Opinion L.A.

Observations and provocations
from The Times' Opinion staff

« Previous Post | Opinion L.A. Home | Next Post »

Please Don't Be Dreaming of a Yellow Lab Christmas

December 24, 2008 |  9:41 am

Marleyme Marley, the dog of "Marley & Me," really scares me.

Not for the reasons you think. I love dogs, unconditionally. Over the years, various dogs of mine have eaten shoes, bags of groceries, wicker chairs, telephones, and sofas.

Marley as the tender-hearted and sharp-toothed canine terror would fit right in to my ménage.

It’s Marley as a movie star who scares me. Although "Marley & Me" doesn’t open until Christmas Day, the buzz has already begun. Which means the puppy-as-present trend has, too.

I wish I could add an asterisk to the First Amendment to halt any advertisements that show puppies or kitties adorned with red bows and plopped under the Christmas tree. Some marketer’s idea of an adorable gift is a very, very bad thing. The impulse gift of a living creature is a recipe for misery. A pet should be planned for and anticipated like a baby. The equivalent obligation amounts to the same: lifelong.

I’m no psychic, but I can tell you right now what’s going to happen because of "Marley & Me" The puppy mills will go into overdrive, producing litter after litter of adorable yellow lab puppies, some of whom will be born deformed because of the manic breeding -- and some of whom will wind up dumped at animal shelters when the owners get tired of them.

You can tell what’s been playing at the multiplex in the last six months or so just by going to LA’s animal shelters.

Recently I’ve seen even more abandoned and unwanted Chihuahuas than pit bulls. Why? Oh, right –- the movie "Beverly Hills Chihuahua." People saw the movie. They just had to have one of those adorable dogs. And then they find out that real animals are not plush animals, or movie animals. Real Chihuahuas demand a lot more than cute doggie bling. They can have health problems and diet issues. So let’s just leave ‘em at the pound and let someone else take care of them. Which can be a death sentence.

It happens and over and over and over again. It might be argued that Disney could be inadvertently, indirectly responsible for more doomed Dalmatians than Cruella de Vil ever contemplated. They looked soooo cute in the movies, but what happened? They turned out to be real dogs, not cartoon dogs, that’s what happened. They can be high-strung, with hearing and skin problems. And hundreds of them, bought because some parents couldn’t say no to their kids’ begging, wound up abandoned at shelters, where they don’t all come out alive. I ended up with two abandoned Dalmatians on my hands, and it took a long time to find them good, permanent homes where the people understood the realities of Dals’ lives.

The same thing happened with border collies and the movie "Babe" (remember Babe's friend Fly and her jealous mate Rex?). What adorable dogs! Unfortunately they don’t sit there quietly like stuffed toys. They’re working dogs, energetic and needy. Someone I know brought home a Fly for his three kids in their apartment. It was a terrible match. I finally found this Fly a perfect home on a ranch, where she was thrilled to spend her days bossing other critters around. Those happy endings are rare.

Wayne Pacelle, my pal who's the CEO and president of the Humane Society of the United States, backs me up: "Movies bring joy into our lives, and so do our dogs and cats. But films are for the moment and pets are for life -- they do not make good 'impulse' choices. Far too often, pets pay the price for of suffering for a rushed decision. We urge people, especially during the holidays, to be deliberate in choosing whether to add a new member to the family -- and we urge everyone to consider adopting a pet once they've made a decision.''

Amen, Wayne.

I’m bracing now for thousands of Marleys. But thankfully, this time, the film doesn’t make a real animal seem like a no-muss, no-fuss wind-up stuffed animal.

The movie, like the book, has a lot of important lessons in it. Patience. Love. Trust. A dog, a cat, is your family, and your lifelong responsibility. You don’t change models every few years, like a car. You don’t "trade up" to a younger model, like a serial-marrying Wall Street hotshot. A pet, like a child, is yours forever –- for better or worse, through chewed shoes and sickness, ‘til death you do part.

Comments ()