie down and refuse to move.

We spent a great deal of time coaxing her with treats and gentle handling but she remained traumatized and shutdown. It seemed that, for her, life was just something to be endured. She showed no joy in any of the usual things that dogs like to do. Most dogs want to bond with me within a day or so but the days passed with little progress. It was my husband’s meatballs that finally brought her around to the fact that people could be a good thing. We had offered her a variety of delicious treats with no success but Paul saw her sniffing the air while he was cooking and offered her one. To our surprise, she ate it and asked for more.

I brought Tyra to work with me every day, and the staff offered her endless treats and affection. Gradually, her true personality began to blossom and she came out of her shell. A truly delightful and intelligent Great Dane started prancing through life like she owned the world. Her coat began to shine and she started to gain weight.

Sadly, during the time that we were fostering Tyra, our beloved rescue Doberman, Luci, passed away due to kidney failure. Shelter workers are usually full-up with other peoples’ unwanted pets and our home was no exception. We certainly didn’t need another dog, especially one as big as a donkey, but Tyra worked her magic on us until we couldn’t part with her.

She continues to accompany me to work, curling her huge body up in her bed in the cab of my dog truck. Often her presence helps to coax in loose dogs who are afraid to come to me. She is now one of the happiest, silliest dogs I’ve ever known. She has doubled in size and her joy knows no bounds. She crashes through the house, bashing walls and clearing coffee tables with her ecstatically lashing tail. Tyra makes Golden Retrievers look depressed!

She is still learning and we spend time each day with training and confidence-building exercises. Some very fearful dogs don’t improve to the extent that she has, but every dog can make improvements with patience and work. Fostering is a wonderfully rewarding way to make a difference in the life of a needy animal and it sometimes results in a beloved new family member too.

Shirley Zindler is an animal control officer in Northern California, and has personally fostered and rehomed more than 300 dogs. She has competed in obedience, agility, conformation and lure coursing, and has done pet therapy. Zindler just wrote a book The Secret Lives of Dog Catchers, about her experiences and contributes to Bark’s blog on a regular basis.