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San Clemente Journal

Saint Bernards - The Gentle Giants

May 23, 2019 09:27AM ● By Mike Chamberlin

Jen Geller with her brood; Benji, Bailey and Brody

by Mike Chamberlin

What weighs 175 pounds, is hairy, and slobbers? No, not Uncle Joe at last year’s Christmas party, but, rather, a St. Bernard!

“To be honest,” says Jennifer Geller, of San Clemente, “giant breed dogs are special, but not for everyone.”

Jennifer is special; she is part of a rather unique dog rescue and adoption/foster service called Sunny Saints, a St. Bernard rescue network of volunteers throughout Southern California. She adopted her first St. Bernard in 2011. 

“I adopted Benji as a stray pup - if you call a 99 pound Saint a pup - that had ended up in a Downey shelter.” Now Benji has a “fur-ever” home in San Clemente.

But Benji came with an unusual set of problems, Jennifer admitted. “Benji started having seizures shortly after I adopted him and the people at Sunny Saints were supportive and helpful, even offering to take him back. I couldn’t give him back. The family had grown to love him in a short time and I knew I could care for him.” She added, “Sunny Saints made it clear to me that they weren’t just in the rescue business for dogs, but cared about the people, too.”

Thus began Jennifer’s journey as an owner and volunteer for Sunny Saints, and eventually a board member for the organization. And for every successful adoption comes a sad story, or perhaps a moving story. 

“One woman in the final stages of stomach cancer wanted her Saint to be taken care of after she passed. We visited her home several times to take the dog, but each time she couldn’t say that final goodbye. We assured her not to worry, that she could keep her dog, but we would make sure the dog was placed in a loving home when the time came.” 
Then Jennifer recalled another slobber-sob story. “One of the toughest situations was when a U.S. Marine, about to be deployed overseas, had to find a new home for his Saint. It was painful and tearful for him to hand over his dog and it brought tears to see a big tough Marne break down and cry. But it meant a lot to be able to support him and assure him his dog would have a good home and be loved.”

I asked Jennifer if it takes a certain type of person to adopt a 175-pound dog. “Definitely.  It has nothing to do with physical size! Dogs are pack animals and there is always a pack leader, and that would be YOU!” She added, “Your dog will react to your energy - if you are nervous, guess what? They will be nervous, too. If you project calmness and confidence, they pick up on that and follow your lead…heads up and shoulders back is the Sunny Saints slogan!” She should know; she now owns three St. Bernards. “I walk all three at the same time, but 450 pounds on leash at once is a bit much, so when possible I walk them one at a time.”

And then comes the feeding. “The first two years are unbelievable. Benji was eating 10 cups a day, gaining five pounds a week. However, when they mature, their metabolism slows down.  Now, Benji (and the other two) are down to two cups of food, twice a day.”
Jennifer would love to share her knowledge and experience with you at one of the St. Bernard gatherings where they display 50 - 75 “Gentle Giants” at one time.  And she’s a fixture at the annual San Onofre State Parks sponsored “Woofstock” each summer. 
At Sunny Saints they have a saying, “Saints are like potato chips; you can’t have 
just one!”

For more information on St. Bernard adoption/rescue visit:

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