Stranger in a Strange Land

June 18, 2001 – Last week a visitor to this website, David Lowe, sent a note saying he could tell me "a few funny stories about raising a Great Dane in a foreign country." He went on to explain that he owns a Dane named Murphy who was raised in Saigon. I asked him to elaborate, and boy, did he – pages and pages. He followed up by sending a few photos of his beloved Murphy. Below is an editted version of his story. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did:

How it all began
In late 1997 I was living in Saigon, Vietnam, while working as a writer for a local magazine. One day, while driving home on my motorcycle through heavy traffic, I saw a man walking a Great Dane. This was most unusual, as I had never seen a Great Dane in Viet Nam. I quickly stopped, drove around the block and found the man entering his house. Speaking in Vietnamese, I asked the man about his dog. It turned out he had gotten her from a family member in Germany. I had always wanted a Great Dane, so asked him if she had ever had any puppies. To my surprise, she had recently whelped a litter of five. All were spoken for – except one.

Murphy, 1 month oldWell, you know what happened....
When he was weaned three weeks later, I brought Murphy home. He was the biggest of the litter. He had four white paws, a white chest and a white mark on his nose. My landlady greeted me with a smile, still unconvinced that this large puppy would someday reach her shoulder. I tried to explain it to her, but to no avail. In her experience, dogs simply did not grow that big.

I should have taken a bet with her, because week after week she would peer into my room and gasp at Murphy's growth. Vietnam had no processed dog food, so Murphy was fed rice with lean beef, vegetables, boneless fish and chicken... a diet he still keeps today. My landlady marveled at the amount of food he ate. He grew so quickly that friends and neighbors were called in from all over Saigon to see the foreigner's dog. Dalmatians, Chows and even German Shepherds were all common in Vietnam, but no one had ever seen a Great Dane grow.

Murphy took all the visits and extra attention in stride. Within six months he was larger than the full-grown German Shepherd down the street – a dog the neighborhood kids referred to as the 'Monster' – and he was still growing.

Murphy's first adventure
The time came for Murphy to get his shots. I found a veterinarian and went there first to explain that Murphy was a Great Dane, he was six months old and he weighed 80 pounds. Eighty pounds! Six months? The doctor was incredulous. He smiled and said, "Sure, bring him in." I honestly don't think he believed me!

I went home and called a cab company to bring Murphy to the clinic, two miles away. The first cab came, and when the driver got out of his car and saw Murphy, tail wagging, he jumped back and cried, "Oh my God! That is not a dog! No way!" He shook his head violently and drove off in a cloud of dust. (Murphy stood in the doorway, wondering where his new friend had gone) So I called another cab. This time the driver called me a liar, saying that Murphy was not a dog, but was some kind of cow. Taxi after taxi came, but no one would take him. I was beginning to think I'd never get him to the vet. I finally found a cab driver who reluctantly agreed to give us a ride after I offered him three times the normal fare. I put a blanket down on the back seat and Murphy hopped into the cab, ready for this new adventure. We drove into the thick Saigon traffic with the driver smashed against the door, eying the Dane nervously in the back mirror, probably wondering what he got himself into. Murphy pressed his nose against the window, marveling at all the commotion, noise and humans. (Potential new friends.) Several times on the journey passing motorcycles tapped on the window asking what kind of "beast" Murphy was. When I told them a dog, they thought I was joking. At one point Murphy impulsively lunged forward to kiss the driver, who swerved across three lanes of traffic. Luckily, we didn't hit anyone!

At the clinic
Murphy, hidingWhen we arrived at the hospital Murphy and I tumbled out of the cab, tied up in leashes and blankets. Thankfully, the taxi driver agreed to wait till I was through with the doctor, so I didn't have to worry about finding another sympathetic (or desperate for money) cab driver. He slouched outside the car, smoking a cigarette, while some of his buddies came up and asked him about us. He shrugged his shoulders, shuddered, and just laughed.

When we made it inside the waiting room all hell broke loose. Cats hissed and wailed, Chihuahuas and mixed breed dogs started barking and snarling, and the ten people who had been sitting quietly waiting for the doctor stood up on their chairs, terrified. Murphy started barking, thinking it was a welcome greeting, which set off a chain of furious barks and hisses which was followed by the human owners' cries and yells. The two nurses on duty dropped their clipboards and ran into the doctors office, not knowing what to do. The doctor rushed over and ordered us to go to a farmer's vet clinic in the countryside, saying "We don't treat Bovine cases here." Luckily, the doctor I had spoken to earlier in the day was still there and he remembered me. When he saw how big Murphy was his jaw dropped. The Dane was real!

To avoid further commotion, I was rushed in ahead of the line into the clinic and Murphy was put up on the examining table. No nurse would treat him because they were afraid of getting bitten – this, despite the fact Murphy is scared of common houseflies – so it was me and the doctor who administered the shots. It turned out he had been trained in East Germany. He told me that he had heard of "these Great Danes" but he had never seen one. When the examination was over, we were ushered out the back to avoid a repeat of the commotion in the waiting area.

Life goes on
Over the next few months Murphy grew as all Danes do, and more visitors came to marvel at the IGD. (Incredible Growing Dane.) I took him for early morning walks in the neighborhood so we could enjoy our time together without the constant interruption of curious onlookers. Neighborhood dogs would howl when they caught sight of Murphy walking in front of their fence; cats scattered up trees. I remember once a whole pack of neighborhood dogs were let out and followed at our heels, sniffing and growling low in their throats. Murphy walked along, oblivious to the entourage. This went on for more than 15 minutes and I'd had enough. Suddenly I turned us around. When the dogs got a glimpse of Murphy's face they tore off down the street with their tails between their legs, yelping. I could never take Murphy out along a major street because bicyclists would crash when they saw this HUGE black dog on a leash, happily prancing along the road.

Murphy rules!We even attracted the attention of the police. Foreigners need permits to live in Vietnamese houses and two officers would come regularly to visit and check on things. But when they began to hear about this foreigner and his 'monster,' they smelled money. They thought they could find some way of extracting a bribe from this situation. But Murphy took one look at the two uniformed police with their tall hats and began barking in that deep Dane bark. From that day on, they took my landlady's word that everything was okay at her house and they never bothered us again.

Saturday afternoons usually found me working on my computer with Murphy sprawled out on a blanket, sleeping the normal 18 hours a day that all Danes do, and snoring up a storm. When he was active he would go charging through the house like a freight train, often crashing into doors and eventually breaking four of them. His tail frequently cleared tabletops of glasses and dishes, and he was banned from the kitchen because his chin easily soared over the countertops where freshly cooked food was kept. I had cable TV in Saigon and Murphy religiously watched the Discovery Channel, especially the wildebeests. If I changed the channel to check the BBC, he would patiently wait until we returned to his favorite station. He could watch those wildebeests for hours.

There are tons of Murphy stories, too numerous to list. One of the funniest things was how Murphy learned both English and Vietnamese commands, but pretended to not understand English when it suited him – or Vietnamese – depending on the circumstances. When I told him to do something in English, he would run to the nearest Vietnamese. When my landlady tried to get him to obey her in Vietnamese, he would run to me.

Murphy grew up
Murphy is an adultOver the next four years Murphy continued his diet of rice and fish, meat and vegetables. He took showers with a hose in the garden and then he would run through the house shaking and slipping on the tiles. Murphy learned to eat strange fruit like durian and mangoes. He chewed his way through lots of toys and chewies, Kongs and Nylabones sent over from the States. He grew to 170 pounds and reached a height of 34 inches.

When the time came for me to move back to the States, I wanted to bring Murphy with me. Believe me, I tried. Every major airline in Saigon refused carriage for a dog Murphy's size. They would not take responsibility for such a large canine; circus elephants from Russia were one thing, Great Danes, apparently, are quite another. My friends offered to take care of Murphy until I can come back for him. He's still in Saigon, living happily with four other dogs. He is the Top Dog, of course. He has his own private garden with a shady bamboo grove and he is doing well, waiting for me to return. I am planning to go back to visit him soon. He is greatly missed.

Jabber Update
Not much has changed since last week. Unfortunately Jabber's last urine sample contained lots of blood. If this week's sample isn't much better, Jabber's bladder will probably need be radiographed to see if he has bladder stones. Bladder stones in dogs are usually the result of urinary tract infections. Over 90% of these stones have bacteria as the nucleus. When that's the case, the stones have to be removed to get the bacteria out. Otherwise the bacteria will keep coming back since it was never really eradicated. Despite the persistent UTI, Jabber is feeling good and he seems to be enjoying life.

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