The following editorial appeared in the Los Angeles Times on Friday, Feb. 17:
APekingese with a pear-shaped body – apparently the sought-after Peke physique – and gray mane worthy of a Shetland pony won the coveted Best in Show title last Tuesday at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, the Oscars of the canine world. Just a day before, Uggie, the Jack Russell terrier that was the breakout star of the movie “The Artist,” fetched the prize for best film dog at the Golden Collars Awards presentation and is rumored to be appearing at the Oscars show. He was the toast of the Golden Globes stage last month.
The award-winning Pekingese is a show dog with a storied pedigree and dozens of awards to his name, which is Malachy. Uggie, on the other hand, was a wayward puppy who went through two different owners and was slated to go to a shelter before a film industry animal trainer adopted him, discovered his potential and launched him on a career in commercials and movies.
Animal welfare advocates have often been critics of dog breeders, particularly those who oppose mandatory spay/neuter ordinances. Why breed more dogs, advocates ask, when so many end up in municipal shelters and hundreds of thousands are euthanized each year in this country? But some dog lovers say they are reluctant to adopt a dog of unknown history from a shelter.
Officials of the American Humane Association, which has a film and TV unit that certifies whether animals on sets are being treated decently, estimate that 80 percent of the cats and dogs that appear in movies and television shows are rescued or adopted from shelters. The legendary Rin Tin Tin – the subject of a new biography by Susan Orlean – was rescued as a puppy during World War I. He went on to become so hugely famous as an acting dog that, according to Orlean, he received the most votes for best actor in 1929 (although Academy officials deny the story, saying nothing in their records supports it).
All this fanfare should remind us that canines across the spectrum – including those languishing in shelters – are capable of becoming remarkable dogs, whether that means walking a red carpet in front of photographers or curling up on the rug at our feet. Although their backgrounds could not have been more different, both Uggie and Malachy intend to retire after this awards season.