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101 Dalmatians Syndrome: Media Influence on Pet Owners

Schatzie has bachelor's degrees in animal science and English and a master's in education.

Don't adopt a new pet just because you saw the animal on TV or in the media.

Don't adopt a new pet just because you saw the animal on TV or in the media.

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 "100 Dalmatians 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.

Be sure to do your research before adopting a new friend.

Be sure to do your research before adopting a new friend.

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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."

The German Shepard also suffered due to this syndrome.

The German Shepard also suffered due to this syndrome.

The German Shepherd in the 1920s and 1930s

Rin-Tin-Tin, a German Shepherd brought back from a 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.

Iguanas and chameleons were abandoned in higher numbers and found to be in poor health after a Budweiser campaign.

Iguanas and chameleons were abandoned in higher numbers and found to be in poor health after a Budweiser campaign.

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.

Real clownfish need more care than the fictional Nemo.

Real clownfish need more care than the fictional Nemo.

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.

No, guinea pigs can't do martial arts.

No, guinea pigs can't do martial arts.

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.

Great Danes are, well, great . . . in size, that is.

Great Danes are, well, great . . . in size, that is.

The Great Dane in 2010

The movie 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.



This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2012 Schatzie Speaks

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