NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. – It almost reads like the plot for a children's book: A little girl, and her disabled dog, who quickly become an international sensation.
But it's not fiction. In fact, it's happened in Western New York.
It's a story about a wee toddler and a gentle giant who are pretty much inseparable.
“I can’t separate the two, even when she's eating,” said Marion Dwyer about her 18-month-old daughter Jennie, and the family’s white Great Dane, Echo.
“Echo is always peeking around the corner waiting for Jennie to come back into the living room," said Dwyer, who also has two other Great Danes in the Niagara Falls home she shares with her husband and daughter.
Special needs, special friends
At Jennie’s tender age she has yet to master language sufficiently enough to issue Echo verbal commands.
But that does not matter because Echo is deaf, among other issues.
It helps during walks for Jennie to lead Echo on her leash because the dog’s failing eyesight has also rendered her virtually blind.
Dwyer rescued Echo from Louisiana when she was a puppy. Echo’s owner, because of the dog’s disabilities, no longer wished to care for her and was preparing to have her euthanized.
“She was an abuse case. She was 12 weeks old, 15 pounds underweight, and had a belly full of rocks. We took her to the vet, and he said this is very common in dogs that don't get fed that are neglected. They develop Pica (a disorder characterized by an appetite for substances that are largely non-nutritive) and she was literally trying to eat everything. She was literally pooping out rocks,” Dwyer said.
All of this occurred about 2-1/2 years before Jennie arrived.
Two peas in a pod
“I did not expect her to take to Jennie the way she did,” said Dwyer.
However, looking back, she now recalls signs that her baby and Echo would become very close dating back to when she was pregnant with Jennie.
Dwyer explained that Echo seemed ever-present when she was carrying Jennie, seemingly very interested in her growing belly, which she would often attempt to nuzzle.
"As the baby bump grew, she was always snuggling up to it. And then, when we brought Jennie home, she wanted constantly to be near her,” Dwyer said.
Hearts touched around the globe
How the story of these two fast friends became an international sensation is a story in itself.
“Well, it was funny because when I began posting pictures of the two of them on a shared family album on Facebook, my relatives started to encourage me to bring them to the attention of news agencies. I initially thought not to, because to me they were just pictures of the two of them being cute together,” Dwyer recalled.
However, a video of Jennie and Echo walking down a sidewalk, each wearing sunglasses, caught the attention of the UK Daily Mail.
It published the video, and after nearly 2 million views, the story was picked up in Sweden.
Now, other outlets are pouncing on it, like a dog on a bone.
“I just got another call this morning from a lifestyle magazine that is going to print the story apparently, I did not expect that,” Dwyer said.
The global interest in the story of an adorable relationship between a little girl and a disabled dog might have been further fueled by where Dwyer, a native of Germany, now lives.
Niagara Falls has often been referred to by local scribes as the “Magic Dateline”, because it is well known throughout the world. Stories like this one, which might indeed occur anywhere else, are often noticed because they occur in a place that is internationally renowned.
Echo’s white coat may be of further intrigue, according to Dwyer, particularly to dog owners in her native Europe.
“While white Great Danes are a thing here (in America), they are rare in Europe where I am from. For instance, I have never seen a white Great Dane in Germany, Not ever,” Dwyer said.
Peter, Paul, and Mary once famously sang (albeit, about a gentle giant of another sort and a little boy) that, “Painted wings and giant's rings make way for other toys".
But Dwyer does not see a day when Jennie and Echo are no longer interested in each other, nor does she worry about any separation anxiety on their part when Jennie starts school in a few years.
“Echo had really bad separation anxiety when I first adopted her, and we worked on that because she never had a person in her life that she was constant with," Dwyer said.
But now she does.
As for the future, as they ambled together on a warm, carefree, late summer’s morning, one could almost sense that Jennie and Echo will merely cross that crack in the sidewalk when they come to it.
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