The new movie, ”Max”, has hit the theaters. Its lead actor just happens to be a Belgian Malinois. Although it is too early to tell, the anticipated increase in these dogs being surrendered to shelters over the next few years already has the rescue community shuddering.
Petfinder describes the Belgian Malinois as a smart, high-energy breed with a need for regular mental and physical stimulation. The AKC agrees and states, “Problems arise, though, when this smart dog is underemployed and neglected.” When people obtain a dog without carefully researching the breed, its temperament and needs, and do not consider the family’s overall ability to care for the animal, it is a recipe for disaster. Thus, the crux of everyone’s concern is that, after seeing the movie, without careful consideration, many will flock to obtain a Malinois. In addition, if past trends continue, we can expect an increase in the backyard breeding of these dogs and the resultant issues that occur because of it.
Researchers from the University of Bristol, the City University of New York, and Western Carolina University conducted the study, “Dog Movie Stars and Dog Breed Popularity: A Case Study in Media Influence on Choice.” They confirmed, after researching a number of movies released between 1927 and 2004 featuring dogs and evaluating American Kennel Club (AKC) registration trends during releases, that movies have an impact on breed popularity. This impact, in some cases, continued for many years afterward.
The more popular a film, the stronger the effect as evidenced by the following examples. “Lassie Come Home” was associated with a 40 percent increase in Collie registrations during the two years following its release in 1943. The 1959 Walt Disney film “The Shaggy Dog” resulted in a 3,600 percent increase in sheepdog registrations over ten years.
After the 1996 release of Disney’s remake of ''101 Dalmatians”, animal shelters reported a 35 percent increase in the number of Dalmatians surrendered. The reasons given were that the dogs were high-strung, stubborn, and sometimes aggressive. In addition, the relinquishing owners said they required lots of exercise and, in some cases, special care because of health problems like deafness.
Chihuahuas at many California shelters comprise almost 30-45 percent of their population. Even though they are cute and small, they do have a nervous personality which can make them unpredictable. For those who wanted to have a dog like the one in “Legally Blonde” or “Beverly Hills Chihuahua”, or to mimic a celebrity like Paris Hilton, the reality of it not being what was envisioned undoubtedly contributes to its high relinquishment.
Purebred dogs from an accredited responsible breeders can cost upwards to thousands of dollars. Responsible breeders have the dogs’ best interests in mind. They test for genetic and common diseases for their particular breed, minimize inbreeding, and typically only have a few litters of puppies per year to insure that the pups have a good environment and appropriate health care. In order to meet the demand for the popular “dog of the moment” backyard breeders and puppy mills come into play. Not caring about the animal’s temperament, or present and future health, they sell puppies for substantially less. Unfortunately, these animals then become the true victims of fad and fashion, ending up in shelters across the country.
Another perfect example of the above is Rin Tin Tin, a German Shepherd who appeared in 27 films. Being an immediate box office success caused such a demand, that many took advantage of the breed’s popularity and essentially created a breed that today is susceptible to a number of serious health issues including hip dysplasia, heart problems, bloat and cancer. In 2012 Shepherds were declared the second most popular breed. Unfortunately, they are also the third most abandoned due to the guardian being unprepared to care for the breed.
Getting a dog because you saw it in a movie and thought “I want one just like that” does not do you or the animal any good. In order for man’s best friend to actually be his best friend, seriously think about choosing your pet. Research the breed and ask yourself if the dog’s temperament, size, energy level, etc. would be a good fit with you and your family and your lifestyle. Realize also, that the dogs in movies have had years of specific training and the cute puppy you get, will not be what you saw on the screen.
Enjoy “Max”, but let’s keep the Belgian Malinois from becoming another victim of movie popularity.