The release of the Disney movie “101 Dalmatians” is expected to draw squeals of delight from youngsters.
It’s already drawing howls from Dalmatian lovers and animal welfare organizations. They fear the movie will spark a run on cute, spotted puppies to be handed out as Christmas gifts.
Today’s adorable Dalmatian Christmas puppy, they know, can become tomorrow’s unmanageable dog that’s dumped at a shelter - or abandoned. “The Titanic is sinking; it’s going down. Now, let’s bomb it,” says Chris Jackson, national rescue coordinator for the Dalmatian Club of America. “That will be the effect of the movie. It’s not Disney’s fault. And it’s not Disney’s fault there are people out there who don’t take the time and take the precautions and do the research before they buy one.”
Even Dalmatian lovers and breeders such as Jackson acknowledge that the breed, while loyal and handsome, also is highly active, stubborn and strong, and that Dalmations are not the ideal pet for everyone.
Jackson’s goal is to reduce the glut of homeless Dalmatians that’s been growing along with the breed’s increasing popularity. She and others fear the worst after “101 Dalmatians” opens and audiences fall in love with irresistibly cute puppies.
“Every kid in America will want one and we do have concerns,” says Leslie Sinclair, director of companion animal care for the Humane Society of the United States. “Any time you decide to add an animal to your household, it is a lifelong commitment. It should not be done on impulse.”
HSUS is placing ads in major newspapers across the nation encouraging potential pet owners to contact a breed rescue group or visit local animal shelters to adopt one of the 5 million dogs that are put to death each year. (There are “rescue groups” for nearly every breed of dog. The SPCA or local animal shelter can put you in touch one that handles a breed you want.)
Having the media drive demand for a specific breed has happened before.
“Starting with Lassies and collies, Rin Tin Tin and German shepherds, when a type of dog is popularized through the media, many people succumb to impulse and purchase that breed of dog,” says Ed Sayres, director of the American Humane Association’s animal protection division.
“People don’t often think ahead about committing to that animal 10-20 years. Many times, the breed is not as suited to their lifestyle or family as it may seem in the media.”
In recent years, stories about wolf hybrids and potbellied pigs created an enormous demand, which placed these animals in the hands of people who did not understand what they were getting into. The wolf hybrid proved to be an animal that could be dangerous, while the clean and smart small pig developed into an animal that grew to several hundred pounds and created household damage by engaging in normal pig behavior, such as rooting.
Once the “fun” went out of these fad pets, they were no longer loved, no longer wanted, and wound up in the pound, where many were put to death.
Caution about breed-specific demand is echoed by Heidi Prescott, executive director of the Fund for Animals.
“If the public starts demanding Dalmatians, certainly, puppy mills will be the place where they go to provide them. Puppy mills have traditionally been the source of cheap dogs.”
Puppy mills often are the chief providers of dogs to pet shops, which animal authorities agree is the worst place to buy a puppy.
“The puppies are raised in squalid conditions,” says Prescott. “Puppy mills are probably right on the same level as factory farms, where you have animals mass produced, with little thought given to their care or their needs.” At such mills, puppies are no more than a “crop.”
Even well-bred, pedigreed dogs are subject to genetic disorders, with deafness and bladder stones afflicting many Dalmatians. Puppies bred in the unsanitary and inhumane mills can arrive with a stunning array of health and temperament problems that can create misery for both dog and owner.
This is something the movie does not address. It’s entertainment, not a documentary.
“On one hand, the movie has a fabulous anti-fur message; it couldn’t be stronger,” Prescott says. “But then there’s always the questions about how the animals were gotten and treated in the movie.”
In this case, those questions are moot.
Disney took great pains to avoid generating puppies that would be unwanted after filming, and spent a lot of money to make sure the puppies were well-treated during the shoot, according to John Freed, field representative for the American Humane Association who supervised the shoot. Moviegoers ought to remember that “101 Dalmatians” is make believe. Real Dalmatians don’t remain puppies and don’t behave as depicted in the movie.
“In reality, a living Dalmatian, unlike the cartoon pups in the movie, grows up, does not talk and is a lot of work!” Jackson says.
The exuberant, strong, active Dalmatian is not an ideal pet for every family. “For the owner who does not have a clear understanding of the breed, a Dal can be the worst kind of nightmare,” Jackson warns.
While they are playful and intelligent, they can be stubborn and they have a high energy level. “These dogs need a great deal of physical and mental stimulation and challenge, without which they can easily become bored and destructive.”
For families in love with the movie, Disney is rolling out a vast array of merchandising in support of the film - Cruella De Vil collector dolls, spotted Hush Puppies suede shoes, ceramic kitchen accessories, books, a CD ROM game, candy, you name it.
There will be more than 101 products you can buy.
Dalmatian people want you to buy a product rather than a pet, unless you’re up to the challenge you’ll get from a Dalmatian.
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