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Canine Crusader

updated 05/29/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/29/2000 01:00AM

As Robin on the campy 1960s TV series Batman, Burt Ward helped declaw Catwoman, solve the Riddler and put the Penguin on ice. But the former Boy Wonder is powerless to stop the 190-lb. creature currently galumphing through his living room, eyes riveted on Ward's daughter Melody, age 8. "No, Jack, no!" yelps Melody as the animal—a Great Dane—opens its jaws.

Too late! The Drooler strikes again. Melody has been slimed.

"Jack loves my daughter," says Ward, 54, as his wife, Tracy, 38, reaches for a paper towel. Fortunately, the feeling is mutual. The Wards currently share their Riverside County, Calif., home with not only Jack but—Holy pooper-scooper, Batman!—some 50 other Great Danes. Yes, that's right, 50 Great Danes. Five-O. Net, that's nearly 10,000 lbs. of dog. It's all part of the family's Great Dane Adoptions and Rescue crusade to find homes for abandoned members of the breed. Seems that some owners decide that Danes—usually adopted as cute puppies-aren't so great when full size. Often they get dumped at animal shelters. "People are intimidated by how big they look," says Burt. "Sometimes they bark just to be friendly, but the bark is so big it frightens people."

Their efforts began in 1994, when Tracy adopted her first Dane at a local shelter and learned some 35 others were also awaiting homes. Two weeks later she called to find out what had happened to them. "I get goose bumps when I think of it," she says. "All 35 had been destroyed." Since then, the Wards have rescued some 3,000 Danes from West Coast shelters and placed them in new homes. (Would-be owners pay $400 for the first dog and just the cost of spaying or neutering for any additional dogs.)

While they search for homes for the dogs, the Wards care for the animals themselves-and not just within the confines of their five—acre backyard. Left alone outside, "they'd die of a broken heart," says Tracy. Instead, they give the dogs the run of their 4,000-sq.-ft. ranch-style house. Bathroom sinks are kept filled to serve as water bowls, and the home's carpeting was replaced with tile for easy cleanup. At night a few favored pooches are allowed to sleep on top of the Wards in their king-size bed. "I'll wake up and say, 'Ow, why's my neck twisted?' " says Burt. "And there's this giant paw on my head."

Ward's post-Batman life has been full of other interesting kinks. After the show ended in 1968, the Beverly Hills native toured the country for years, speaking to Batman fans. As acting roles dried up—his credits include such forgettable B-fare as Beach Babes from Beyond and Assault of the Party Nerds 2: The Heavy Petting Detective—he founded the Early Bird Learning Program, a company that produced videos about social skills for preschoolers. That's where he met Tracy Posner, the daughter of 1980s corporate raider Victor Posner, 81. A top exec in her dad's firm, Tracy was sent to take over Early Bird in 1989; that led to a far more personal merger with the twice-divorced Ward. They married in 1990.

These days, Tracy and Burt, who has a daughter, Lisa Ann, 33, from his first marriage, run Logical Figments, a small animation company specializing in film special effects. Its credits include such movies as the straight-to-video release Running Red and FOX's Avalanche. "I've just finished destroying Los Angeles in a major earthquake," he says.

But Great Danes remain their passion. "They're so loving," Tracy says. "They sit in your lap and put their head on your shoulder." Of course, it's also true that the Wards' annual vet bills often top $100,000, that they spend $200,000 a year on dog food and that, as Tracy admits, they've had to scale back their vacations or else "when I come back the contents of our house are out in the yard." But the rewards, they insist, are many. "It's like having 100 children," says Burt. "They provide us with an incredible amount of entertainment."

Russell Scott Smith
John Hannah in Riverside County

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