101 Dalmatians Syndrome: Media Influence on Pet Owners

Updated on August 5, 2019
Schatzie Speaks profile image

Schatzie has bachelor's degrees in animal science and English. She has a master's in education and is a certified teacher.

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The Media and Pets

Few would believe that a G-rated, family-friendly cartoon could play a role in the deaths of countless animals, but Disney's 101 Dalmatians did just that.

The show Rin-Tin-Tin also had disastrous impacts on the German Shephard, and even The Marmaduke movie hurt the Great Dane. The same has happened to other species. Animated films Finding Nemo and G-Force have similarly negatively affected both the clownfish and the guinea pig. Budweiser beer commercials have devastated lizards, and a president's choice of a pet has annihilated feline populations.

Starting with an examination of Disney's 101 Dalmatians movies, an in-depth analysis of "the Dalmatian syndrome" as it relates to both Dalmatians and other animals will follow. Brace yourself, the statistics are depressing.

The Dalmatian

The Dalmatian is described by Modern Dog magazine as an animal with high “exercise demands” and a “willful personality." Because they were bred for energy and endurance, Dalmatians require some form of daily exercise to remain healthy. It is also essential that they are trained not to develop inappropriate behaviors. Failure to do these things will result in overweight animals that may be dangerous to have around kids.

Disney’s 101 Dalmatians movies, both the cartoon and live-action version, highlight the cute and cuddly side of the spotted canine. And they are indeed quite well-behaved and affectionate when cared for properly. However, the wrong owners, ignorant of the Dalmatian’s needs, see another side of the dog not depicted in the movies: that of a restless, bored, irritable, and unpredictable 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 102 Dalmatians sequel nonetheless. The purpose of this was to warn potential owners to research a pet’s breed thoroughly before purchasing it as an additional member of their families. And Disney didn't just stop there. They partnered with the Dalmatian Club of America to develop an extensive educational campaign focusing on pet ownership responsibility.

Adding to these efforts, the Humane Society handed out educational breed-specific fliers at movie theatres screening the 102 Dalmatians film. Even movie critic Roger Ebert made sure to mention that Dalmatian dogs are demanding and need proper care in his Sun Times review of 102 Dalmatians.

While educating the public is generally a good thing, we must question why all of this was considered necessary.

The 101 Dalmatians Syndrome

Following the re-release of the animated 101 Dalmatians movie both in 1985 and in 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 eagerly brought it home. As a result, the annual number of Dalmatian puppies registered by the American Kennel Club (AKC) skyrocketed from only 8,170 animals to a staggering 42,816.

However, in a turn of events, Dalmatian ownership then nosedived starting in 1993. Equally as impressive as their initial surge, Dalmatians now showed the most abrupt decline of registrations of any breed in AKC history. As people became more aware of the demands of the Dalmatian and as their trendiness expired, interest in the dogs waned and then died. Owners unhappy with their pets quickly got rid of them and moved on as if nothing had happened.

This cycle was again repeated three years later after the debut of the live-action version of the 101 Dalmatians. Once more, interest in the Dalmatian eventually declined, with a similarly drastic and unfortunate increase in the numbers found in shelters and animal rescue centers. Within a year of the movie's release, these organizations experienced a twenty-five percent increase in Dalmatians surrendered to their care.

A Humane Society facility in Boulder, Colorado, had to accommodate a 301% increase in their Dalmatian population and another in Tampa Bay, Florida, had an alarming surge of 762%. 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 with little hope for improving their behavior. Animals with these traits are typically unadoptable and must, therefore, be euthanized.

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.

Source

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, they turned into less-than-ideally behaved full-grown pets. Families then dumped them at animal shelters where they 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 a fourth time with the release of the newest Dalmatian movie sequel in 2000. 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 to protect. Many other animals have become the victim of fads, adopted only to be abandoned. Due to overcrowding, these pets are often euthanized by necessity, bringing about the needless destruction of countless animals.

Other Animals that Suffered Because of 101 Dalmatians Syndrome

Following is a description of several different animals, from fish to lizards, that suffered from "101 Dalmatians Syndrome."

Source

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.

Unfortunately for the German Shepherd, this meant indiscriminate breeding to produce the most dogs possible without thought to their health or wellbeing. As a result, there are now several diseases and disorders associated with the breed, including hip dysplasia, pancreatitis, diabetes mellitus, progressive retinal atrophy, and epilepsy.

The Dalmatian also is a victim of this puppy-mill-induced phenomenon. Estimates are that 8 percent of the US Dalmatian population is deaf in at least one ear, and 22% are deaf in both.

Surprisingly, organizations such as the Dalmatian Club of America recommend that a responsible breeder euthanize puppies that are completely deaf. This only adds to the sacrifice the animals have already made due to human errors in judgment.

Source

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. The Edinburgh area had eight that required rescuing within six months, and before the ad campaign, the local SSPCA had not seen a single one.

Lizards make far from ideal pets. Only one percent survive in captivity when improperly treated, and they need specialist care to resolve any health problems. In other words, iguanas and chameleons require investments in both time and money, something that most purchasing them as a trendy new pet did not take into account beforehand.

Source

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 numbers in their natural habitat.

The likelihood that these fish survived their captivity is virtually zero. As pets, they require feedings two to three times a day, a 30-gallon capacity tank, and water at a specific temperature range and salinity.

Continually monitoring the environment is crucial to their survival, requiring owners to put in more effort than they would for the average fish in an aquarium. Reading salinity and adding or taking away salt as necessary is likely much more than those purchasing a clownfish following their movie-viewing experience were willing, or able, to provide.

Source

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 worried.

Afraid fans would purchase a pet without thinking it through organizations published disclaimers stating that normal guinea pigs could not master martial arts or perform stunts in parachutes. As silly as this may seem, there are reasons they believed this was needed. As past events have shown, there is often a disconnect between creatures in films and the less-than-super-heroic real-life versions that people don't appreciate until it's too late.

Another fear guinea pig rescuers had was that G-Force fans would try to replicate movie scenes not so blatantly 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. Concerns like these are legitimate, especially if guinea pig pet purchasers do not do their research and gain their education from Hollywood instead.

Source

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. 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, consume more significant quantities of pet food, and have costlier veterinarian bills than do smaller dog breeds. These are allowances a family should be willing to make before buying one, no matter how amazing they may look in a movie.

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 precisely its anticipated effect.

Similarly, the Obamas selecting a Portuguese Water Dog as a family pet would typically not be considered a problem, but some think it could be.

Organizations seeking to protect the welfare of these breeds are worried about the “101 Dalmatians syndrome” in both instances. They hope that people won't see these animals in the spotlight and then get one without first checking if it's a good fit. This could begin another trend of destruction all over again.

Sadly, with every promotion of an animal, this is an unfortunate possibility.

SOURCES

  1. http://www.moderndogmagazine.com/breeds/dalmatian
  2. http://www.thedca.org/freq_ask.html
  3. http://www.animalsandsociety.org/assets/library/624_fortytwothousandandonedal.pdf
  4. http://www.petplace.com/dogs/animal-shelters-fear-rise-in-homeless-dalmatians-after-102-dalmatians/page1.aspx
  5. http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20001122/REVIEWS/11220301
  6. http://www.nytimes.com/1997/09/14/us/after-movies-unwanted-dalmatians.html
  7. http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/unleashed/2009/07/rescues-fear-increase-in-guinea-pig-purchases-due-to-gforce-movie.html
  8. http://www.examiner.com/article/will-marmaduke-do-for-great-danes-what-101-dalmatians-did-for-dalmatians-let-s-hope-not
  9. http://www.barkbytes.com/bremed/gshep.htm
  10. http://www.lsu.edu/deafness/genetics.htm
  11. http://www.anapsid.org/budigs.html
  12. http://cjonline.com/opinion/2012-02-13/letter-dog-idea
  13. http://morekeynote.com/how-finding-nemo-destroyed-the-clownfish/
  14. http://www.petco.com/caresheets/fish/Clownfish.pdf
  15. http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/29417623/ns/today-today_pets_and_animals/t/portuguese-water-dog-owners-fear-obama-effect/

© 2012 Schatzie Speaks

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    • Schatzie Speaks profile imageAUTHOR

      Schatzie Speaks 

      2 months ago

      Hi Carrie,

      Yes! I don't understand why people try to prove a point through their pet. It's a living, breathing animal that deserves a family it's a good fit for, for the right reasons. Not because they consider it a type of status symbol or symbol of rebellion against authority.

    • Schatzie Speaks profile imageAUTHOR

      Schatzie Speaks 

      2 months ago

      Hi, Belleart. I have started reading your article; it is so heartbreaking! Electrocuting an elephant and tricking a horse into jumping off a cliff...it's hard to even wrap your head around it. I can't believe that people would do these things just for the sake of profit or proving a point. Thank you for writing this. It helps us appreciate the importance of laws that protect innocent animals. We like to think that people wouldn't do things like this, but with the right motivations, they will and do. Your article is a good reminder of what some people are capable of. A depressing, but necessary, read.

    • Jeannieinabottle profile image

      Jeannie Marie 

      4 years ago from Baltimore, MD

      I remember shelters having more families giving up Dalmatians after the movies came out. It was a big issue. It is a shame people think to buy a pet only because of a movie. I loved rodents long before G Force ever came out.

    • Brynn Thorssen profile image

      Carrie Peterson 

      4 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO

      Very interesting hub! My mom bred afghan hounds in the 1960s and 1970s and so our family was always very aware of breed issues (different breeds at the dog shows acted very differently!). Our dogs were divas and required a LOT of work. They also had to be separated from each other, as they tended to fight, and fight viciously, when their territory was threatened. We couldn't put my mom's and grandma's dogs together EVER.

      Don't you think it's funny that we can label all other breeds but not pit bulls? It's unfortunate that pit bulls have become an anti-establishment dog; owning one has become a misplaced act of defiance against authority that has done more damage to the breed than could ever have been imagined. Most people should NOT own a pit. I've known people who own pits who would frankly be better off with a cat, but they just gotta own that pit.

    • belleart profile image

      belleart 

      5 years ago from Ireland

      Really interesting hub, it is certainly unfair that we as humans are having such an effect on the lives of these animals. But, people are always fascinated with animals they see on tv and in Movies, and especially when these mediums use less 'common' animals. If your interested in the effect film and other media has has on animals in regards to their lives and the way we perceive them check out my article 'Animal Holocaust: a visual culture', you may find it interesting:

      http://www.animalliberationfront.com/Philosophy/An...

    • Schatzie Speaks profile imageAUTHOR

      Schatzie Speaks 

      7 years ago

      Thank you for taking the time to read my hub, Derdriu!

      The recommendation to euthanize deaf dalmatians was one of the more disturbing facts I found; it makes no sense considering that human interference caused the phenomenon and that it is hardly a lethal malady! Having a deaf pet would have challenges, but that, in my opinion, is no reason to have it killed.

      Thanks again for stopping on by! :)

      Schatzie

    • profile image

      Derdriu 

      7 years ago

      Schatzie Speaks, What an elucidating, informative, thought-provoking discussion of the insidiousness of the Dalmatian syndrome! In particular, it's shocking to hear that researchers would breed a puppy that then would be killed just because of deafness brought on by the selective breeding process.

      Respectfully, and with many thanks for caring and sharing, Derdriu

    • Schatzie Speaks profile imageAUTHOR

      Schatzie Speaks 

      7 years ago

      Thank you Mywikistep, for taking the time to read and comment on my hub.

      It's very hard for me to research topics like this and not get upset about it, I just feel so sad for all the poor animals that were mistreated. My goal is to write more hubs on similar topics, and hopefully they will have a positive impact, however small!

    • profile image

      MYWIKISTEP 

      7 years ago

      Animals have always been used by various ways just for making money.

      There is always the right and wrong way, and that goes for animal treatment too.

    • Schatzie Speaks profile imageAUTHOR

      Schatzie Speaks 

      7 years ago

      Hi Nettlemere! Thank you so much for pointing that out, I have a link to this one but completely forgot about linking them up the other way around! I will fix it, pronto! :)

    • Nettlemere profile image

      Nettlemere 

      7 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

      Excellent Article well researched and thoroughly referenced. It would be handy if it had a link to your 101 dalmatians effect part 1 - which I'm about to have a look for.

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