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Hollywood's going to the dogs -- again

| Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2009

From the earliest days of film, dogs have figured prominently in movie lore.

Starting with German shepherd Rin Tin Tin, who made 26 movies in the 1920s and '30s, the noble canine has served as everything from hero to villain to love interest to comic relief.

In the movies, dogs can solve crimes, fight fires, find their way home, shoot basketballs and, of course, talk.

While there have been a few notable evil film dogs ("Cujo" comes to mind), most fall solidly in the "man's best friend" category. And with 44 million homes in this country with at least one dog, according to the Humane Society, there's a built-in audience for dog-related movies.

2008 was a very good year for dogs in movies, with the debut of three of the top-grossing dog movies of all time -- "Bolt," "Marley & Me" and "Beverly Hills Chihuahua."

Now comes the newest family-friendly dog film: "Hotel for Dogs."

The movie, which opens Friday, focuses on a sister and brother (Emma Roberts and Jake T. Austin) who must find a place to keep their beloved Jack Russell terrier, Friday, after moving into an apartment with a strict no-pets policy. They find an abandoned hotel, where they also place other rescued strays and construct a series of gadgets to feed and entertain them.

Roughly 70 dogs were used in the film; two-thirds were rescues. The 10 main dog characters include a Bull Mastiff who protects his Boston terrier buddy.

"We tried to use as many rescues as possible and then find homes for them," producer Lauren Shuler Donner writes in the production notes. Several crew members adopted dogs or helped find homes for others.

-- Susan Jones

Choose carefully

Making sure you have a lifestyle suitable for a canine friend is the first consideration when deciding to adopt a dog, two pet experts say.

"Make sure you really have the time to work with a dog," says Barb Levenson, founder of the Barb Levenson Dog Training Centers in Oakmont. "You need to be able to devote at least an hour a day in training, exercise and management."

Jolene Miklas, director of communications for Animal Friends of Western Pennsylvania in Ohio Township, agrees. She urges potential pet owners to study other aspects as well, such as household space and whether children are involved.

She says interest in adoption varies when canine films such as "Hotel for Dogs" are released, but she is thinking it might be spurred because of this film's focus on shelter dogs.

Levenson and Miklas warn that the decision to get a dog should be made slowly and with the understanding that owning a pet demands much work from the owner and the animal.

If a dog is meant for a small home or apartment, many people think a small dog would be appropriate, Miklas says. That could lead, however, to the choice of a border collie, a small dog with boundless energy. Levenson says a person also has to make sure he can afford a pet for what likely will be the next 12 to 15 years. That will require food, licenses and regular trips to the veterinarian.

Levenson paraphrases a popular real estate adage when she says there are three important items to consider when choosing a pet: "Temperament, temperament, temperament."

"Don't pick a puppy that shows fear," she says. "Sociability defeats aggression. A fearful dog is going to be an aggressive dog."

-- Bob Karlovits

You oughta be in pictures

More than one doting dog owner have said their pet ought to be in pictures. They can be -- just not the kind that Hollywood produces.

A number of area photographers specialize in capturing a pooch's personality in gallery-quality prints.

About three years ago, Lisa West of West Mifflin merged two of her passions into a career photographing pets and wildlife.

"I always had pets," West says. "I got my first camera when I was 12. I was thinking there were people out there who were animal lovers like me and would like fine-art photography for their pets."

Rather than snapping posed portraits, West takes candid or action shots of a client's dog. She prides herself on capturing the personality of her four-legged subjects.

"You have to let them do what they do naturally and get the shot," she says. "And you have to be fast. You just can't manipulate the situation as much as you'd like to. They're in control, really."

In his nine years photographing pets exclusively, Vincent Strangio of Murrysville has learned the three essentials when capturing the essence of a lad or lassie: patience, patience, patience.

"Some dogs are great and sit there," he says. "I've done police dogs, I've done search-and-rescue dogs. They can be the best-trained dogs in the world, but when you get them in front of a camera and lights, they're terrible."

He says he has photographed 80 of the estimated 150 breeds. "I want to get all of them," he says.

-- William Loeffler

Have pet, will travel

The accommodations in "Hotel for Dogs" might not be real, but there are hotels where Fido always is welcome. Check out Petswelcome.com, where you can enter your travel information and find a place where your dog can stay overnight with you.

Locally, the Westin Convention Center, Downtown, is considered a dog-friendly hotel. There are rules and restrictions, however: The dog must weigh less than 40 pounds, its owner must sign a pet waiver in case of any damage done to the room, and the animal must never be left alone.

Dogs receive a welcome bag with treats, gloves, cleanup bags and doggie dishes for food and water placed on a Westin mat. A Westin heavenly doggie bed also is provided, which matches the comforter on the people bed. There is a "doggie sleeping" sign you can hang from your door. Leashes and mini-robes are available upon request. The bellmen have been known to walk some of the dogs.

There is no extra charge for the animal to stay. The Westin has had lots of experience with dogs because it is adjacent to the Convention Center, which is the site for the annual Western Pennsylvania Kennel Association Dog Show.

"There is a segment of the population that travels with their dogs, especially the little dogs, and we market to this segment," says Dan Zwirn, director of rooms. "We have at least one dog in the house most of the time. It is another way to accommodate our guests and make them feel welcome."

-- JoAnne Klimovich Harrop

Not a bad dog's life

It's a tough life, being a dog -- with all that eating, napping and barking at the neighbors.

To make life easier for dogs -- and their humans, of course -- the market for dog gadgets and contraptions seems to be growing faster than a Rottweiler puppy. Some of these things seem obvious, others mildly helpful, and a few seem about as useful as a Frisbee with wheels.

Who's going to break this market wide open• Is one of these items the next must-have iPod or Blackberry (Dogberry?) for dogs?

Tattle Tale ($21.99). A small, plastic alarm keeps dogs off of furniture. According to the product's Web site, the "sensor picks up vibrations on the surface, startles your dog, and stops him in his tracks. Doctors Foster and Smith .

The FURminator de-Shedding Tool ($34.99-$59.95). Designed to remove "undercoat and loose hair without sacrificing the healthy top coat." PetSmart .

PetSafe Ultrasonic Bark Control Unit ($34.99). This "tabletop bark control device" gives your dog an "ultrasonic tone correction" when he barks, and the dog quickly will learn to associate this irritating sound with barking, according to the Web site. It also can be operated manually to stop behaviors like digging in the trash or chewing furniture. Doctors Foster and Smith .

Chuckit Retriever Toy by Canine Hardware ($11.99). The toy flings a ball faster and farther than you can throw it by hand -- and "you'll never again have to pick up a wet tennis ball." PetSmart .

Outward Hound Urban Adventure Backpack ($12.99). A backpack for dogs (to wear). PetSmart .

-- Mike Machosky

Additional Information:

Top box office dogs

The top-grossing dog-related movies, according to Boxofficemojo.com :

1. 'Scooby-Doo' (2002) $153.2 million

2. '101 Dalmatians' (1996) $136.1 million

3. 'Bolt' (2008) $110.1 million

4. 'Marley & Me' (2008) $108.2 million

5. 'Beverly Hills Chihuahua' (2008) $93.7 million

6. 'Cats & Dogs' (2001) $93.3 million

7. 'Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed' (2004) $84.2 million

8. 'Eight Below' (2006) $81.6 million

9. 'Snow Dogs' (2002) $81.1 million

10. 'Turner & Hooch' (1989) $71 million

11. '102 Dalmatians' (2000) $66.9 million

12. 'The Shaggy Dog' (2006) $61.1 million

13. 'Beethoven' (1992) $57.1 million

14. 'Beethoven's 2nd' (1993) $53.4 million

15. 'Underdog' (2007) $43.7 million

16. 'K-9' (1989) $43.2 million

17. 'Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey' (1993) $41.8 million

18. 'Benji' (1974) $39.5 million

19. 'Good Boy!' (2003) $37.6 million

20. 'White Fang' (1991) $34.7 million

21. 'My Dog Skip' (2000) $34.1 million

22. 'See Spot Run' (2001) $33.3 million

23. 'Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco' (1996) $32.7 million

24. 'Because of Winn-Dixie' (2005) $32.6 million

25. 'Air Bud' (1997) $23.1 million

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