University City

Rescue group shares love of Great Danes

Swinging by Starbucks in the Promenade at 10:30 on a Sunday morning may leave coffee-seekers wondering if they stopped by a pet store.

Great Danes lie on the ground outside, play with their care-givers and socialize with each other.

Bystanders ask to pet the massive creatures that can weigh up to 160 pounds. The Danes, which are a people-friendly breed, love the attention.

The group with the dogs are members of Great Dane Friends of Ruff Love, which was started about two and a half years ago by Cinnamon Ellison of Huntersville.

The rescue was formed as an all-foster rescue, meaning that rescued dogs live in the homes until a suitable family adopts the dog. So far, they have placed about 210 dogs in permanent homes.

"I had volunteered with a couple other Dane rescues before starting Great Dane Friends and there were a lot of problems like the dogs being kept outside in kennels and I just thought things could be better," said Ellison, 43.

Despite working in radiology at Presbyterian Hospital Main 40 hours a week, Ellison answers and sends out emails for the group, posts listings of dogs in need on the website, plans fundraising events and cares for seven great Danes and one Jack Russell.

"I'm a horrible foster - I get them in my house and I love them and I can't let them go," Ellison said.

According to Amy Breckenridge Smith, 41, one of the original members of the group, the events take place almost every Saturday to raise money for the medical needs of fosters.

But three years ago, before the Great Dane Friends was even formed, Smith began a Sunday tradition.

"My husband and I started coming to Starbucks every Sunday with our dogs just to be social," Smith said. "The more people we got to know through the rescue, the more started joining us. So Sunday is our fun day."

According to Smith and Ellison, the group gets a lot of interest.

If the dogs can't be placed in a home, the care-takers become permanent fosters.

"There's nothing we won't pay for our dogs, which is rare in rescue," said Aimee Rossman, one of the group members.

Star is an example of a permanent rescue. With a beautiful coat making her look almost like a Dalmatian, Star's injury isn't noticeable until you look at her front left foot, it is severely bent and causes a limp.

Most members have at least one and usually more Great Danes living with them. Smith currently has five dogs, three of which are Great Danes. One of them is a foster puppy who has recently been placed in a permanent home.

"I changed my lifestyle and got a minivan - not for the kids, but for the Danes," Smith said.

She and her husband refer to the car as The Dane Mobile. They also have two girls ages 10 and 13 who Smith said are great with the dogs.

For her career, Smith, who lives in the Chestnut neighborhood of Matthews, makes custom dog collars which are produced in Stallings. Her company is called Collar Me Happy.

Smith sells the collars at every Great Danes Friends event and donates 35 percent of the proceeds to the organization. She also donates a collar to every dog they rescue.

The group of friends meet every Sunday, even in winter. Sometimes there are five Great Danes, sometimes there are 15.

If their numbers are very large, they will meet in the grassy field near the fountain across from the coffee shop.

"Anyone is welcome to come on Sundays," Ellison said. "We are there to have fun and educate the public."