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Five years ago, when Walt Disney Productions released its animated film version of “101 Dalmatians,'' kids everywhere cried out for Dalmatian toys, Dalmatian wallpaper and, of course, real Dalmatians. Parents bought thousands of the black-and-white freckled pups, but all too often the story did not have a happy ending.
Those adorable babies grew into large, powerful dogs with wills of their own. Months later, many were abandoned or left on shelter doorsteps. So last year, animal protection agencies worried that the sad cycle could repeat itself with the release of Disney's “102 Dalmatians,'' a sequel to the popular animated original.
It doesn't appear to be happening again. A PetPlace survey of a dozen pet stores and breeders around the country suggests that parents are resisting the urge to stuff their children's Christmas stockings with the famous pooch.
Five years ago, “Everybody called'' looking to buy Dalmatian pups, said Gabriel Fileto, owner of Rancho Pets in Los Angeles. “But not now.''
Not a High Demand for Dalmatians
“With the first movie, I couldn't keep enough Dalmatians in the store – there was a ton of demand. With the second movie, there's not that much,'' said Kim Chan, manager of Uncle Bill's Pet Centers in Indianapolis, who believes that the novelty of Dalmatians has faded.
Animal advocates believe there are several reasons for the fall-off in demand for Dalmatians. One factor may be that animal protection groups mounted publicity campaigns alerting the public to the responsibilities of raising Dalmatians.
“What's going on here is the Humane Society of the United States, the ASPCA, other humane societies and animal protection agencies have weighed in very heavily on this,'' said Humane Society spokesman Howard White.
Would-be Dalmatian owners may also have been discouraged by word-of-mouth from people who have heard of the special attention that Dalmatians need.
“After the first movie, word got around that Uncle Ned or Aunt Sue got this Dalmatian puppy for the kids, and that it was a disaster,'' said White.
Dalmatians Not Ideal Pets
Decades before his movie stardom, the Dalmatian was best known as the brave, hard-working firehouse mascot. They are strong, intelligent and playful, but they can also be too powerful for small children and willful enough to need strong, consistent obedience training. More than 10 percent of the dogs are born deaf, and they are prone to other medical problems, including kidney and bladder stones.
Dalmatians aren't the ideal pet for a small home or apartment, either. “These are dogs that run in the countryside,'' said Christine Dyker, an American Kennel Club-registered breeder who runs Labyrinth Dalmatians in Dickerson, Md. “We don't raise puppies so we can sell puppies to people for their own backyards. We're out to improve the breed. It's not `Come and get it while they're hot.'''
A Walt Disney Productions spokeswoman did not return two calls seeking comment, but one Disney aide said the studio cooperated with animal-protection groups before the film opened to avoid a rush on puppies. “We were working with them from the beginning,'' the insider said.
Humane Society spokeswoman Karen Allenbach said Disney inserted a reminder about responsible pet ownership at the end of the film, a move the society considered “inadequate.''