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The Media and Pet Purchases: Disney's Not So Happy Endings
The Media and The Pet
Few would believe that a cartoon could play a role in the deaths of countless animals, but Disney's 101 Dalmatians movie is credited with doing just that.
Animated films Finding Nemo and G-Force have similarly negatively affected the clown fish and the guinea pig. The show Rin-Tin-Tin had disastrous impacts on the German Shephard, and The Marmaduke movie on the Great Dane.
Even Budweiser beer commercials have devastated lizards and a president's choice of pet has annihilated canine and feline populations....
Starting with an examination of Disney's 101 Dalmatians movies, an in-depth examination of "the Dalmatian syndrome" as it relates to both Dalmatians and other animals will follow.
The Dalmatian is described by Modern Dog magazine as an animal with high “exercise demands” and a “willful personality” (1). In fact, because they were bred for energy and endurance, to remain healthy Dalmatians require exercise every day (2). It is also important that they be trained not to develop inappropriate behaviors. Failure to do these things will result in overweight animals that may be dangerous to have around small children (2).
Disney’s 101 Dalmatians movies, both the cartoon and live-action version, highlight the cute and cuddly side of the spotted canine. And although they are quite well-behaved and affectionate when cared for and handled properly, the wrong owners, or owners ignorant of the Dalmatian’s needs, see another side of the dog not shown in the movies: that of a restless, bored, irritable, and unpredicatble pet.
While it is not the job of the Disney corporation to educate the public about animal adoption, they added a statement at the end of their 2000 102 Dalmatians sequel warning potential owners to research a pet’s breed thoroughly before purchasing it (5). Further, Disney partnered with the Dalmatian Club of America to develop an extensive educational campaign on pet ownership responsibility (4).
Adding to these efforts, the Humane Society handed out educational breed-specific fliers at movie theatres screening the 102 Dalmatians film (4) and movie critic Roger Ebert made sure to mention that Dalmatian dogs are demanding and need proper care in his Sun Times 102 Dalmatians review (5).
But why was this done?
The 101 Dalmatians Syndrome
Following the re-release of the animated 101 Dalmatians movie in 1985 and 1991, the public, enamored by the adorable on-screen puppies, wanted one of their own. Without hesitation, thousands of American families purchased a member of the breed and the annual number of Dalmatian puppies registered by the American Kennel Club (AKC) rose from only 8,170 to 42,816 in the eight years that followed (3).
However, in a turn of events, Dalmatian ownership nosedived in 1993. Equally as impressive as their initial surge in popularity, Dalmatians now showed the most abrupt decline of registrations of any breed in the history of the AKC (3). As people became more aware of the demands of the Dalmatian and as their trendiness expired, interest in the dogs waned. Owners unhappy with their pets got rid of them.
This cycle was again repeated three years later after the debut of a live-action version of the 101 Dalmatians. Yet again, interest in the Dalmatian eventually declined, with an equally impressive, and very unfortunate, increase in the numbers found in shelters and animal rescue centers around the country. Within a year of the release of the movie, these organizations experienced a twenty-five percent rise in the number of Dalmatians surrendered to their care (4).
One Humane Society facility in Boulder, Colorado experienced a 301% increase in their Dalmatian population and another in Tampa Bay, Florida, had an alarming surge of 762% (4). More problematic still was the temperament of the pets, far from ideal due to improper care. The shelters described them as overly aggressive, stubborn, and high-strung (6). Animals with these traits are typically unadoptable and must therefore be destroyed.
This would be not the first, not the second, but the third time the Dalmatian would pay the price for overly enthusiastic albeit misguided fans: both re-releases of the cartoon version, in 1985 and in 1991, and the creation of the live-action version five years later all proved equally detrimental to the innocent animals.
Learning From the Past, Changing the Future
Several thousand American families purchased Dalmatians from 1985 through 1996.
Because the cute spotted puppies were improperly cared for by inexperienced and unknowledgeable owners and were turned into less-than-ideally behaved full-grown pets, families then dumped them at animal shelters en mass, where they most likely met a dark fate.
This pattern later became known as the "101 Dalmatian's Syndrome."
Disney, the Dalmatian Club of America, and the Humane Society were intent on not having this trend occur yet a fourth time with the release of the newest Dalmatian movie sequel. By educating the public they decreased the chances of history repeating itself.
However, the Dalmatian is not the only pet that animal activists are fighting for, as many other animals have become the victim of societal fads, only to be adopted and then abandoned. Due to overcrowding, these animals are often euthanized by necessity, bringing about the needless destruction of countless numbers of animals.
Other Animals Affected by the 101 Dalmatians Syndrome
Following is a description of several other animals, from fish to lizards, affected by the "101 Dalmatians Syndrome."
The German Shepherd in the 1920s and 1930s
Rin-Tin-Tin, a German Shepherd brought back from the World War II battleground to star in over 20 films, greatly popularized the breed among the public. Because demand went up so quickly and in such a short amount of time, puppy mills sprang up around the country to exploit the public’s interest while making a sizeable profit (9).
Unfortunately for the German Shepherd, this meant indiscriminate breeding to produce the most dogs possible without thought to their health. As a result, there are now several diseases and disorders associated with the breed, including hip dysplasia, invertertebral disc disease, osteochondrosis dissecans, panosteitis, degenerative myelopathy, hemophilia A, pancreatitis, diabetes mellitus, progressive retinal atrophy, and epilepsy, among others (9).
The Dalmatian also is a victim of this puppy-mill-induced phenomenon (4). It is believed that 8 percent of the US Dalmatian population is deaf in one ear, and 22% are deaf in both (10).
Surprisingly, organizations such as the Dalmatian Club of America recommend that a responsible breeder euthanize puppies that are deaf in both ears, adding to the sacrifice the animals have already made due to human errors in judgment (4).
The Iguana and Chameleon in 2000
The Scottish lowlands experienced a sharp increase in diseased and abandoned iguanas and chameleons following a Budweiser campaign starring computer graphic versions of the reptiles (11) The Edinburgh area had eight reptiles that required rescuing within 6 months; before the ad campaign the local SSPCA had not seen a single one (11).
Lizards make a far from ideal pet. Only one percent survive in captivity when improperly treated and they need specialist care to resolve health problems (11). Iguanas and chameleons require time and money for survival, something most people purchasing them as a trendy new pet did not properly take into account beforehand.
The Clownfish in 2003
Following Disney’s Finding Nemo movie starring a Clownfish named Nemo, the Clownfish population in unprotected waters declined 25-fold, decimating previously prolific habitats (13).
The likelihood that these wild fish survived their captivity is slim. As pets, they require feedings two to three times a day, a 30 gallon capacity tank, and their water must be kept at a specific temperature range and salinity at all times (14).
Continually monitoring the environment is crucial to their survival, requiring owners to put in more effort than they would for the normal aquarium fish--most likely much more than the individuals purchasing a Clownfish following his or her movie-viewing experience was willing to provide.
The Guinea Pig in 2009
The office box success of G-force, a 2009 film starring computer-graphic-animated and crime-fighting guinea pigs, had small animal welfare groups concerned (7).
Afraid movie fans would purchase a pet without thinking it through, organizations published disclaimers stating that normal guinea pigs cannot master martial arts or perform stunts in parachutes, emphasizing the disconnect between the creatures in the film and the less-than-super-heroic real-life versions (7).
Another concern guinea pig rescuers had was that G-force fans would try to replicate movie scenes not so obviously fictional. For example, in some scenes the main characters travel around in hamster balls, a feat which would be harmful in real life due to limited back flexibility (7). Concerns like these are legitimate, especially if guinea pig pet purchasers do not do their research and gain their education from Hollywood instead.
The Great Dane in 2010
The movie The Marmaduke could potentially affect the Great Dane as 101 Dalmatians affected the Dalmatian, creating a mass frenzy of newly-obsessed fans of the breed (8). Unfortunately, as is true for every pet, although well-behaved and easily handled in the movies, in reality they require a lot of work.
Weighing in at 200 pounds, many would find the adult Great Dane problematic due to size alone. Not to mention, that large of an animal can easily knock over a child or jump over a fence, making hands-on behavior management crucial. Great Danes need much more space in vehicles, consume greater quantities of pet food, and have costlier veterinarian bills than do smaller dog breeds, sacrifices a family should be willing to make before purchasing one (8).
The Cairn Terrier and Portuguese Water Dog in 2012
Few would think that making the Cairn Terrier the state dog of Kansas would be endangering the lives of countless animals, but that is exactly its anticipated effect (12).
Similarly, the Obamas selecting a Portuguese Water Dog as a family pet would normally not be considered problematic, but there is reason to believe it could be (15).
Organizations seeking to protect the welfare of both breeds are worried about the “101 Dalmatians syndrome” when everyone would then want to own these animals themselves and the trend of destruction seen for all the other publicized pets would take its damaging toll.