John Heldrich founded the nonprofit organization in 2010. He said families are unable to care for the dogs and consequently drop them off at shelters. The recent tornadoes in Alabama have also resulted in an increase of the dogs being left behind.
Heldrich owns two dogs, Journey and Jenkins. He said he thought he would rescue 38 in the Southeast, but in the 16 months they have been operating, they have rescued 188. Of those, all but 30 have been adopted.
The majority of the dogs - 95 percent - will be used as pets, but Heldrich said they could function as rescue or therapy dogs. He said the dogs are bred to protect other animals, such as sheep and goats.
"They were really bred to be lifestyle guardian dogs, but the family becomes their herd," Heldrich said. He said additional qualities of the dogs are they are good with cats and they love children.
Gail Reisenberg was looking for a solution for a coyote problem on her property. She said her geese, ducks and goats were coming up missing.
The Marietta resident was told about the Great Pyrenees breed and discovered the nonprofit organization. She is now the owner of Bon Bon and Champ, whom she describes as "perfect." She adopted the dogs in May of last year.
"I was amazed I had never known anything about them," she said. "They are smart, loving and appropriate in terms of their behavior. They know when to guard."
Heldrich said dogs are found in varying conditions when they come to the shelter. Through the help of the board of directors and volunteers, the dogs are given medical care and eventually, a home.
"Many of these dogs need a lot of treatment," Heldrich said. "Many are emaciated. Many have heartworms, and heartworm is a serious disease."
Treatment for heartworms can range from $700 to $1,000. Other medical conditions, especially those that require major surgery, can cost upwards of $6,000. All dogs will be spayed or neutered, given heartworm prevention medicine, micro chipped and other treatments as needed.
Dogs are then placed in foster homes to see how they interact with families and other dogs. Heldrich said fostering helps them to understand the dogs' personalities.
"We have an incredible network of foster families in the Atlanta area," he said. "Foster families are our life blood because these dogs need to be nurtured." The time the dogs spend with foster families varies from a week to a few months.
Adoption begins with an application and a $20 fee. The cost to adopt ranges from $250 to $600, depending on age and whether the dog is mixed or purebred. There is also a "Senior to Senior" program for older pets and owners where there is no cost.
Heldrich said home checks are conducted before adoptions take place. They check for factors such as adequate fencing and other pets. Adoptions have ranged from in Georgia to the west Coast in Washington.
There are 301 volunteers with the Great Pyrenees Rescue. Heldrich said, "Volunteers have major responsibilities, but they are very passionate about this breed."
Reisenberg, also a volunteer, conducts 30-day follow-up calls with families who have adopted the dogs. Both Heldrich and Reisenberg said they have received plenty of feedback from happy owners.
Although the dogs are large, Heldrich said they do not need an extraordinary amount of care. He said as long as they are walked and kept on a regular exercise routine, they can function on multiple acres or inside a town home.
Both owners feed their dogs at least twice a day, with 1 to 1 cups of food each. According to the website, females range from 70 to 100 pounds and males, 100 to 130 pounds.
With temperatures in the 90s, some owners might want to have the dogs' hair cut short. Heldrich advises against this because the dogs get sunburned easily. He said they have double coats and can handle different weather.
Their white coats are also easy to care for. Reisenberg playfully describes them as "Scotch guard" because they stay clean, even in dirt and mud.
The lifespan of the dogs typically ranges from 10 to 12 years, but Heldrich said some live even longer. "They are very resilient dogs," he said. "They are healthy in general."
Heldrich wants to continually introduce and educate people about the breed, which he describes as "phenomenal."
"They want love," said Reisenberg. "They know what their job is, but yet they're a wonderful family dog because they love everybody."
Heldrich said there is an enormous need for the dogs. He said of the 188 he has rescued, the vast majority of them would have been euthanized, something he calls a "terrible waste."
"We are saving these dogs' lives, which is a wonderful thing, he said. "But we are substantially improving the life of those that adopt them."
For more information on the Great Pyrenees Rescue, visit www.greatpyratlanta. com or call (404) 829 2609.