Category Archives: Great Dane


Lovey eyes his nemesis with trepidation. Notice her sock.

Lovey eyes his nemesis with trepidation.  Frances guards a purloined sock.

As I narrated in my blog post Crocapuppy , my parents brought home a Great Dane puppy when my brother and I were teenagers, thereby providing our vituperative cocker spaniel Frances with an object towards which she could in perpetuity vent her already considerable spleen. You’ve heard of love objects; Lovey was a hate object. So long as Frances lived, she waged a merciless Reign of Terror against Lovey, restricting his movements by physically blocking his access to this set of stairs or that room and controlling him with a potent and baleful stare that clearly mesmerized him. One of my most vivid memories of those years was of Lovey, who stood 6’5” on his hind legs and weighed in at over two hundred pounds, tearing through the house, ears flattened, tail between his legs, with rotund little Frances barreling along in hot pursuit, snarling and snapping at his heels.

George Booth's great cartoon

George Booth’s great cartoon was a favorite in our house.

Mom was fond of observing, “Life was more genteel before the dogs.” This might have been true, had there ever been an epoch in our household which could have been described as, “Before the Dogs.” The addition of a gargantuan dog to the mix, however, raised the dearth of gentility to a whole new level.

When we ate dinner, Lovey would sit beside my mother, his muzzle poised about two inches above the table, drooling. Anyone familiar with Great Danes will know that their capacity to drool is staggering. A pool of saliva would start to form on the table; this would gradually increase both in volume and in reach, wobbling, viscous and oozing. At some point one of us would be dispatched to the kitchen to retrieve a towel with which to mop up the drool and Lovey would be ordered to lie down. This he would do, his enormous front paws inevitably protruding just a fraction into the area beneath the table – Crocapuppy territory. At this rash intrusion into her domain, Frances would spring into frenzied action, lunging and randomly snapping – more than one ankle was bitten in these nightly frays. At length  Lovey would retreat a few feet and Frances, the enemy repelled,  her borders once again secured, would subside back into a seething heap of grrr-ing menace.

The Urban Dictionary defines the verb “snorfel” as “the act of holding someone close and inhaling their scent at the base of their neck;” it dates the word’s usage to 2009. In this, the Urban Dictionary is mistaken. My mother used that word at least as far back as 1970 to describe the way a dog greets you when it sticks his or her face in yours and performs some perfervid combination of sniffing, snuffling, snorting and mush wiping. Lovey was a master snorfeller; he just stuck his big old jowly face in yours and had at it. For all the years that he and I shared my parents’ home, Lovey snorfelled me awake. “Go wake up Sister,” my father would say. Moments later, Lovey would poke his nose through the crack in my bedroom door, lope over to my bed, stick his face in mine and snorfel me into consciousness. People who live in horror of dog germs will find this alarming, but we survived, some of us to a very great age, and counted ourselves lucky that Lovey had not proved a licker, given the Slobber Factor.



Out back of our house was a fenced in area for the dogs to do their business in. During Frances’ solo turn, it had remained a pleasant enough idyll, with a ground cover of grass and ivy and several mature camellia bushes that were beautiful in bloom.

Then Lovey arrived on the scene.

Dad regularly brought home bones from the butcher for Lovey. By bones I mean, leg bones. Of cows. These large bones required large holes in which to be buried; Lovey provided those holes; he also uprooted all the camellia bushes and ran around the back yard with their trunks clamped in his jaws while the rest of us shouted, “No! Lovey!  Stop!” Soon the enclosed area began to resemble a cross between the trenches of World War One and the lair of a serial killer — muddy and pitted and strewn with femurs. My father, ever one to look on the bright side, reckoned this a deterrent to crime. “Somebody would think twice about breaking into a house with a back yard that looks like this!”

Lovey in repose

Lovey in repose

There comes a point in every dog’s life when it must take pills and that point for Lovey coincided with the time I left Chapel Hill for graduate school in Toronto. When I returned home for Christmas, I went to my closet to don a pair of pinkies I had left there – these were the fuzzy pink slippers that were my mother and my preferred footwear – only to find a hard lump of something peculiar wedged into the toe end of each slipper. I shook the slippers and two lumps of hardened, congealed dog pills fell to the floor. After some deliberation, we realized that Lovey had only pretended to swallow the pills my father doled out to him, then sneaked into my bedroom and spat them into my pinkies, where, over the course of my absence, they had accreted into their present iteration. This sleight of mouth on Lovey’s part gave me new respect for the Great Dane, who had never struck me as but so bright. Clearly Crocapuppy’s lessons in guile had not gone entirely unheeded.

I always said that I didn’t want to be within a one hundred mile radius of Chapel Hill when Lovey died. I couldn’t bear to witness my parents’ terrible grief. As it turned out, I was in Toronto when he passed and my parents’ grief was indeed terrible … until the following day when they went out and bought another Great Dane, black this time and named Tennessee’s Waltz.

And with that, a whole new era commenced, the chronicle of my family being divided into epochs not by the ascension of Presidents to office  or  kings to thrones, but by a succession of dogs.


My brother Peter and Frances

My brother Peter and Frances

My family had a rule: the time between dogs should be as short as humanly possible.  No sooner had Ughy, our beloved seventeen year old cocker spaniel, shuffled off this mortal coil than his replacement was locked down. And by “no sooner” I mean that same day.  I’m not sure whether the new puppy was on Mom and Dad’s radar or whether, immediately upon  Ughy’s demise, they rushed out into the street, crying, “A puppy!  Dear God!  Let there be a puppy!” I rather suspect the latter, given how ill advised the choice of Fancy, a.k.a, Frances, a.k.a. Crocapuppy, turned out to be.

To say that Frances was overbred would be an understatement. Frances was the product of incest. A lot of incest.   She was a parti-colored cocker spaniel, meaning that her coat was two colors, buff and white.  The breeders were aiming for a completely white cocker spaniel, so kept mating the lightest male in a litter to the lightest female, which, as often as not, turned out to be his mother.  And this had been going on for generations before Frances wobbled balefully onto the scene.

Whenever you bent down to pet Frances, she was so overcome with excitement that she promptly fell to the ground, rolled onto her back and  proceeded to pee all over her stomach, resulting in chronic and piteous eczema of her nether regions.  This unfortunate propensity, however, was the only evidence of submissive behavior that Frances served up over the course of her life.  The rest of the time, she was just an ornery old mess.

Frances was a hoarder. Her specialty was socks.  She would filch them from our respective dirty clothes hampers and add them to an ever-growing heap in the little hall that separated the dining room from Dad’s study.  There she would guard them until, as my mother used to say,   dark circles would start to form under her eyes and someone would have to go in and save her from herself, not to mention the socks.



This was all made more complicated by the fact that Mom and I used to give Frances our hand-me-down pinkies. Pinkies were those fuzzy pink slippers popular in the sixties and Mother and I both wore them.  Frances would sashay around the house, exuding innocence, the pinkie of the moment clamped between her jaws.  No sooner had she had lulled us into complacency, however, than she would raid the dirty clothes hampers of the house, cramming the purloined socks down in the depths of the pinkie, and make a beeline for the Hall of Socks.  For years after her death, my brother Peter and I would catch ourselves hesitating on the threshold of that narrow passageway, the image of an obsessed and furious  Crocapuppy  lodged in our memory like a tooth. Eventually all of Frances’s pinkies went to the dark side and we would have to wrest the offending slipper from her and bury it in the back yard.   Which was OK.  There were always more pinkies where that came from.

Like any respectable dog, Frances was voracious. She was also bold.  One night my parents were hosting a cast party for a production of The Boys in the Band, which centers around a birthday party. In keeping with the birthday theme, someone had contributed to the feast a large sheet cake complete with many small candles.  Since this was a drinking party, however, the cake had few takers . . . until Frances jumped up on a dining room chair, then onto the table itself, and proceeded to hoover the entire cake down, candles and all, before anyone could rouse him or herself to action.  Then she proceeded to throw up the entire cake, complete with intact candles, while madly sprinting around the entire house.

Frances had many enemies, most of whom were dogs eerily resembling herself who hid out in mirrors and in the panes of glass in French doors. These she would attack with vigor on a regular basis, hurling herself repeatedly against them.   Our house had two double sets of French doors and two single French doors.  They kept her pretty busy.



Her arch enemy, however, her very nemesis arrived on the scene the day my mother and father unexpectedly brought home a Great Dane puppy named Lovey.   Mom had a notion that, because Frances was a female and Lovey was a puppy, she might feel motherly towards the interloper.  In this she was sadly mistaken. Frances loathed Lovey from the moment she laid eyes upon him.  And it didn’t matter that she was a lowly and rather overweight cocker spaniel and he grew up to stand 6’5” on his hind legs.   First impressions count, especially with dogs; Lovey was terrified of Frances her entire life.      Whenever he wanted to go upstairs, Frances would lie on the lower landing and look baleful.  (There was no dog that could do baleful like Frances.)  Lovey would hesitate, dancing on the spot, his claws clicking against the floor, then tentatively take a step or two towards the stairs.  Frances’s lips would quiver and then slowly draw back to reveal her teeth.  She would growl. Lovey would retreat in confusion.  This would go on until Mom would cry out, “Frances!  For Heaven’s sake! Let Lovey go upstairs!” At which point Frances would grudgingly rise and insolently trundle downstairs, giving Lovey a look in passing that clearly meant, “I’ll deal with you later.”

My brother and I felt sorry for Frances.  She had not been enough dog for my parents and so they had supplanted her with Lovey.  When I went looking for photos of Frances for this post, there were precious few.  Of course, once Peter and I were teenagers, there were precious few of us either.  There were, however, dozens and dozens of photos of Lovey – Lovey with his ears taped, Lovey lying on his back in inadvertently lewd  postures, Lovey sprawled upon my parents bed, which he shared with them,  Lovey standing with his front paws on Dad’s shoulders.  If strangers were to look at my parents’ photo albums, they might be forgiven for thinking that this couple had two adorable children who, just before puberty, were tragically killed in a car accident along with their cocker spaniel, after which point the couple got a Great Dane puppy upon whom, going forward, they focused all their attention and affection.  Peter and I agreed that, if Mom and Dad were going to neglect Frances, we ought to try and brush her more and take her out for walks.

But, of course, we were teenagers so that never happened.

Frances died when I was away in graduate school. Dad woke one morning to find that she had gone in her sleep.   I don’t know where she was in the house when she died.  In my mind, it was not in my parents’ bedroom, but in some more remote part of the house, alone, perhaps in the Hall of Socks.  She did not live nearly as long as the venerable Ughy had – eleven to his seventeen years — but neither was she as loved as he was.

RIP, Crocapuppy.