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Published Tuesday, September 7, 1999
Star Tribune, Minneapolis-St. Paul

How much is that doggie in the movie? Lots of time, work
Chuck Haga / Star Tribune


Your kid comes home from the movie "A Dog of Flanders" and says, "Mom, we just have to get one of those dogs!"

If the kid is standing there with a Dalmatian, a St. Bernard, a chihuahua and a Jack Russell terrier, you're probably known as an easy mark well beyond your household. Soon you'll be spelling it out for the neighbors: "The breed is called Bouvier des Flandres."

But if you have any restraint left at all, listen first to Karen Meyers-Possin, a dog breeder in Milaca, Minn., who has had Bouviers for about six years.

Listen to her talk about Jet, a Bouvier she shows -- and loves dearly.

"This beard -- if you don't stay on top of it, it will stink," she said, tugging at the mop of hair that enshrouds Jet's snout. "It's the most rancid, sour smell. They get food caught in it, and they drag it along the ground.

"Bouviers are wonderful, but they are the wrong dog for many people. They are large, long-haired and require lots of grooming and exercise. They slobber across the floor after they drink. They carry dirt and mud into the house, and they're very stubborn."

But the Bouvier is likely to see a jump in popularity, at least in the short term, because of Patrasche, the canine star of Warner Brothers' recently released "A Dog of Flanders." Meyers-Possin said that some breeders already have started to advertise that they have Bouviers, "the dog in the movie," for sale.

The same thing happened after Pongo stole children's hearts in "101 Dalmatians," and earlier with Edward, the Cardigan Welsh corgi in "The Accidental Tourist."

"Every time Hollywood makes a dog movie, the breed goes to hell," Meyers-Possin said.

The phenomenon isn't limited to the big screen. Spuds McKenzie, of beer-commercial fame, boosted the popularity of bull terriers, just as Eddie has done for Jack Russell terriers on "Frasier." Even chihuahuas have been made trendy, thanks to Taco Bell commercials.

"The Bouvier is the next public darling," said Kathy McCoubrey, of Broad Run, Va., a national rescue coordinator for the Dalmatian Club of America.

McCoubrey locates Dalmatians that have been left at shelters and tries to find them new homes with responsible owners. Soon after the latest version of "101 Dalmatians" was released in 1996, registrations of Dalmatians shot up so fast that the breed cracked the national top 10 list, she said. It has since dropped back to about 40th place as people learned that "Dals" aren't the perfect family dog.

"But I still get eight to 10 rescue calls a day," she said.

The problem may not be as great with Bouviers. The cost should inspire some reasoned reflection: Meyers-Possin has charged upwards of $800 for a Bouvier pup.

And since it's such a large and high-maintenance breed, "people maybe will not rush out to get them," McCoubrey said. "Also, it's not a real common breed, so there won't be a lot of puppy mills and pet shops having them. I have friends who wanted show-quality Bouviers, and they had to wait a long time.

"But the unscrupulous breeders will see there's a profit margin there, and they'll try to find Bouviers to breed."

Beth Nash, of Dayton,, a member of the Minnesota Purebred Dog Breeders Association, said that publicity-fanned demand makes it "tempting for people to be less careful about how they breed" dogs for sale.

"Maybe they breed animals where they might not know enough about their health and temperament background," she said. "There are lots of people whose hearts are in the right place, but they don't have the training or the background. And some people are just out to make money."

Loretta Cornelius of Farmington, president of the purebred breeders' group, said that German shepherds suffered as a breed because of the popularity of Rin Tin Tin on television in the 1950s.

"It happens to every breed they make a movie about," Cornelius said. "I almost wish they'd use a mixed breed dog. It wouldn't be such a hassle for those of us with purebreds."

 

Jet is 18 months old and weighs about 90 pounds. He should top out at about 105, Meyers-Possin said, although some males reach 125 pounds.

He is broad-shouldered like a bear, and he moves like a bear -- bouncing from one front foot to the other, rambling with a bear's rolling gait. From the front, standing still and scanning the yard for squirrels or deer, he resembles a small buffalo. After a few romps through the yard, he looks more like an unmade bed.

"They were used as cattle dogs," Meyers-Possin said. "The way they drove cattle was to body-slam them. And they still have that natural herding instinct. When Jet is with the kids, he tries to keep them all in one clump.

"When he hits you running, it's like being clipped by a football player."

Bouviers have a "soft personality," she said. "When you scold a Bouvier, they pout for hours." And while he is playful, Jet isn't as adoring and affectionate as many people like their dogs to be. "A lot of times when you go to hug him, he'll just push you away."

How are they indoors?

"They're fine if you don't mind a clomped-through house," Meyers-Possin said. "They move really quietly, but they can do more damage than any two toddlers."

Jet's shaggy brindle undercoat has to be combed out once or twice a week or it will mat severely. Hair on the head, rear and other areas needs to be clipped every few weeks. Because the breed is so large, strong and independent, "training is not optional," Meyers-Possin said.

There's one more thing. According to the almost encyclopedic explanation of why not to buy a Bouvier, which is posted on the Internet by a fan of the dog, it is "one of the more flatulent breeds."

McCoubrey said the surge in "Dalmatian fever" was a double whammy for legitimate breeders, and Bouvier breeders could see something similar.

"We got so much negative media coverage," she said. "The Dalmatian was portrayed as bad for children, difficult to train, aggressive. That turned people off from getting a well-bred Dalmatian.

"On the other hand, so many people went out and bought pet-shop Dalmatians and puppy-mill Dalmatians, and so many of those were dumped."

She compares notes with people who rescue Jack Russell terriers bought and then abandoned by people who thought they wanted a dog like Eddie, as well as people who try to save unwanted chihuahuas and St. Bernards (the "Beethoven" movies).

Many people are simply too busy to have a dog, she said, especially a breed that has special grooming and training requirements.

"They already have fast-paced lives," she said. "The parents are off working, the kids are playing soccer. Nobody has time to train the dog, and it's unmanageable.

"If you never thought about getting a dog before, don't do it just because you saw one in a movie. If you do decide to get a dog, go through a reputable breeder, who will interview you to make sure it's the right dog for you.

"A dog is never anything to buy on impulse. It's a 15-year commitment. If people would understand that, it would solve a lot of our rescue problems."

Copyright 1999 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.

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