Great Pyrenees, great show

National celebration of large dog breed returns to Vancouver

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter

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Want to learn more about great Pyrenees? Visit gpcaonline.org or northwestgreatpyrenees.com.

Pono Kane, a massive white dog, lumbered around the ballroom on three legs. The amputation was difficult to notice under his thick coat, given the steady way he walked.

The 6-year-old great Pyrenees was found nearly five years ago in northwest Washington near Issaquah with a wire wrapped around his hind leg. The injury, which caused gangrene, ultimately led to the leg being amputated a few inches below his hip. His owner, Sandy Thompson, 65, said the length of the stump helps him keep his balance. He's able to "run like the wind" without any noticeable limitations. Saturday morning, Pono Kane took part in the rescue parade at the 79th annual National and Regional Great Pyrenees Dog Show held at the Red Lion Hotel Vancouver at the Quay. Owners of rescued great Pyrenees from all over the U.S. gathered in the hotel's ballroom and to share their stories — and their love of the breed.

"Do you see the man with the white dog?" one of the judges said jokingly as the rescue dogs and their owners tried to get organized for a group photo.

The Columbia Cascade Great Pyrenees Club Rescue tries to get dogs out of shelters or off the street and into permanent homes, said Kathy Liles, who heads the rescue.

The dogs are evaluated to see how well they do with kids and other pets; being slow, bumbling dogs, the Pyrenees don't typically play fetch or come when you call them. Though, the owners at the show say the antics are more amusing than annoying.

"They're loyal. They're incredibly beautiful and kind," Liles said.

She asked Thompson to take in Pono Kane as a rescue dog shortly after his surgery, when he was 14 months old. Although he was thin and frail, it was love at first sight for Thompson and her lifelong friend, Anna Waggoner.

"As soon as we saw him jump out of the van we thought 'He's never leaving here,'?" Thompson said. His name means "wonderful boy" in Hawaiian, and the pair of friends believe it was his personality that saved his life.

These days, Pono Kane keeps deer and coyotes off their 4 acres in Aurora, Ore. He typically keeps a lookout from a hilltop vantage point, while their other dog, Molly, an 18-month-old great Pyrenees rescue, seeks out whatever they need to get. Waggoner and Thompson are fostering a third great Pyrenees named Meg.

Historically bred to guard sheep, the great Pyrenees are known for being loyal and protective, but also gentle giants. Their kindness and tall stature makes them perfect bedside therapy dogs for hospital patients, Liles said. The dog is named after the Pyrenees mountains in southwestern Europe that create a natural border between Spain and France.

The great Pyrenees dog show last came through Vancouver in 1996. Next year, it will be in Topeka, Kan.