It was destiny that she was named Ariot (as in “oh, you’re so funny! What a riot!”). Like all Great Danes born at the Service Dog Project (SDP), Ariot would be trained to assist those who need help navigating everyday life; veterans, those with Parkinson’s Disease, or MS, for instance. But soon after she was born, the caretakers at the “Crazy Acres” Farm realized that this sweet girl was hearing impaired. Every once in a while, a white Dane will be at least partially deaf.* But that hasn’t stopped this big galoot from living and loving her Great Dane best.
Since her job as a service dog was not in the stars, Ariot’s home became the farm itself. She and several other Danes live on the premises permanently. They are all given the affection and attention they deserve. When she was about a year old, Ariot found her own North Star: Farm Manager Grace. “Ariot does not belong to me as much as I belong to her. She chose me rather than me choosing her.”
And their love knows – generally - not many boundaries. “The most endearing thing is her unconditional love for me. She greets me with wagging tale, kisses and sometimes upright hugs. She enjoys riding beside me on the golf cart. She has learned to help clean donkey stalls and helps to put away chickens without chasing them.”
Should any other dog – and there are many, many dogs on the farm – attempt to secure affection from Grace, Ariot is right there, “Oh no,” she seems to be warning. “This is my Mom, you can play with her, but only for a little while.” Then, when she decides their time is up, all 130 Ariot doggy pounds climbs onto Grace’s lap. Well, as much as will fit on her lap! Grace is patient and generous with Ariot. “She’s a loving, protective, goofy girl.”
When she was a year old, Ariot decided that big, soft body pillows would become one of the most wonderful comforts in her world. In fact, if you watch the dogs on the SDP live cameras, http://explore.org/live-cams/player/great-danes-puppy-nursery-cam, you will often see Ariot suckling on a body pillow. While other cushions and blankets are fine, those body pillows are bliss. To watch her open her immense mouth and – nearly inhale - a significant quantity of softness is a sight to behold. The top sides of her limber mouth flop around the pillow where she uses all the apparatus of her jowls to console her soul. Her eyes slip closed; she falls into a slumber as dreams of Grace with Yuppy Puppy Treats dance in her head.
Although one of her retreats is a windowsill in the house where she can watch out upon her Grace’s-land, a fine futon or Barker Bed will work as well. Should she not have her body pillow with her, she will track it down. Ariot has been known to lift, drag, and toss her pillow over indoor dividers, up onto beds, or wherever she might need it.
Recently when Grace took a much-deserved three-week vacation, the “other” Ariot surrogate moms donned a body pillow with Grace’s unlaundered t-shirt. Ariot took that pillow with her nearly everywhere. Finally, f-i-n-a-l-l-y when Grace returned, Ariot was exuberant and took her earned place on Grace’s lap. Secretly, Ariot was fearful that her Grace would never return to her. But JOY!! “You came back to me, Me, ME! I love you, Mom!”
Aside from her affinity for body pillows, Ariot dearly loves her “stuffies.” On Ariot’s first birthday, Grace took extra care and bought a stuffed toy pig. Ariot was – yes, a riot! Limb-by-limb-by-head-by-belly and tail, Ariot delighted in ripping the filling out of this porker gift. “Well, what do you think I was going to do with it?” Ariot peeked out behind the white fluff mask covering her face and looked at Grace as if there was an alternative to having her way with this ham (one might ask "Who's the ham, here?"). When done with her mighty pig present, it appeared that a Massachusetts blizzard had specifically chosen Ariot’s kennel to storm upon; white pig guts were this birthday girl’s happiness.
Because her hearing and sight are compromised, Ariot depends on her nose to follow Grace around the farm. She’ll sometimes ride in the seat next to Grace on the golf cart during chores. As with most Great Danes, she can sit with her hind end on the cart seat, chair, sofa, etc., and her front legs comfortably balanced on the floor. It’s quite a fetching sight to see. These Great Danes are magnificent, gentle giants. And Ariot could be their “very special girl” poster child (see the SDP 2016 Calendar: April for Ariot).
When Grace is in the barn with the donkeys, Ariot waits patiently on the other side of the barrier until the donkey-doo cleaning is done. Thinking no one can see her, she will sometimes peek through a knothole in the staff wall to see if Mom is done with those darn donkeys so she can again be in the tender embrace of her Grace. “Hurry up, Mom,” she seems to want Grace to hear. “My turn!” And of course, since she’s smart as a whip, Ariot knows how to open the gate to the donkey den. When she does sneak in – to be near Grace – she is kindly guided out. Ariot does not much like it when the donkeys approach her, but will dare to enter the donkey den if it means she can have some Grace lovin’.
As a youngster, Ariot and her litter mate Boo were used as “fence testers.” When railings needed to be mended, the good architects of the farm would fix what they could see was broken. THEN! Ariot and Boo would be let loose inside the secured area. As master escape artists, Ariot and Boo could find any size hole or weak link and slither through or hop over it. Alas, the fine fence fixers would restore the section and again, Ariot and Boo would be set free to find a way out. This system often meant that the white puppies would run and frolic and play at the edge of the pond or stream and end up – to the great delight of Ariot and Boo – encased in mud. So, off to the laundry room they would go, for latherin’ and lovin’. Eventually, Grace and others figured out that “Hey, the mud will dry and fall off!” And when it did, beautiful white puppies needed only a bit of touch-up cleaning. They concluded that sometimes the most efficient cleaning method is to let canine and crud do its thing, with little human intervention.
Ariot loves, loves, loves to go for rides in a car or a cart – whatever has wheels. When she sees Jackie’s red car from her windowsill watch tower, Ariot runs to the door, eagerly waiting to give Jackie all the love each of them can bear. As soon as she’s able, Ariot will leap into Jackie’s car and wait. You can nearly see the thought bubble above her head: “I don’t care how long I need to wait. I know something really funtastic is about to happen and I’ll wait. She’ll drive us away, any minute now, and there will be a riot of new smells and everything I love!” And so, it goes: Ariot is once again, riding high, on her way to embark on adventures that make her doggy dreams come true.
Jackie and Amy, volunteers at the farm, will take Ariot and Chaos, a fellow house dog, to a nearby cemetery where they sniff, discover, and explore – as dogs are meant to do. Ariot won’t go far but is kept on a leash, just in case. It’s a glorious expedition for Ariot; she and Chaos relish their time away from the ‘farm’ and get to stretch those long, lovely legs. Ariot has even had the fun of going to Costco. But, like some who aren’t - at all - enamored with shopping she will get bored after a few minutes and signal to Grace, “Can we go, now?” Yet back at the farm parking lot, Ariot remains in the car and does not want to get out. “Inside the car is fine with me,” she seems to be smiling. Finally, a leash is put around her neck to “help” her jump out of the vehicle.
Oh, the splendor of the arena and flat field! Ariot and her beautiful nose wait for the gate to open. With wild abandon, she runs and jumps and plays with the other dogs. She is like an aunt or nanny to many of them, especially the puppies. In her secret, special Ariot language, she helps to teach them to dig holes; it is a top skill set for this expert Great Dane mentor. What lies deep, beneath the packed dirt and mud is something only these great, Great Danes can know. Although it cannot yet be proven, some suspect it may have to do with the fun of being immersed in muck affixed to their coats. Of course, this cannot be conclusively verified.
If Ariot is not teaching youngsters to dig holes, she can be found helping Grace herd the chickens inside their pens. She’s very gentle, especially with the little chicks. In fact, she finds them absolutely charming. As the small birds warm themselves under a heat lamp, Ariot will stand next to them, separated by the chicken wire or cardboard barrier, moving her snout as close to them as she’s able. She will sit and watch and sniff them; and repeat. Because of her sweet, nurturing nature, many suspect Ariot is being protective of them - she would never hurt a feather on any of her little chicks.
Meanwhile, if Ariot is deep in her chick-zone and should somehow lose track of Grace while out on the farm grounds, she doesn’t get frantic. Ariot learned early to use her natural ability to explore, as well as her brain power, to create her own safety plan. Employing her limited eyesight and powerful sense of smell, she tracks the path that Grace has walked. She will zig and zag, inhaling deeply as she goes. Usually her animal instincts will provide a path to Grace. However, if for some reason she cannot detect Grace’s scent, she gaits directly to the front stoop of the guest house and waits. Thankfully this safety plan works. The guest house is where Grace and Ariot have sometimes had their own private slumber parties. It is their own, special, important sanctuary: just the two of them. And when Grace approaches Ariot, who has been patiently waiting on the stoop - joy, hilarity, a fiercely wagging tail, and hugs abound, along with a silent question, “What took you so long to find me?”
Ariot also plays an important role in the main house, where litter after litter of exquisite Great Danes are born. When the pups are weaned from their mother, they stay in the house where training immediately begins. When their mother finally leaves the farm, Ariot becomes a beloved surrogate. At three years old, Ariot will never have pups of her own so all the small puppies are delightful. Unlike some of the other Danes in the house - Ariot plays, snuggles with, and loves the infant canines. She teaches them when they are being ‘too rough’ and will gently but firmly reprimand when a bite is too forceful. She’ll then use her tender mouth to muzzle them into even more entertainment and romping. Ariot is a blessing for the puppies – she is their Auntie Ariot; their mentor until the pups move on to begin more formal training as service dogs. And then, another litter will be born and Ariot will again rise to her true calling – mentor, playmate, friend, comedienne, and devoted to Grace’s every need.
* The work of the Service Dog Project is an altruistic endeavor created by Carlene White, with more than 300 pups born on her watch. Through her vision (as well as that of so many others), the kind, life-saving work of these magnificent Great Danes has enriched the lives of hundreds of people. These incredible animals are not sold; they are all donated to those who need their service and that is only possible because of the generosity of the public. All service dogs are chipped to the SDP; to raise them to serve those in need, costs an estimated $20,000 each. They are specifically bred as service dogs because of their size, temperament, and intelligence; all qualities which those in need, also need in a service dog.
Please support them, and be part of the significant work they do: http://explore.org/live-cams/player/great-danes-arena-cam
Author’s note: I have been watching for years via their live cameras, the Great Danes of the SDP. When a Dane is giving birth, a small army of staff and volunteers ensures every detail is covered. Each pup is handled with impeccable care, because that Dane's future will create a positive, life-changing world for someone in need. I encourage parents and educators of all stripes to - together watch the birth process, the miracle of life.
It is my dream that all creatures are treated with the tender, careful love, and attention that all critters are given at the SDP. Dog Bless You, indeed.