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Doggone it, that's good advice

Disney includes DVD inserts to discourage viewers from buying a tail-wagger on impulse.

July 29, 2006|Mimi Avins | Times Staff Writer

Those eyes, that winning smile -- of course thousands of people who saw Maya on the big screen fell in love with her. And who could resist Shaggy, with his comic flair? Ever since Maya, a 7-year-old Siberian husky, was the soulful canine star of Disney's live action adventure "Eight Below," and Shaggy headlined "The Shaggy Dog" earlier this year, those who were smitten with them could act on their crushes more easily than, say, a fan who goes nuts over Keira Knightley. They could get a living, breathing look-alike dog of their very own.

But the course of such love doesn't always run smoothly. Real huskies and Alaskan malamutes, such as those in Maya's sled-pulling pack, are big shedders and must be brushed frequently. They're easily bored, need lots of exercise and don't do well in hot climates. Bearded collies like Shaggy are herding dogs and tend to chase cars, children and other dogs, nipping at them if they don't stay in line.

The American Kennel Club and Walt Disney Co., aware of the potential for popular films about dogs to inspire not just love at first sight but also spontaneous purchasing, joined forces last month to head off what could be called the "101 Dalmatians" effect, when the "Eight Below" DVD went on sale. For the first time, an insert was packaged inside each DVD warning wannabe Maya owners that "The Siberian Husky is a beautiful and intelligent dog, but not right for everyone." When "The Shaggy Dog" is released Tuesday, it will contain a similar informational insert on bearded collies.

Part of the AKC's mission is to educate the public about the qualities of purebred dogs. Daisy Okas, an AKC spokeswoman, says, "People spend more time researching the kind of car they're going to buy than the kind of dog. A dog shouldn't be an impulse purchase. It's a huge commitment."

Many people enamored with the spotted puppy stars of Disney's 1996 live action "101 Dalmatians" learned the hard way about living with a big screen beauty. Dalmatians are cute, but they're also a high-energy breed with great endurance. Like many active breeds, their frustration can turn into destructive, neurotic behavior if they don't get enough exercise. The Dalmatian that chews up the furniture because it's been left alone all day often winds up in a shelter, or worse, abandoned.

"What happens on screen is different from the reality of living with a dog day to day," Okas says. "People often don't consider a dog's size. The puppy could be 10 to 20 pounds when they get it, but it will be four times that size as an adult. The caretaking aspects are the bigger concern. The deal-breaker comes when there are behavioral issues like chewing or biting if the dog doesn't get the exercise or attention it needs. If people think about a dog based on its appearance or likability in a movie, that doesn't acknowledge whether the dog's characteristics will work for their lifestyle."

The AKC insert directs people to the group's website, www.AKC.org, and specific breed websites, for more information.

Disney has a department that supervises community education and outreach programs. The studio has included other educational inserts in DVDs; one about child safety issues came with the animated "Cinderella" DVD, for example.

"As a company, we're selective about what kind of messages we'll support," says Lori MacPherson, a senior vice president at Disney. "We get a lot of requests. It has to make sense with the movie and with our company goals. We knew people tend to see our movies and fall in love with the dogs in them, so when the AKC suggested this to us, it wasn't a complicated decision."

An insert will also come with Disney's next DVD in the "Air Bud" series, whose star, Buddy, is a golden retriever. It's unlikely, though, that future "Pirates of the Caribbean" DVDs will include warnings about the perils of domesticating a beautiful, high-spirited young woman or a pirate. Or should they?

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