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"Marley & Me" spreads a rescue-friendly message

December 24, 2008 |  5:55 pm

Marley When the live-action "101 Dalmatians" film was released  in 1996, the American Humane Assn. was overwhelmed by the public's response; filmgoers purchased dalmatians in droves, often with unpleasant end results for the dogs.  Since dalmatians are a high-energy (not to mention large) breed, many families found out too late that they didn't fit in with their lifestyles and the dogs wound up abandoned in shelters across the country. 

More than a decade later, the organization had an  education-centric plan in place for the release of "Marley & Me," the new film based on the best-selling novel by John Grogan and starring Jennifer Aniston (along with the 22 Labrador retrievers who play Marley at various ages). 

The idea was threefold: to make sure that Labs (already the most popular American Kennel Club breed) don't become impulse purchases for the "Marley"-viewing public, to encourage adoption and to nip opportunistic puppy-mill breeding in the bud.  (Puppy mills have notoriously flooded pet stores with breeds featured in popular movies, like "101's" dalmatians and St. Bernards after the release of "Beethoven.") 

The group partnered with 20th Century Fox, the studio behind "Marley," to distribute pet ownership tip pamphlets and educate viewers about the importance of adoption. (Clyde, the dog who played Marley during most of the film, is a rescue himself.)  Adoption events and a pet food-blanket drive were held in connection with "Marley" premiere screenings.  "[Fox was] one of the most outstanding studios that I've had the opportunity to work with," says Jone Bouman, the head of communications for American Humane's Film & TV unit.  "I'm just so grateful to them."

American Humane (not to be confused with the Humane Society of the United States) is the group behind the "no animals were harmed" end-credit disclaimer.  They supervise and rate more than 1,000 productions a year to ensure the welfare of animal actors ("Marley" received an Outstanding rating).

Early reviews for "Marley" look good -- Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman calls it "the single most endearing and authentic movie about the human–canine connection in decades."  And PETA, not to be outdone, gives it "two paws up."

--Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Dan Steinberg/Associated Press

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