Groups that care for Great Danes are preparing for a surge of rejected dogs, expecting the Hollywood movie "Marmaduke" will spur adoptions -- then abandonments -- of cute puppies which can grow to 170 lbs and eat 10 cups of food a day.
The film, about an adorable yet clumsy pooch, debuted in theaters last month but stumbled at box offices. Still, it is prompting some demand for the breed, and dog groups are cautioning people that few families realize the resources needed to care for the big animals and can become overwhelmed.
"We're all holding our breath," said Sandy Suarez, director and founder of Michigan-based Great Dane Rescue Inc. "We're planning on seeing a problem in about eight to nine months when the dog starts to get really big."
Movies and TV shows about animals often spur consumers to buy them for pets, and Kathie Shea, rescue chair for the Great Dane Club of America, said "Marmaduke" has increased demand for Great Dane puppies tenfold.
"The problem is, a nine-month puppy will be over 100 pounds and they still have a puppy brain," said Shea. "Your Labrador puppy will be chewing your slipper. Your Great Dane puppy will be chewing your dining room table."
To combat what they expect will be increased demand, U.S.-based Great Dane rescue groups have set up tables at movie theaters showing "Marmaduke" to introduce rescued dogs to moviegoers. They have staffed tables outside retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc to teach potential buyers about the costs and space problems that come with such a massive animal.
"I went to the Rockaway (New Jersey) mall and set up with the Dane," said Mary Fran Cini, president of the Mid-Atlantic Great Dane Rescue League. "It was great. The dog was shedding, drooling. People could see it was a big dog."
Rescue leagues are trying to recruit more volunteers to foster abandoned dogs, and are seeking donations of pet-store gift cards to help pay for expenses.
Still, they fear their public outreach will not be enough to keep naive dog lovers from buying baby Danes. They point to websites that use eye-popping advertisements like "Marmaduke!!! Great Dane puppy for sale" and say that puppy mills are cranking up.
But the dog groups do have one factor weighing in their favor. "Marmaduke," which is based on a comic strip, has failed to become a hit at box offices. The movie debuted at No. 6 in U.S. theaters on June 4 and had earned only $44 million worldwide as of July 5, according to boxofficemojo.com.
It slid off top 10 box office charts after only its third week in theaters and was overtaken by other kid-friendly fare such as "Toy Story 3" and "Shrek Forever After".
"I think the movie was not as successful as they thought it would be," said Suarez. "That probably helped a little bit."
Great Dane rescuers also said the film did a good job of showing the challenges of such a massive breed, as Marmaduke rampages through the film shredding furniture, shattering vases and fouling the air with his flatulence.
"The big joke was the dog breaking wind," said Shea. "They can chase you out of your house."