Don't let Patrick make you want to buy a Pug
A new Disney movie is being released this weekend, and it's caused some serious misgivings in the animal welfare world: 'Patrick the Pug' looks set to be the latest summer box office hit.
The problem is that, as you'd expect from the title, the movie features a Pug in the leading role. Pugs are a 'brachycephalic' or flat-faced breed. These types of dogs are prone to health problems that can severely damage their welfare. The short skull shape, flattened muzzle and narrowed nostrils mean that these dogs often suffer from Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome (BOAS). And to compound the problem, research in the UK has shown that 60% of people who own a dog with BOAS syndrome not recognise their pet dogs' clinical signs as an issue to be worried about. It is seen as normal for Pugs to snuffle, snort and pant far more than other dogs.
The concern of dog breed clubs, animal welfare organisations, vets and academic institutions is that the film will create a surge in demand for Pugs.
Now, it's true that Pugs are generally friendly, good-natured, small dogs that can make good pets. But the problem is that especially if they are bred in a casual way, without due attention to optimal health, they suffer from a high incidence of breathing problems that cause them to suffer serious ill health. I've known Pugs that have needed surgery to prevent them from suffocating because their airways are so narrow.
So the worry is that a movie like this will create a surge of interest in Pugs, with people buying them without understanding the high risk that they will suffer from breathing problems. This surge of interest will then lead to a boost in prices for Pug puppies, which in turn will cause more people to want to breed Pugs, often without paying due attention to their health.
This has happened in the past: Dalmatians were super popular after the '101 Dalmatians' movies, with rescue centres becoming overcrowded with unwanted Dalmations in the succeeding years. People had bought them on a whim, not realising that they are high energy dogs, not suitable for every home.
St Bernards had a similar boost in popularity after the 'Beethoven' movies, Rough Collies following the 'Lassie' movies, and Chihuahuas when 'Legally Blonde' was on the big screen. It's more than just the movie itself: it's the fact that the country is awash with images of the dog breed.
At the moment, Patrick the Pug is on billboards, on buses and on television. It's difficult for a day to go past without seeing a Patrick image. In fact, I was ambivalent about writing this piece because arguably I am contributing myself to the popularisation of Pugs (if people don't read this text, they may just see the image of the Pug and think 'oh, that's cute')
In fairness to Disney, the company has taken time to meet with those concerned about the impact of the movie. A number of different bodies have tried to help, providing Disney with advice and information on how they can best manage this anticipated interest in the breed.
The simple aim has been to ensure that anyone considering purchasing a Pug should be reminded of the need to carefully research the breed. They need to be fully aware of the potential health issues, the high costs, and the specialist care that these dogs may need.
In an effort to mitigate the negative effects that the Patrick movie may have on the popularity and demand for the breed, the following steps have been taken.
First, the following welfare message explaining the health issues of Pugs has been inserted into the credits section of the film:
"Patrick like most Pugs, is very lovable. However, Pugs and some other flat faced breeds can suffer from serious health problems. If you are thinking of getting a dog, please think twice before getting a Pug and speak to your local vet to learn more first."
Second, Pug Welfare Information Sheets are due to be distributed to the public at cinemas, describing the health issues of the Pug breed and explaining that ownership should not be undertaken lightly.
Third, the official Patrick the Movie website homepage includes a prominent Pug Health and Welfare tab; if this is clicked on, it leads to a Pug Welfare Information Sheet.
Fourth, a shareable Pug Welfare video, featuring Patrick the Pug, has been created on the Disney UK YouTube channel.
Finally, the film will not be accompanied by merchandising of 'Patrick' Pug memorabilia.
Irish vets, through their professional body Veterinary Ireland, have been proactive in promoting the welfare of dogs like Pugs. Last November (2017), Veterinary Ireland members ratified a Policy Document on Brachycephalic Dogs and passed a motion at its AGM calling on the media to support the cessation of the use of flat-faced dog and cat breeds in all forms of advertising. The aim is to try to reverse the current trend of breeding more and more extreme brachycephalic dogs, with flatter and flatter faces, and more and more breathing difficulties. The overall aim is that by 2030, all flat-faced dogs born in Ireland, will be able to breathe with ease.