Life with Suzzane Kelleher-Duckett's dogs has required a few adjustments. Getting rid of the coffee table, for one.
Stashing things in the microwave or on top of the refrigerator if she wants to keep them out of the dogs' reach, since they can easily grab items off the counter and stove. Buying a minivan — and taking out the middle seat so they can fit.
But after 16 years of owning Great Danes, Kelleher-Duckett wouldn't live without one.
"As big as they are, they love that big," the Santa Clarita, Calif.-based breeder said Tuesday as one of her two Danes, a 3-year-old, 134-pound female named Vendetta who's 34 inches tall at the shoulder, eyed her owner's sandwich after the breed's competition at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show.
Whatever dog wins America's most prestigious canine competition, giant breeds can't help but make a big impression on spectators who snap pictures of small children reaching up to pet huge dogs and ping the owners with queries: How much does he weigh? How much does she eat? What's it like to live with one?
Here's what it's like for Chris Boltrek and Ashley Erlitz, who share their Sound Beach, N.Y., home with Huxley, a 190-pound mastiff who's nearly 2. He plays with tree branches, not sticks, and with balls designed as horse toys.
He eats 10 to 12 cups of food a day, he may get spit on the walls if he shakes his head, and he outweighed the petite Erlitz when he was 9 months old and has knocked her over on walks a few times.
Take the imposing-looking mastiff on a walk, and "either people gravitate toward him because of the anomaly of a large dog or otherwise they walk on the other side of the street," Boltrek said as Huxley lazed in his grooming area, accepting pets from passers-by, after his breed's contest.
But for all the challenges — which can include health considerations — particular to massive dogs, their owners say they're drawn to animals that can inspire both awe and awwwww.
The Irish wolfhound is considered the tallest among the 175 breeds currently recognized by the American Kennel Club, but the lanky hound isn't necessarily the heaviest breed. (The Guinness World Record for the individual world's tallest dog belongs, at the moment, to a Michigan-dwelling great Dane named Zeus, who measures 44 inches from foot to shoulder — and 7-foot-4 when he stands on his hind legs.)
A Scottish deerhound, a breed somewhat similar to the Irish wolfhound, won at Westminster in 2011. The diminutive Pekingese was top dog last year.
Lynne Hamilton would be the first to admit that good dogs can come in small packages. Her pets include a miniature dachshund and two medium-sized dogs, a smooth fox terrier and a springer spaniel.
But the moment she saw a college roommate's Newfoundland, "I fell in love with the big breed," said Hamilton, who has since owned Newfoundlands for 32 years. Her latest, 2-year-old Ares, was in his breed's competition at Westminster on Tuesday.
Caring for the 130-pound, heavy-coated Ares involves dealing with "lots of hair, lots of slobber" and keeping her Enola, Pa., home at 58 degrees year-round, she said, "because you don't want that panting in your face."
Many dog breeds, big and small, are susceptible to certain health problems. Giant breeds can be prone to orthopedic troubles, heart problems and what's known as bloat, a dangerous stomach condition. And in general, smaller dogs tend to live longer than huge ones.
Also, temperament and training are perhaps even bigger priorities for giant dogs than others because the big breeds' size and appearance can be off-putting if they're not well-behaved.
"You want to be able to look them in the face and have it be inviting," said dog handler Melody Salmi, who showed the St. Bernard best-of-breed winner, Aristocrat (or, formally, Jamelle's Aristocrat V Elba), Tuesday at Westminster. He's owned by Linda and Edward Baker of Hopewell, N.J.
Afterward, Aristocrat snoozed placidly in his crate.
Oftentimes, "I sell a puppy to people, and they say, 'Oh, it's so big,'" said Aristocrat's breeder, Michele Mulligan of Diamond Bar, Calif. But a year later, the same owners will say fondly, "They're not so big," she said.
"They just grow on you."
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