Alisa Manzelli, Global Animal

From the silver screen to the viral menagerie of animals on YouTube, canine actors and other popularized pups inevitably fuel society’s fascination with certain dog breeds. At the same time, the opposite can also occur, where a film or television show portrays a dog in a negative light and depopularizes that particular breed.

“Every time Hollywood makes a dog movie, the breed goes to hell,” says one caretaker of bouviers des Flandres dogs. Animals don’t always meet potential guardian’s expectations. And when their pet doesn’t behave like the animal portrayed on a television show or in a particular film, rescue organizations and animal shelters become flooded with popularized breeds.

Uggie on the red carpet at the 2012 Golden Globe Awards. Photo Credit: AP
Uggie on the red carpet at the 2012 Golden Globe Awards. Photo Credit: AP

It comes as no coincidence that the Jack Russell terrier was one of the world’s top dogs last year. While the Academy Award-winning film, The Artist, won the hearts of millions in 2011, many will argue that the film’s main character, a Jack Russell terrier named Uggie, completely stole the show.

In fact, according to the UK’s oldest and most popular home for dogs and cats, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, over 600 people searched the organization’s website for a Jack Russell when the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards (BAFTAs) took place in February 2012. That is more than double the number who browsed the website specifically for this breed on the previous Sunday, and more than any other night of the year, making Jack Russells the second most popular breed “re-homed” by the organization.

However, many do not anticipate the maintenance that comes with certain breeds. Not all dogs are as well behaved as they appear on screen. In fact, Uggie himself nearly ended up in a pound after he was rejected by his first two owners for being too wild. Jack Russells are not the breed for everyone as they can be very energetic, stubborn, and in need of constant guidance. And sadly, many people tend to give up their dogs to shelters because they did not thoroughly research their breed of choice.

Originally a shell-shocked German Shepherd rescued by an American serviceman during World War I, the first Rin Tin Tin was a performing pooch who became a star of 23 Hollywood films. Photo credit: Virginmedia
A German Shepherd from World War I, the first Rin Tin Tin became the star of 23 Hollywood films. Photo credit: Virginmedia

One of the first animal icons of our time was Rin Tin Tin, who starred in feature-length movies, short films, as well as a radio series. The heroic German Shepherd adopted from a World War I battlefield ignited an international frenzy for the breed that persists to this day. In fact, during WWI the U.S. Army declared the German Shepherd its official mascot. 

But inevitably, mass-production puppy mills cashed in on the soaring popularity of this smart, protective breed and created a “genetic nightmare.” Sadly, the breed has grown increasingly susceptible to a number of serious health issues including hip and elbow dysplasia, heart problems, bloat and gastric disorders, and cancer.

Although the breed was declared the second most popular in America in 2012, German Shepherds are also the third most abandoned breed as they are commonly portrayed as being vicious—usually due to their use as police, guard, and personal protection dogs.

Judy Garland as Dorothy and her dog, Toto, in the film, Wizard of Oz.
Judy Garland as Dorothy and her dog, Toto, in the film, Wizard of Oz. Photo Credit: animalsense.com

Another one of Hollywood’s famous movie dogs of all time, the beloved collie, Lassie, was the star of seven films and the Emmy-winning television show that lasted a whopping 19 seasons. This animal actor is touted as one of the best breeds for family as collies love to play with children and are rather easy to train. In addition, collies are generally healthy, sturdy dogs, able to live a good, long life. But like all purebreds, the breed is commonly found in the small cages of puppy mill factories.

Similarly, the Cairn Terrier gained its popularity after audiences were introduced to the spry little black dog named Toto from the iconic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Declared the most-watched motion picture in history, and has popularized the Cairn Terrier to this day.

In fact, Toto nearly became Kansas’ official state dog last year until the bid was denied by a Kansas House committee. PETA opposed the measure saying it believes the proposal would cause Kansas puppy mills to “churn out litter after litter of the breed.” Not only would the action lead to fewer adoptions from animal shelters, but making this purebred dog an even bigger star would only result in a deluge of Cairn Terriers in local animal shelters after Toto fans discover they are not fully prepared to care for the active pups.

Perdy and Pongo in the 1996 adaptation of 101 Dalmatians. Photo Credit: http://movies.zap2it.com
Perdy and Pongo in the 1996 remake of 101 Dalmatians. Photo Credit: movies.zap2it.com

Decades later, Disney’s 1996 adaptation of 101 Dalmatians triggered a surge of interest in the spotted breed. According to a study by the American Kennel Club, more than 100,000 Dalmatians were purchased throughout the U.S. in 1997.

However, animal shelters say guardians have found the dogs high-strung, willful, and aggressive. The dogs also need lots of vigorous exercise to avoid destructive behavior issues.  And in some cases, Dalmatians require special care due to health problems associated with indiscriminate breeding. For instance, approximately 8 percent of Dalmatians are born deaf and 22 percent with unilateral hearing (hearing in one ear).

With the popularization of the advertising mascot, Gidget the “Taco Bell Chihuahua,” in the late ’90s and the release of the film Legally Blonde in 2001, the U.S.—particularly California—has also experienced a long-lasting designer dog phenomenon. Fans quickly began imitating Chihuahua-toting characters like Elle Woods and celebrities like Paris Hilton, completely unaware of the breed’s nervous demeanor.

Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods and her dog, Bruiser, in Legally Blonde. Photo Credit: tvtropes.org
Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods and her dog, Bruiser, in Legally Blonde. Photo Credit: tvtropes.org

“People get enthralled with the movies and think dogs have a certain type of personality,” said Kathy Davis, interim general manager of the Los Angeles Animal Services agency.

“They bring the dog home and they don’t spend sufficient time to train and socialize the animal, and unfortunately the Chihuahua doesn’t become the star it was in the movie,” she said. “The dazzle wears off, and the shelters end up with the pets.”

This nationwide love for Chihuahuas persists through today, with fueled popularization from the 2008 film, Beverly Hills Chihuahua, and it’s less-successful sequels in 2011 and 2012. However, as the recession hit hard in the last few years, rescues like the Pasadena Humane Society are noticing that 30 to 45 percent of their shelters dogs have been Chihuahuas, and several are not spayed or neutered—suggesting possible breeding.

In fact, in Los Angeles, only pit bulls outnumber Chihuahuas in city shelters. According to the Los Angeles Times, from Dec. 1, 2008, to Nov. 30, 2009, Los Angeles shelters took in 4,741 Chihuahuas, up from 3,779 the previous year.

Photo Credit: disneyvillains.wikia.com
El Diablo and Chloe in a scene from Beverly Hills Chihuahua. Photo Credit: disneyvillains.wikia.com

Adversely, while Beverly Hills Chihuahua popularizes the Chihuahua, it simultaneously defames the Doberman Pinscher. The film documents the tale of a Chihuahua named Chloe who is dognapped in Mexico and must escape from an evil Doberman named El Diablo (who is, ironically, eventually taken down by a German Shepherd police dog).

But this isn’t the first film to portray Dobermans in a bad light. In fact, Martin Scorsese’s Academy-Award winning film, Hugo, also notably featured a Doberman named Blackie.

Scorsese voiced his outrage over Blackie’s omission from nominations for the 2012 Golden Collar Awards on several TV talk shows as well as in an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times.

“Uggie is a very nice dog…but Blackie was amazing. And [she hasn’t received the same attention] because she was a guard dog and terrorized children in the film,” Scorsese said on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

Scorsese’s point was quickly proven to the show’s audience after Blackie’s photo was featured on the screen. There were a few “awwws” from the crowd, but nothing compared to their reaction of the following photo of Uggie. “You see!” exclaimed Scorsese.

“A lot of the bad dog image that Dobermans have is what the public has seen on TV,” says breeder Brandi Canfield. “I have two Dobermans who have done movies: Nitro and Kia. They have wonderful temperaments but can be cued to show teeth, act aggressive and appear vicious. In reality, Dobermans are intelligent and sensitive family dogs, super with children and loyal to their people.” But strangely enough, this pronounced fear of Dobermans has been a lasting blessing for the breed.

“Popularity is never a good thing for the health and welfare of any breed,” says veterinarian and pet expert, Dr. Marty Becker.

No doubt, the popularization of these breeds in the media directly correlates with the prominence of puppy mills. Because purebred dogs from an accredited breeder can often cost as much as $1,000, “backyard breeders” and puppy mills come into play to supply the demand for popular dog breeds—often selling puppies for as little as $100 and mass-producing dogs in appalling conditions.

Given these facts, shelters and animal advocates far and wide are asking people to think seriously before choosing their new pet.

Take action. Don’t feed into the demand for purebred dogs. Opt to adopt.

And remember, adopting from a shelter or rescue group saves a life!

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