When Ginger and Mitch Arias decided to add another dog to their family, it wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision.
The Cumming residents have three children — ages 6, 8 and 10 — and their youngest had recently been attacked by a dog. They talked to their veterinarian, did a lot of research and then were smitten by a ball of fluff named Duke.
At 7 months, Duke is almost as tall as Lauren Arias, 6. But the girl isn’t bothered by his stature, and instead is content with rubbing his fluffy white fur and wrapping her arms around his thick neck during his recent “adoption day” at Pet Lodge Pet Resort in south Forsyth.
This happy family adopting a great Pyrenees is exactly what John Heldrich and his small army of volunteers hope to see more of, now that
Heldrich has officially formed the nonprofit Great Pyrenees Rescue of Atlanta.
The organization sprung from efforts made by Adopt A Golden Atlanta, a nonprofit that, in its efforts to rescue golden retrievers, ended up finding abandoned great Pyrenees, too.
Heldrich realized there was a need for a rescue organization dedicated to raising awareness of the breed.
“We always had golden retrievers, and I was passing by my secretary’s desk about three years ago — she was going on rescues — and I passed by and I saw what I thought was a big white golden,” he said. “We adopted him He was about 7 months old and we just fell in love with the breed.”
Heldrich, his wife and six daughters now live with two great Pyrenees, one of whom runs the border of their Dunwoody property every morning and every night, making sure all’s clear on the homefront.
Also called the Pyrenean mountain dog, the Great Pyrenees were brought to Spain by the Romans and became well established in the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain. They were given the task of guarding fortresses and made the official dog of the court of King Louis XIV of France.
“Jenkins here, he takes off in the morning and he borders the property," Heldrich said. "And he comes back and reports, ‘All safe.'
“Journey on the other hand, he’s never barked. It’s really strange. But he’s really gentle, very, very docile. Just wonderful family dogs.”
Which is what Heldrich and the other volunteers with Great Pyrenees Rescue of Atlanta want people to know. It’s their size that makes them formidable, not their personality.
That sentiment is shared by Suwanee resident Lori Imhof, who recently adopted Dixie. Imhof and her husband have two children, 6 and 2. During a recent snowstorm, Dixie played with the kids as they rode their sleds.
“I was a golden retriever owner and I came to adopt a golden, and I was like, ‘What are these big white dogs?’ And I fell in love,” she said.
Imhof started out as a foster for Great Pyrenees, but soon turned into a forever home.
“I fell in love and I couldn’t give her up,” she added.
And that’s the only downside to the about 50 volunteers with Great Pyrenees Rescue of Atlanta. Many open their homes to the fluffy, docile dogs and fall for their easygoing personalities.
But along with volunteers for fostering a dog, Heldrich said there is a need for donations, too.
“It averages about $700 a dog to save a dog, with vet bills, lodging and depending on the dog, some are easier than others,” he said. “And fosters are critical. Once you foster you tend to not put the dog up (for adoption), because you get so attached.”
Two of the rescued dogs are also staying at Pet Lodge Pet Resort, which offers space to the group when it’s short on foster homes.
As they got ready to put Duke into the car for his ride home, Ginger Arias knelt down to talk to her daughter.
“Is that the biggest birthday present I’ve ever given you?” Ginger asked.
Lauren nodded shyly.
“Is he going to sleep on your bed at night?”
Again, Lauren nodded.