The Long Term Effect On Animals In Hollywood Movies

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JackTheDog.gifA very good friend of mine is an animal trainer working in the movie business. Her daily routine can consist of everything from cleaning up after a 9,000 pound African elephant to getting a rat to do what's called an A to B, where it starts in one place and ends up in another - hence A to B. She's worked on numerous big-budget Hollywood films, countless television shows as well as numerous television commercials, some of which have aired during the Super Bowl. Needless to say her job is no desk job and she has a very rewarding career in a slightly-off-the-beaten-path industry but she'd have it no other way.

However, there is one aspect of her job that hasn't changed since the first animals were ever cast in a film and that is the public's infatuation with wanting to own the very animals they see in television and movies. There have been extreme cases where some viewers have gone out and tried to procure an exotic animal like a tiger or chimpanzee; however the animals that most seem to bear the brunt of the public's desire to have as the next "it" pet are dogs and cats.

For instance, when the Disney remake of "101 Dalmatians" came out in theaters in the mid-1990's, the public desire to own a Dalmatian went through the roof. Families and individuals scooped up the adorable spotted pups much the same as they would a Tickle-me Elmo or Playstation 2. While this sudden spike in popularity for a particular breed of dog may sound harmless, few who bought Dalmatian puppies knew anything about the breed, especially their need for vigorous exercise and constant attention. This spike in demand also gave rise to backyard breeders who were even less concerned with the breed's overall well-being and lineage and more preoccupied with profits. Both the consumer demand and breeders' thirst for profits ultimately led to the watering down of the Dalmatian breed resulting in rampant health issues, shorter life spans and dogs being turned over to pounds and shelters in record numbers. It got so bad that several shelters stopped taking Dalmatians altogether, for they could not adopt them out to proper homes when so many homes had either previously owned a Dalmatian or already had one. The sad reality for many of these innocent animals was that they were euthanized as a result of overbreeding and a lack of qualified owners.

Now many of you may be wondering about the hundred or so dogs used in the film, what was their fate?

When domestic animals are used in film or television they more often than not belong to a company or ranch that has a qualified staff dedicated to their well-being and daily life. In cases like "101 Dalmatians," many of those dogs return "home" to the ranch or company that was ultimately in charge of the job, while others are adopted out after an exhaustive screening process. Most adoptive parents of former studio animals are ex-animal trainers themselves (I have a retired German Shepherd living with me because of this program) or have some ties to the working animal community.

Needless to say, the likelihood of an ex-studio animal being turned over to a shelter is virtually nil. In fact, many studio animals are actually rescues themselves. For instance Eeko, my German Shepherd, was scheduled for euthanasia when he was adopted by a company owner who gave him a second chance and the attention he required to become a rehabilitated dog, not to mention a successful studio animal. That was 11 years ago. Today Eeko lives out his days with my other two dogs, a Scottish Terrier and a Victorian Bulldog, on two and a half acres in a California national forest.

It's hard to see the little puppy or kitten on TV or in your favorite film and not imagine that same animal in your home behaving in cute, humanistic ways that bring joy and laughter to all. But understand - everything in movies, even the animals and their behaviors, is an act, designed to entice and engage you, the audience. Real life is a far different story and while many of these dogs and cats are like the characters they play on screen, the reality of what it takes to care for and keep them happy boggles the mind. So before you run out and buy your wife, son or daughter a new Chihuahua because they just finished watching "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" on Blu-ray for the umpteenth time - take a moment to learn a little something about the breed, research breeders or better yet talk to a shelter and weigh the pros and cons about welcoming a pet into your home. You'll be doing yourself and animals everywhere a huge favor. The Internet is a great place to test out ideas before you adopt or purchase an animal. There are good breed and breeder websites that will share the upside and downsides of each animal before you take the plunge. Physically going to a dog or cat show (and yes, it is just like the movie "Best In Show") is another way for you to meet and interact with breeds and talk to the top experts. Unless they are doing the last prep to show a dog or cat - these breeders are almost always willing to spend time with you talking about their animals and letting you meet their show-grade animals, which is twenty times more meaningful than the shopping mall pet store experience.

Oh, and if you get the urge to try and obtain an exotic animal like a monkey or tiger because you saw one on TV or "knew a guy" when you were a kid who had one - do yourself and everyone around you a favor: hit yourself in the head with a monoblock amp as hard and as frequently as you can until the pain forces the thought to leave your cerebellum. Trust me, you don't want a monkey. Adopt an audiophile instead - it's far more rewarding.

Truly there is a pet out there for anyone and everyone. Today, more than ever, rescues all over the country are filled with great pets waiting for a home. Rescues are also in desperate need for people to foster rescue dogs, which is a way to help dogs get a new chance at happiness. Jerry and Krista Del Colliano foster frequently with the Golden Retriever Rescue here in Los Angeles, which they find to be a very rewarding charity as well as a good way to keep their Golden, Jack (the dog) making new friends. No matter what road you take before you or someone you know gets their next pet - don't be fooled by Hollywood hype or overt on-screen cuteness. Do your research so that you make a logical decision that will yield years upon years of happiness.

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