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Tuesday, August 24, 1999
Woman fears movie will lead to Bouvier neglect

by Eric Volmers
Cambridge Reporter

Alecia Freeman poses with their family Bouvier des Flandres dogs, Princess (front) and Jesse. Throughout Canada and the United States, groups of concerned Bouvier owners rescue hundreds of the animals every year that have been neglected by owners who quickly find they were not prepared to care for the large and sometimes difficult breed.
CAMBRIDGE - When Princess was rescued from its home in Ohio, the two-year-old Bouvier des Flandres was malnourished, infected, nearly bald and so weak it could barely walk.

Princess was saved by current owner Alecia Freeman and her family, who brought the abused dog back to their home in Cambridge and nursed it back to health.

Throughout Canada and the United States, groups of concerned Bouvier owners rescue hundreds of the animals every year that have been neglected by owners who quickly find they were not prepared to care for the large and sometimes difficult breed.

But with the release of the much-hyped Warner Bros movie Dog of Flanders on Friday - a children's' film in which a Bouvier dog plays a major role - Ms. Freeman and others fear the problem will only get worse as more and more people are introduced to the unique looking, long-haired breed.

"I'd just like people to think about it before getting one," said Ms. Freeman, who owns two Bouviers as pets.

"They are very protective and if they aren't properly trained they can be domineering. They require quite a bit of grooming, to take these two to Pet Smart to groom costs $1,000."

Bouvier owners, who tend to be a breed apart themselves, meet regularly at dog shows and often communicate through chat lines on the Internet. When they heard rumours of the movie, many decided to raise awareness of the breed to counter whatever impact the film may have in boosting impulse buying of Bouvier pups.

Just as the movie 101 Dalmations led to the overpopularity and poor breeding of dalmations and 1995's Beethoven led to an increase in fly-by-night breeders cashing in on the short-lived St. Bernard craze, breeders and owners of the unique Bouvier fear the movie will encourage unscrupulous breeders to set up puppy mills to meet growing demand.

"In (Dog of Flanders), what they are going to see is a dog that is well-trained and does what he is supposed to," Ms. Freeman said. "What it won't show is that it takes a lot of time and effort to get them like that."

Currently, Bouvier dogs are expensive to buy and own, especially those that are registered. They can cost from $800 to $2,000 to purchase. Ms. Freeman's two dogs go through a 45-pound bag of food each week.

The breed originated in Belgium, often used as sheep herders or police dogs.

For responsible owners who take the time to train the dogs, Bouviers are kind, loyal and friendly. But they are also headstrong, hard to train and prone to developing hip dysplasia and heart and thyroid problems.

In the past, as breeds like rottweillers, pit bulls, St. Bernards and dalmations were introduced to the public and grew in popularity, puppy mills began to appear and the prices and quality of the breeds began to decrease. The breeds developed health problems that continue to this day.

Debbie Gschwendar, president of the American Bouviers des Flandres Club, says her organization already helps rescue hundreds of abandoned, abused or neglected Bouviers a year from across the U.S. and Canada.

In some areas, Bouvier puppy mills are already a reality and those who are serious about buying one should do their homework, she said.

"(Potential owners) really need to spend some time with the breed; going to dog shows helps," she said. "But you also need to visit a number of people. You can't just see an ad in the newspaper or in the movie and think this is the breed for you. They require a lot of maintenance and a lot of care."

That's good advice for potential owners who are looking for any type of dog, but especially big dogs, said the head of the Cambridge Humane Society.

"I don't know what's going to come out in this movie," said Bonnie Deekon, executive director of the Cambridge Humane Society. "But impulse buying for any kind of animal is incorrect.

"That's why we require people to wait 48 hours and have a very detailed form you fill out before you look at the dog. We always ask what are you looking for. If the answer is a guard dog and they want a rottweiller, half the time we don't pass that application."


 
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