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10 Mighty Facts About Great Danes

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Great Danes are known for casting a shadow over most other dogs—and small children. Learn more about what makes this colossal canine tick. 

1. The name is misleading. 

Despite being called the Great Dane, these dogs have ties to Germany, not Denmark. Some believe the name came about when French naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon happened upon the breed while traveling in Denmark in the early 1700s. He called the large dog "le Grande Danois" or Great Dane, and the name just stuck.  

2. Great Danes were once used for hunting boars. 

The gigantic canines were probably bred from the Irish wolfhound and the old English mastiff. Great Danes were used to take down wild boars, and needed to be physically strong as well as brave. The powerful hunters were quick and deadly; their aggressive behavior wasn't anything like the temperaments of the Great Danes you see today.

Although not a distinct type until roughly 400 years ago, the Great Dane’s origins extend even further back in history—their ancestors may have mingled with the ancient Egyptians. Depictions of giant dogs can be seen on Egyptian monuments dating back to 3,000 B.C. Other ancient art and literature in countries like Tibet, Greece, and China allude to the dogs as well. 

3. Gentleness was bred into them.

Today Great Danes are known as gentle giants. As hunting became less popular, the breed evolved from vicious killers to show dogs. The fight has been bred out of the canines, and now modern day Danes prefer a more leisurely lifestyle. In fact, the docile pooches make good additions to families and are rarely aggressive. 

4. There is a reason Scooby Doo was a Great Dane.

Great Danes were once thought to ward away ghosts and evil spirits, which was why Scooby was the perfect companion for those meddling kids. While that may not have been on the cartoon creators' minds while they were developing characters, there was a lot of debate about Scooby’s breed during the show’s conception.

Originally called “Too Much,” the dog was either going to be a large cowardly dog, or a small courageous pup. When the former was chosen, they had to decide between a sheepdog or a Great Dane. The Great Dane was eventually picked to avoid overlap with Hot Dog, the sheepdog in the Archie comics.  

5. They’re not the tallest breed.

Great Danes are huge, with an average height of 2.5 to 2.8 feet, but Irish Wolfhounds tend to grow a hair taller. That said, the tallest dog in the world was a Great Dane named Zeus.

6. One was awarded two Blue Cross Medals. 

In 1941, Juliana the Great Dane was awoken when a bomb fell on the house she lived in. The dog did what any canine in need of a walk would do—she peed on it. The urine diffused the bomb and earned her her first medal. She was awarded her second medal three years later, when she alerted authorities that a fire was raging in her owner’s shoe shop. 

7. Another joined the Navy. 

Just Nuisance, the Great Dane, remains the only dog to be officially enlisted in the Navy. The dog was born in the late 1930s and grew up in the United Services Institute. There he befriended the Navy sailors that commanded the base. Just Nuisance liked to take the train with his new friends, but the train conductors were less than thrilled with having a dog stowaway (it’s not easy hiding a Great Dane on a train). The railways threatened to put down the dog if he continued to ride on the train without paying his fare.  

The Navy loves this traveling pooch so much, that they decided to have him enlist. Sailors were allowed to ride for free, which meant as a Navy man, Just Nuisance was able to ride with his friends without fear. The canine never went to sea, but he did keep the sailors company and appeared at promotional events. Eventually he was “married” to another Great Dane named Adinda.

When Just Nuisance passed away, he was buried with full naval honors at a former SA Navy Signal School. 

8. Pennsylvania loves Great Danes. 

The Great Dane is the official state dog of Pennsylvania. You can find a painting of the state's founder, William Penn, and his Great Dane hanging in the Governor's reception room.

9. They grow fast.

When Danes are born, they weigh only one or two pounds. In just half a year, they can weigh as much as 100 pounds. The dogs can continue to mature and grow until they’re two or three years old. 

10. Great Danes and goats can be friends. 

A goat and a Great Dane were found wandering around a Dallas-area chapel together in 2010. The trouble began when Minnelli the goat unlatched the gate of his home, also releasing Judy, the Great Dane. Perhaps hoping to elope, the two animals fled to a nearby church, leaving behind their other friend, a three-legged yellow lab named Lucky. Still, the three animals were inseparable and captured the hearts of Americans across the country. The original owners of the motley crew decided they could not afford to take care of them, and put them up for adoption. Luckily, a kind couple named Norman and Sandy Williams took in the trio.

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25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E
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New Smithsonian Exhibit Explains Why Felines Were the Cat's Meow in Ancient Egypt
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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E

From bi-coastal cat cafes to celebrity pets like Lil Bub, felines are currently enjoying a peak moment in popular culture. That’s part of the reason why curators at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery—which will re-open to visitors on Saturday, October 14, following a 3-month closure—decided to dedicate a new exhibition to ancient Egypt’s relationship with the animals.

Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt” looks at the cultural and religious importance of cats, which the Egyptians appreciated long before YouTube was a thing and #caturday was a hashtag. It's based on a traveling exhibition that began at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. On view until January 15, 2018, it's one of several exhibits that will kick off the grand reopening of the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler galleries, the conjoined national museums of Asian and Middle Eastern Art.

The Freer has been closed since January 2016 for major renovations, and the Sackler since July 2016 for minor ones. The upgraded institutions will make their public debut on October 14, and be feted by a free two-day festival on the National Mall.

Featuring 80 artworks and relics, ranging from figurines of leonine deities to the tiny coffins of beloved pets, "Divine Felines" even has a cat mummy on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. These objects span from the Middle Kingdom (2008 to 1630 BCE) to the Byzantine period (395 to 642 CE).

An ancient Egyptian metal weight shaped like a cat, dating back to 305 to 30 BCE, on view at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Weight in Form of a Cat, 305 to 30 BCE, Bronze, silver, lead
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

The term “cat” is used loosely, as the Egyptians celebrated domestic mousers and fearsome predators alike.

“The Egyptians were close observers of nature, so they were observing cat behaviors,” Antonietta Catanzariti, the exhibition's in-house curator, tells Mental Floss. “They noticed that cats and lions— in general, felines—have aggressive and protective aspects, so they associated those attributes to deities.”

The ancient Egyptians viewed their gods as humans, animals, or mixed forms. Several of these pantheon members were both associated with and depicted as cats, including Bastet, the goddess of motherhood, fertility, and protection; and Sakhmet, the goddess of war and—when appeased—healing. She typically has a lion head, but in some myths she appears as a pacified cat.

A limestone sculptor's model of a walking lion, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Sculptor's Model of a Walking Lion, ca. 664 to 630 BCE, limestone
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 33.190

While Bastet was a nurturer, Sakhmet—whose name means “The Powerful One”—could use her mighty force to either slay or safeguard humanity. These characterizations are typical of the ancient Egyptian worldview, which perceived the universe in dualistic terms. “There’s always a positive and a negative,” Catanzariti explains.

Contrary to popular belief, however, ancient Egyptians did not view cats themselves as gods. “The goddess Sakhmet does have the features as a lion, or in some cases as a cat, but that doesn’t mean that the Egyptians were worshipping cats or lions,” Catanzariti says. Instead, they were simply noting and admiring her feline traits. This practice, to an extent, also extended to royalty. Kings were associated with lions and other large cats, as they were the powerful protectors of ancient Egypt’s borders.

These myriad associations prompted Egyptians to adorn palaces, temples, protective amulets, ceremonial vessels, and accessories with cat images. Depending on their context, these renderings symbolized everything from protection and power to beauty and sexuality. A king’s throne might have a lion-shaped support, for example, whereas a woman’s cosmetics case might be emblazoned with a cat-headed female goddess of motherhood and fertility.

An ancient Egyptian figurine of a standing lion-headed goddess, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Figurine of a Standing Lion-Headed Goddess, 664 to 630 BCE, Faience
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.943E

While cats were linked with heavenly figures and kings, they were also popular domestic pets. Their ability to catch vermin made them an important addition to households, and owners loved and anthropomorphized their pets just like we do today.

Egyptians often named, or nicknamed, their children after animals; Miit (cat) was a popular moniker for girls. It's said that entire households shaved their eyebrows in mourning if a house cat died a natural death. Some also believe that cats received special legal protection. (Not all cats were this lucky, however, as some temples bred kittens specifically to offer their mummified forms to the gods.) If a favorite cat died, the Egyptians would bury them in special decorated coffins, containers, and boxes. King Tutankhamen, for example, had a stone sarcophagus constructed just for his pet feline.

An ancient Egyptian bronze cat head adorned with gold jewelry, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Cat's Head, 30 BCE. to third century CE, bronze, gold
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

“Divine Felines” breaks down these facts, and more, into five thematic sections, including “Cats and Kings"; “Cats and Gods”; “Cats and Death”; “Cats and Protection”; and “Dogs as Guardians and Hunters.” Yes, there’s also an exhibition section for dog lovers—“a small one,” Catanzariti laughs, that explains why canines were associated with figures like Anubis, the jackal-headed god of mummification and the afterlife.

Did the ancient Egyptians prefer cats to dogs? “I would say that both of them had different roles,” Catanzariti says, as dogs were valued as hunters, scavengers, and guards. “They were appreciated in different ways for their ability to protect or be useful for the Egyptian culture.” In this way, "Divine Felines" is targeted to ailurophiles and canophiliacs alike, even if it's packaged with pointed ears and whiskers.

An ancient Egyptian cat coffin, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Coffin for a Cat, 664 to 332 BCE, or later, Wood, gesso, paint, animal remains
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.1944Ea-b

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