Cinema Dog Daze

Films fuel the fads for special pets -- then comes the fallout

There are no statistics on the viability of grow-your-own pet shelters, but Betsy McFarland of the American Humane Association says, "I can tell you anecdotally that we get calls from individuals from all over the country who want to start a shelter." McFarland instead tries to steer these people toward joining an existing organization. In other words, picking up poop at an established institution will do more for big-eyed, slobbering critters than designing a nifty logo for their very own shelter.

Breed rescue groups, organizations that work to find homes for a particular breed, often have a better foundation than an off-the-cuff shelter. First, they're often part of a breed club that can provide support. These rescue groups typically use foster homes for their dogs, instead of building a facility, and their education programs and coordination with clients can be effective in preventing owners from returning dogs.

Jessica Logan of Loving Spots says her group has only had one dog returned since they instituted the training program. She credits the success to a requirement that all adopters go through a 12-week training program with their new dogs (this training is for the humans, not the dogs). Logan says they place approximately 100 dogs annually, mostly the glamorous speckled pups, but also mutts and purebreds from other shelter efforts. She admits to sometimes coming off as a complete bitch for her blunt warnings that many would-be do-gooders aren't as educated as they should be.

Mushu makes it big in movies as MIIB's Frank.
Mushu makes it big in movies as MIIB's Frank.

"You're not going to be able to save the world -- you're not," Logan says. Love and good food isn't enough, she says; there's still the problem of people who give up dogs because they just can't live with them.

Pet stores host adoptions each weekend and thousands of retired greyhound racers have found good homes as pets, but the math is still dismal. Hodges says that local shelters put down up to 90,000 animals a year.

The key, according to Humane officials, is that people need to carefully think about what kind of breed and dog is best suited for them, and all the costs and responsibilities associated with that decision. Thanks to relentless campaigning from animal welfare activists, and the popularity of mutt-friendly sports like flyball and dog agility, people are eager to adopt a Heinz 57 (mixed breed), and even willing to start with an older dog. (Those who insist on a purebred can still adopt one. According to McFarland, 25 percent of animals that enter shelters are purebred.)

Hodges recognizes that county animal control gets the dregs of dog society and has the hardest time finding homes. Some days, she says, it's just too much, "I have to go do filing or something; I just can't bear to look at anything furry."

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