For Celebrity Pets, Is Internet Fame the New Hollywood?
Published on January 27, 2014
Such popular. Many joke. Wow.
If you don’t know what we’re talking about, delve into the world of Doge, a trendy Internet meme featuring a Shiba Inu picture flanked with short, nonsensical messages written in multicolored comic sans font.
The meme flourished on Facebook and Reddit at the end of 2013, and continues to dominate, even inspiring a cryptocurrency called Dogecoin. Its users recently raised $30,000 to send the two-man Jamaican bobsled team to the Sochi Olympics. (But that’s a whole ’nother story.)
So now that you’ve fallen in love with the meme’s inexplicably endearing Shiba Inu, you want to go out and get one of these newly popular dogs for yourself, right? But is that really a good idea? Probably not, according to some experts.
The Faults of Fame
Gina DiNardo, vice president at the American Kennel Club, cautions against impulsively buying or adopting the types of animals you fall in love with online.
“It is something that happens, because people like to emulate things that are popular in culture. It makes them cool, makes them hip, makes them relevant,” she says. “But an animal, that shouldn’t be part of the consideration.”
Responsible breeders would never produce litters because a pop-culture fad spiked demand for a certain dog, DiNardo says.
Still, that doesn’t mean it never happens. Flash back half a century to Disney’s 1961 release of a soon-to-be classic called 101 Dalmatians. In the late 1990s, a live-action version reigned, followed by a sequel, video game and stage musical.
Every time Disney does a rerelease, people rush out to get Dalmatians. That’s quickly followed by an influx of the dogs ending up at shelters because those impulsive owners weren’t prepared to care for a high-energy, athletic dog with the demanding exercise needs of the Dalmatian.
“Movies can have a detriment,” says Meg Hennesey, corresponding secretary of the Dalmatian Club of America. “A lot of people who didn’t do health testing, didn’t do temperament tests, just bred anything, got into Dalmatians to make a quick buck. And they made their quick buck. And then, all of a sudden, the Dalmatian fell out of favor for another breed. And the puppy mills, then, were stuck with Dals and got rid of them.”
The same problem persisted with German Shepherds (Rin Tin Tin), Collies (Lassie), Chihuahuas (Legally Blonde), and even recently popular dogs like Modern Family’s French Bulldog.
“We seem incapable of resisting the pull of popularity,” notes Susan Orlean, author of a 2012 novel about Rin Tin Tin, in a column for The New York Times. “Sometimes these dogs have owners who have come to realize they were more in love with the dog when it was an image on-screen than as a real, live member of the household. Or, in the case with German Shepherds, they love them so much that they want to produce more of them, without much idea of how to do that well.”
What, then, is the best amount of pop-culture fame for a dog breed? None at all?
Not quite, says Hennesey. “You need a large-enough gene pool to make intelligent choices for breeding. And if everybody starts saying, ‘Well, I’m not going to breed a Dalmatian,’ the gene pool will get smaller. And so it’s a real fine juggling act, as far as a good breeder is concerned.”
Is a Shiba Inu Right for You?
Veterinarian Dr. Mary Fuller, who has raised four Shiba Inus, calls them “the cat of the dog family.” They can be fiercely independent, aloof and reserved toward strangers. And if you’re someone who really wants a clean house, this might not be the dog for you; they blow coat twice a year, shedding their fur in handfuls. Also, Dr. Fuller says, make sure you have a fenced-in yard.
“If you open the door, they will be gone,” Dr. Fuller says. “They don’t always come when you call. I have had to run around the block in my pajamas, shaking a bag of cheese, because my Shiba let himself out of the backyard. They’re kind of notorious for being escape artists.”
Dr. Fuller’s two current Shiba Inus, Arlo and Iris, love to wrestle with each other and gladly share rawhide bones, which is not always the case with this breed. That’s thanks in part to the fact that Dr. Fuller learned, albeit the hard way, how to socialize Shibas.
“I would worry that too much of them on the Internet is going to mean that a lot of people who shouldn’t have them, get them,” says Dr. Fuller. “And then they end up at the shelter.”
Cats Require Consideration Too
Doing your breed research is just as crucial before you bring home a cat as it is with dogs, says Jodell Raymond of the Cat Fanciers’ Association. She recommends you consider things like whether you have visitors at your home often, if you plan to travel extensively, and how much time you have to exercise your cat.
The number-one pedigreed cat breed right now, according to the CFA’s registration numbers, is the Persian. Its cousin, the Exotic Shorthair, follows in the number-two slot. YouTube stars Colonel Meow and Pancake (as well as CeeLo Green’s companion on The Voice) have popularized this flat-faced look, but keep in mind that these felines are particularly prone to breathing problems and very sensitive to heat. In fact, many airlines refuse to transport these breeds in the cargo bay because of their potential for respiratory distress.
If YouTube sensation Maru or Taylor Swift’s cat, Meredith, makes you want a Scottish Fold for your family, consider whether you’ll be home enough to entertain this social breed. Plus, you’ll want to avoid getting a kitten who shows signs of a painful skeletal abnormality that runs in the breed.
The bottom line, Raymond says, is to do your homework instead of simply rushing out to pick up a pet. That’s especially important if you’ve fallen in love with a dwarf cat like Lil Bub, whose genetic abnormalities contribute to her many health problems.
“It has brought to the forefront that there are some cats out there with special needs,” says Raymond. “If you have the time commitment and are able to take care of that cat, that’s a wonderful thing to do.”
So before you rush out to get your own Doge dog or Lil Bub, make sure you do enough research to make an informed decision. Because, let's face it: Home videos of your new pet tearing apart living-room furniture or tweets about unexpected and astronomical vet bills aren't likely to go viral.