Like most people of my generation, I was raised on Disney. The characters, theme parks and merchandise were and are still part of my life. I’ve probably seen every one of their animated films at least twice. You could even go so far as to call us Disney nuts! When I come to work each day, I am reminded of how Disney has and continues to influence generations of children, their parents and grandparents, especially with some of the more recent movies. Animals have always been the main or supporting characters in Disney animation. These endearing characters tend to sway families towards new pets. You can bet that if an animal was recently featured in a popular kid’s movie, those animals are sure to be in high demand in the pet trade. While they fuel interest in the animals and bring revenue to the industry, the films can be detrimental to the well being of the animals. It is important to remember that the fun and cuddly critters on the big screen may not necessarily be true representatives of the animals they represent.
In 1961, 101 Dalmatians became one of the most beloved family films of all time. The unique spotted dogs became one of the most popular breeds as a result. While Dalmatians can make great pets for the right families, many people jazzed up on the idea of owning a “Pongo” or “Purdy” of their own went out and purchased puppies without doing the proper research. The demand for the breed grew and many irresponsible breeders saw the potential profit. Over breeding resulted in genetic problems and a decline in the overall quality of the breed. New owners of these high energy dogs encountered these genetic problems and many were unprepared for the needs and characteristics of the breed, and many dogs were abandoned in animal shelters. The breed has suffered greatly all for the misunderstanding of an enthusiastic movie loving crowd, but responsible breeders have continued to produce top quality puppies to be sold to the right owner – the well-educated one. Rescue organizations and responsible breeders were left with the burden of finding dogs homes and task of maintaining the beautiful breed.
Over the past few years, Disney, Pixar, and other studios have produced a number of other movies that have also effected the pet trade. One of the most well-known to us here at That Fish Place was (and still is) “Finding Nemo”. The cute little clownfish once seen as a salt-water enthusiast’s dream has become somewhat of a nightmare to employees looking to find them proper homes. With kids wanting a Nemo of their very own, parents find themselves investigating this new interest, only to find that these beautiful fish require a lot more than a bowl and a castle. Most species of clownfish require at least a 20-30 gallon aquarium for a single pair, and all of the filtration, lighting and other equipment necessary for a proper clownfish home. The average cost of a starter tank will likely be more than $200! This doesn’t include weekly maintenance and feeding. Clownfish are salt water fish and cannot be kept in a bowl. A better option for children with a Nemo fetish? The best kind of fish to start your little ones with are Bettas. They come in many colors and can be kept in a small bowl (there is even a Nemo themed betta aquarium kit) with little or no filtration for a much lower cost.
Disney has left its mark on the sale of animals, too, like rats, guinea pigs, and hamsters – all attributed to the movies “Ratatouille”, “G-Force”, and “Bolt”. These pets are wonderful companions for gentle, well-mannered children and are not very difficult or expensive to care for. They have always been popular, but the movies Disney has released in the last few years has definitely contributed to their fame. I find that the reputation of rats has gotten a little better since “Ratatouille” came out, since for once a movie including rats did not demonize them or make them the bad guys of the film. Far from disgusting vermin, rats are clean, highly trainable companions with affectionate and playful personalities. In the case of the rat, Disney has actually contributed to a more positive outlook on pet rats and helped find more of them caring homes.
Provided that a family does proper research on the animal, there is nothing wrong with finding new interest in a pet because it has been in a movie. What we must remember though, is that animals are not cartoon characters, and what happens to them on the big screen most likely is completely fictional. Rats don’t cook, guinea pigs don’t fight crime, and fish don’t all belong in bowls, but with lots of love and attention, they all can be the stars of our household.