‘102 Dalmatians’

A renowned doggie doc discusses inbreeding, high-strung puppies, and ‘102 Dalmatians’

Writer David Templeton takes interesting people to interesting movies in his ongoing quest for the ultimate post-film conversation. This is not a review; rather, it’s a freewheeling, tangential discussion of art, alternative ideas, and popular culture.

“Did you see the first movie, 101 Dalmatians?” I pose this question to Dr. Martin Goldstein shortly after seeing the aforementioned Disney film’s new sequel, 102 Dalmatians.

“No,” he emphatically replies. “No. I never saw it.”

“But you’ve seen the original animated version, of course,” I assume. “The 1961 version?”

After all, I am thinking, Goldstein is a veterinarian, and an outspoken fan of dogs. Surely the film had some influence on him as a young vet-to-be.

“No. Never saw that one either,” he says. After a well-timed beat, he adds, “Heh heh.”

He says it exactly like that. “Heh Heh,” as if to say, “What do you think of that?”

It is typical of Martin Goldstein–outspoken proponent of holistic medicinal practices for animals, and the best-selling author of The Nature of Animal Healing: The Definitive Holistic Medicine Guide to Caring For Your Dog and Cat (Ballantine; $16.00)–to take knowing delight in doing the unexpected.

For 25 years of veterinary practice, Goldstein has been an iconoclastic force within his profession, suggesting, among other things, that commercial pet foods, canned and dry, are creating widespread poor health among America’s cat and dog population. Goldstein suggests feeding real meat and grains to our canine and feline friends. He also has strong opinions on yearly vaccination–a practice he feels may be causing genetic damage.

Not every veterinarian agrees with Dr. Goldstein, yet his holistic approaches are becoming increasingly popular within the field. His book, recently released in paperback, has been embraced by legions of pet lovers and has surely inspired some very interesting conversations between dog and cat owners and their traditionally trained vets.

But enough of that: What did Goldstein think of his first Dalmatian movie?

“My first impression,” remarks the New York-based doctor, “was that this was a very pro-dog movie. Beyond that, what can I say? It was a cutesy little movie that happened to have a lot of dogs in it.”

It’s hard to argue with that summation.

Those who actually saw the first live-action film, of course, will know that Cruella de Vil (Glenn Close)–psychopath and high-fashion fancier of Dalmatian fur coats–has been serving a prison term for attempting to slaughter several dozen talking puppies.

In the new film, she is released from prison, seemingly reformed and newly committed to the welfare of put upon pooches. Before too long, of course–after a breakdown where she sees spots (black ones) everywhere–she’s got the itch all over again. Mayhem ensues. Dogs are threatened. People are hurt.

The nasty underbelly of the Dalmatian movies, of course, is what’s happened to all those little puppies that people ran out and bought for their kids after the first film was released back in 1996.

“Dalmatians became such a big fad after the first movie,” says Goldstein, “and so many of them ended up at the SPCA, and a lot of them were euthanized. I heard a lot about that at the time of the first movie. And I wasn’t surprised. The Dalmatian is not the best child’s dog.

“After being a veterinarian for 30 years,” he continues, “I would say the Dalmatian tends to be one of the snippier breeds of dogs. If someone said, ‘What dog would you classify as potentially the most aggressive and snappy to have around the house,’ I would put the Dalmatian pretty high up on the list.”

He’s warming up now.

“What I want to know,” says Goldstein, “is, what’s this movie’s obsession with purebreds? All the dogs in this movie, the Dalmatians and all the other breeds, where were all the mutts? I didn’t see any mutts. They were all purebreds.”

“You’re right. It was kind of snobbish, wasn’t it?” I say.

“Not only snobbish, but when you have breeders breeding a particular kind of animal, you are also breeding in a lot of problems,” Goldstein continues. “By which I mean all the things that go wrong genetically with so much in-breeding. Look at the kings of England, all the hemophiliacs and everything, all because of the in-breeding within the gene pool of the family.

“You can’t imagine how many times I’ve had people tell me,” Goldstein continues, “‘If only we’d just gotten a mutt, we’d have avoided so many problems!’ But people who could adopt great mutts from the pound–for little money and sometimes for free–would rather say, ‘Oh I want a Dalmatian,’ or ‘I want a Golden Retriever.’ A movie like this comes out and all of a sudden, Dalmatian breeders are breeding like crazy to satisfy the inevitable demand.”

“You know, mutts are my favorite pet,” I am encouraged to confess. “They’re the pickup truck of dogs, dependable and resilient.”

“Exactly,” Goldstein says. “Mutts are wonderful dogs. There are so many cats and dogs being put to sleep in this country, due to the overpopulation problem, and most of them are mutts, and here this film was kind of supporting the purebred dog, because that was all they showed.”

Our enthusiasm for dogs is building.

“I think the dog far surpasses the human race,” proposes Goldstein. “The dog is far above us. Imagine an animal that has bone tumors or serious leg fractures that couldn’t be repaired, where you tried to save the leg but you can’t, and you have to amputate the leg. In three days, that dog will be out wagging its tail, playing Frisbee. But take a leg off a human being and they’ll be in therapy for ten years.”

“I own three cats,” I am suddenly moved to announce. “But what I really want is a dog.”

But not a Dalmatian. I have kids. But what, exactly, is it that makes a Dalmatian so unsuitable?

“Dalmatians tend to be, shall we say, high strung,” Goldstein says. “And another thing. The Dalmatian is one of the breeds that have a congenital genetic problem that goes with them, and it’s the problem of deafness. All breeds have their thing: German Shepherds have hip dysplasia, Golden Retrievers tend to get cancer, and Dalmatians tend to be deaf.

“And let me tell you,” he continues. “If you take a high strung animal like a Dalmatian, and then you make it deaf, it’s only going to enhance its tendency toward being jumpy. Then you throw it in with some little kid who just saw 102 Dalmatians, who doesn’t understand why the dog isn’t responding to his baby talk, and starts poking and prodding the dog–it could be very bad for everyone involved.”

Clearly. And yet . . . “Don’t you wish the filmmakers had used all of this?” I ask. “Imagine a film with 100 high-strung talking dogs, all carping and complaining and being sarcastic, occasionally yelping, “What? What? I can’t hear you!” That could have been very entertaining.”

“It could,” Dr. Goldstein says. “There’s an idea for 103 Dalmatians.”

Heh Heh.

From the December 14-20, 2000 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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