Monday, March 28, 2011

Freak Week II: Great Danes.

First of all...


Seriously, Monster Monster, you have inspired me SO much, especially recently. Without you, my life would not even have direction. Freak Week is for you. A whole fantasy universe is for you. The one thing I will not do for you is get a Facebook. If you see this, let me know. Happy birthday!

That said, it seems like not many people have noticed the two Harlequin Great Danes appearing in several of Lady Gaga's videos. Prior to "Born This Way," almost all of Gaga's videos (with the exceptions of "Alejandro," "Just Dance," and "Beautiful, Dirty, Rich") had at least one Great Dane somewhere. Their names were Lava and Rumpus; Rumpus died in October of 2009. They are not technically Gaga's dogs and truly belong to this California breeder. Lava and Rumpus were most obvious in the videos for "Poker Face" and "Telephone" (in which Lava unfortunately gets poisoned along with the rest of the diner).

Fame: It lets one kill puppies and still be A-OK.

Lady Gaga has since changed her mascot to a unicorn. Nothing wrong with that; it's just harder to write an entry on (although the okapi and narwhal entries have some things to say about unicorns). Animals in show business are so underrated, especially when they're odd like Danes. 

Great Danes are an excellent example of exactly how versatile the canine genome is. At first glance, one would never expect that a Great Dane and a Chihuahua could be the same species; it was just luck of the draw that dogs were so versatile. There are an endless amount of mutations to play with in Canis lupus familiaris that took millennia of breeding to flesh out. One of those was, of course, for size.

Great Danes are big. The longest on record is 7.2 feet from head to tail and 3.5 feet (slightly over a meter) at the withers (shoulder height). These dimensions do not really convey how big Great Danes are. We could swap numbers all day, but there is nothing like being in the same room with a dog as big as a pony. Figures do not properly convey how big that is.

Danes are large working dogs, but have also been bred for a regal, elegant appearance and a docile temperament. They are excellent with people and other pets alike. Attacks from this breed are very rare. This has loaned them the nickname "the Apollo of all breeds"- in short, a dog so magnificent that it can be compared to the divine.

Even the divine need flaws, and the Great Dane has them in spades. They have been bred so extensively for size that, like many large dog breeds, they have a tendency towards a nasty stomach disease called gastric dilatation vulvosis (GDV). In GDV, the stomach twists upon itself; this warrants immediate surgery. The usual prescription for preventing this in Danes is to tack the stomach onto the right side of the abdominal wall. No wonder the little puppy above looks so sad.

GDV is just the tip of the iceberg. Danes also have a history of heart conditions which have no reliable prevention method. This barrage of problems leads to a shorter lifespan in Danes than other dogs - approx 6.5-7 years. The name "Heartbreak breed" is more than apt. Poor Rumpus probably got killed off by one of the many breed disorders associated with being a Dane.

By the way, Danes have naturally floppy ears...and usually aren't this white.

Gaga's Harlequin Danes have one more problem to add to the list: Every white dog breed in existence is prone to deafness and poor eyesight. Melanin (black pigment) does a lot in mammals. Parts without black pigment, specifically the ears and eyes, are prone to burning and generally not functioning well. Mammalian ears need melanin to hear properly. If a dog is white around the ears or eyes, it may be deaf, blind, or both. It is strange to hear a deaf dog bark.

Despite all their heritable issues, Danes have left their pawprint on popular culture. Comic dog Marmaduke is a Great Dane. So is the ever-lovable Scooby-Doo. The Hound of the Baskervilles has always been a Great Dane in films. Gaga's dogs are in very good company; it's such a shame that her unicorn invokes images of My Little Pony, Lisa Frank, and CHAARRRLLIIIEEEE.

Tomorrow: Is this dog on steroids? Part of a Russian army experiment to make the world's strongest dog? The answer to both is "no."

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