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A Dalmatian pup under the Christmas tree?
Think again, say animal-protection groups

Dalmatians are a quick-growing breed and can grow as large as 70 pounds  

In this story:

Shelters swell

Sequel call to action

Education needed

NEW YORK (CNN) -- "102 Dalmatians" is a family comedy, a puppy-filled sequel to Disney's 1996 live-action film, "101 Dalmatians." But many animal protection groups say the first film played out as a tragedy for real Dalmatians -- and fear the sequel will, too.

"What happened after '101 Dalmatians' is going to happen again," said Stephanie Shain, director of outreach for The Humane Society of the United States. "You're going to have moviegoers see the movie, see these adorable puppies, and go run out and buy one."

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Big, fast, high maintenance... About Dalmatians: A spotty guide

Hundreds -- perhaps thousands -- of those cases of movie-inspired "puppy love" ended with the abandonment or death of a Dalmatian.

The cute spotted puppies people bought as Christmas presents in 1996 grew quickly into rambunctious, 60-pound dogs that many new owners found destructive, temperamental and even dangerous to children.

"They're very active dogs," said Pati Dane, a Dalmatian enthusiast and founder of Dalmatian Rescue in North Miami Beach, Florida. "They dig holes, chew carpet, unintentionally knock children over. They can become so playful that they can accidentally hurt a child, especially toddlers."

Within months of the 1996 film's Christmastime release, thousands of Dalmatians had been rejected -- let loose in the streets and along highways, or brought to animal shelters and municipal dog pounds.

"January 1st, people were knocking on our door, bringing us Dalmatian puppies," said Dane, whose family-run rescue center took in 250 Dalmatians in the first six months of 1997 -- triple the number they'd taken in during any previous full year.

Shelters swell

Shelters across the country recorded sizable numbers of surrendered Dalmatians about a year after the release of "101 Dalmatians" -- when the dogs purchased as Christmas puppies were an often unmanageable combination of adolescent behavior and adult size.

Images of cute, cuddly puppies spurred many to pick the Dalmatian for a pet. But animal activists advise potential owners to study breeds and evaluate their lifestyles before they make decisions  

"Dalmatians were outnumbering every other breed brought in that year," said Rose Channer, vice president of outreach for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in Los Angeles, California. "When people turn in an animal, we ask them why. And people told us, 'This dog didn't act like Pongo in the movie.' It was unbelievable."

The Los Angeles SPCA took in "a stream" of Dalmatians, starting three months after the release of "101 Dalmatians," Channer said. "In other parts of nearby counties, they had over 900 Dalmatians turned in, in the first year after the movie," she said. "And most of them were euthanized."

Animal shelters tried to find adoptive homes for the dogs, but often failed. "They had so many Dalmatians, that they were difficult to place," said Shain of the Humane Society. "And you had Dalmatians coming from puppy mills, or breeders that are not reputable breeders -- people just quickly breeding their dog to make a quick buck. Those were not quality dogs."

In fact, animal-control centers and care shelters in California and Colorado, Wisconsin and New York had cages full of Dalmatians that showed signs of poor breeding, poor training or neglect -- "a lot of barkers and biters" as one shelter veteran put it.

By the most conservative estimates, several hundred of those Dalmatians were put down. "You can safely say there were thousands of Dalmatians coming into the shelters," said Shain. "There is no nationwide tracking system, but our estimates are that roughly half the dogs that go into shelters are euthanized."

Others say the figure is much higher, especially in heavily populated areas. "Nationally, only about 35 percent of the animals that come in walk out the front door," said Bob Rohde, president of the Denver Dumb Friends League. The Colorado organization, the largest animal shelter in the Rocky Mountain region, logged a 37 percent increase in Dalmatians brought in the year following "101 Dalmatians."

Sequel call to action

As soon as Disney announced plans to make a sequel to "Dalmatians," animal-protection groups went into action, asking the studio to help prevent another rash of Dalmatian buying -- and Dalmatian dumping.

Disney agreed to put an advisory message on the sequel. The American Humane Association, which monitors the treatment of animals used on film and TV sets, worked with Disney on the wording of the advisory.

Within months of the "101 Dalmatians" Christmas release, thousands of Dalmatians had been abandoned and left in shelters and pounds  

It appears at the end of the film, inserted into credits for cast and crew: If you are adopting a pet, be sure that you are ready for a lifetime commitment and research your choice carefully.

"We let Disney know that we thought that was the responsible thing to do," said Karen Rosa, communications coordinator of the American Humane Association's department of film and television.

Many animal protection groups and activists say the advisory is cursory and insufficient. "Our concern is that by the time the cast has been listed, most people have left the theater," said the Humane Society's Shain, who added she is "very disappointed" in Disney.

"We sure would have liked to see Disney do more," said Rohde, of the Denver Dumb Friends League. "We would like to see Disney have not just a small written sentence, but perhaps have one of the stars speak out about this."

Others say the problem isn't with the movie-makers.

"A lot of people would like to hold Disney responsible," said Channer. "But the SPCA-LA thinks the burden of responsibility belongs to parents. Just because your kid screams, 'Oh, I want one! I want one!' when they see these cute puppies in a movie, doesn't mean you have to go and indulge that wish. The parent needs to be responsible enough to say, 'You know what? You can get a stuffed one now, and in six months we'll see about getting a real one.'"

"A puppy isn't a toy," said Channer. "If the child decides he doesn't want to play with it, it's not like an action figure -- he can't just discard it. For that animal, it's a life-and-death situation."

Education needed

Animal-protection groups say all they can do is try to educate parents about the nature of the Dalmatian breed and the responsibilities of pet ownership.

"Don't make a snap decision," said J. Charles Garvin, a Dalmatian breeder and president of the the Dalmatian Club of America. "Talk with a breeder. And go see adult dogs; spend some time with the adults and see their size and their attitude."

Pati Dane, of Florida's Dalmatian Rescue, did Dalmatian teach-ins in 1996. "I literally stood in theaters in three different counties for four weeks, with an education booth and a 70-pound adult Dalmatian, trying to address this situation before it even happened," she said.

She is unable to do that this year: She's too busy working in, and raising donations for, her rescue center -- which, by remarkable coincidence, contained 102 Dalmatians last week. Many of those dogs were "orphaned" after the 1996 movie.

Dane says she is "sickened" at the thought of the sequel and its probable consequences. "We've reached our capacity," said Dane, whose family has taken out a second mortgage on their house to expand their rescue center, which has a no-kill policy. "There are Dalmatians sitting in animal shelters right now that I cannot save."

Stuffed Dalmatian toys are an alternative to the real thing -- and the toys won't continue to grow  

Even in the face of grim warnings, consumers and gift-shoppers can be stubbornly determined, especially if a certain kind of puppy is all a child wants for Christmas.

"We try to educate people but sometimes they don't listen," said Crystal Schneider, manager of Randy's Tropical Fish and Pets, a pet store in Atlanta, Georgia.

Four years ago, her own neighbors saw "101 Dalmations" and wanted a Dalmatian, Schneider said. "I tried to advise them that this really wasn't a good dog for kids, but they got one anyway," she said, with a sigh. "They found out it was too hyper, and they didn't keep it."

"People are like that with all kinds of animals; they make impulse buys," said Schneider. "They want to buy a certain bird because it will look pretty in the cage. They want Chihuahuas because of the Chihuahua in the Taco Bell commercial. And they expect the dog they get to be trained like the one on TV."

"It sometimes makes you wonder: Which one is the dumb animal?"

'102 Dalmatians' a happy, familiar romp
November 22, 2000

The Humane Society of the United States
102 Dalmatians
Dalmatian Club of America
Dalmatian Rescue Resources
Dalmatian Rescue Ring Homepage

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