Toto the dog survived flying inside a Kansas tornado, being abducted by flying monkeys and, of course, bouncing around in Dorothy's bicycle basket, but the little cairn terrier from "The Wizard of Oz" now faces another challenge: He's in the middle of a war between politicians and PETA over whether to make him the state dog of Kansas.
Animal-rights activists from PETA say the proposal by state Rep. Ed Trimmer, who has put a bill before lawmakers, would lead to more puppy mills churning out little cairn terriers for customers eager to have their own official state dog.
"As you know, dogs in puppy mills are typically kept in tiny, feces-caked cages and are never given any love, attention or opportunity to do anything that is natural or important to them -- not even to roll in the grass," PETA wrote to Trimmer this week in hopes of getting him to withdraw House Bill 2513.
"Kansas' animal shelters are already overcrowded -- the last thing they need is a deluge of Totos," PETA vice president Daphna Nachminovitch said in a news release announcing the group's opposition to Trimmer's plan. "If Kansas is set on naming an official state dog, PETA suggests the humble, healthy, and 100 percent lovable all-American mutt."
But the Wichita Eagle reported that Trimmer says he has received plenty of positive response to his plan and doesn't see a causal relationship between it and a proliferation of puppy mills, a major issue for animal-advocacy groups.
In December 2010, 1,200 dogs at a large-scale breeding operation in Kansas were put to death after an outbreak of distemper. An internal government report that year said dogs were dying and living in poor conditions because of lax enforcement of puppy mills nationwide.
States vary in their laws governing puppy mills, and according to the Humane Society of the United States, Kansas requires them to be licensed and subject to inspections. But the state didn't fare well in the Humane Society's latest survey of states' treatment of animals, scoring 23 of 66 possible points and ranking 33 out of the 50 states. California topped the list; South Dakota was at the bottom.
According to the Wichita Eagle, 11 states have officially designated state dogs, so if the legislation, which has yet to come up for debate, were to pass, Toto wouldn't be alone. The newspaper quoted Brenda Moore of the South Central Kansas Kennel Club as among those in favor of elevating Toto's status.
"We've got to find little bits of happiness along the way," she said. "To me, the cairn terrier is as much of Kansas as sunflowers are.”
-- Tina Susman
Photo: Judy Garland as Dorothy, with the dog playing Toto in "The Wizard of Oz." Credit: Turner Entertainment / Warner Bros.