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From Screen Heroes to Public Menace,
a Beloved Dog Breed Faces its Sunset

German shepherds, once considered a perfect symbol of loyal nobility and animal intelligence, now face a disconcerting fall from the public’s grace. But that may be a good thing.
In a recent New York article, author Susan Orlean summarized the breed’s distinguished career at the German cavalry, to which it was created, and popularity in the U.S. generated by the 1950s Rin Tin Tin TV series.
Orlean also noted how the breed suffered the consequences of its early fame, a point central to her book about that canine star brought as a puppy to the U.S. by an American soldier.
Almost as if on cue, word came about the sad story of Emmi, a German shepherd sent back in an one-way Continental Airlines ticket to a kennel in Seattle, by an unsatisfied buyer.
As it turned out, the 80-pound, $7,500 dog, bought though the Internet from a company in Washington, simply couldn’t be controlled, according to the buyer.
Back to the international movie start, whose earliest appearances in Hollywood date back to the 1920s, its saga forged an image of docility and strength, with enormous public appeal.
The unusual aspect of early Rin Tin Tin films is that they stared the same shell-shocked dog that Lee Duncan, the soldier, had adopted, not a stand in. And that the animal’s bloodline, having outlived Duncan’s death in 1960, is still alive and well in Texas.
Orlean was naturally attracted by the story‘s tinges of authenticity and its iconic status in American culture. But while the lovable character lives on, the breed has since fallen from the public’s favor.
“Emmi was portrayed to us as an obedient, well-trained, even-tempered dog,” Jason Dubin said. But then she became aggressive and “posed a great danger to my family.”
To make matters really bad for the dog, the Washington company disputes Dubin’s right to return her and even threatened not to send anyone to pick her up at the Seattle airport.
Fortunately, everybody came to their senses and that didn’t happen. Still, aggressive or not, what it’s a dog to do when people in charge of her don’t act, well, humanely?
Underlying this regrettable episode, and to Orlean’s point, is the fact that this breed is no longer perceived as cuddly and easy going as it once was, and that may actually help its survival.
German shepherds’ loss in popularity may finally restore it back to its rightful place as just a beautiful animal, absent all tales of heroism and anthropological projections.
Perhaps now, the breed can be admired by what it really is, and no longer measured by how useful can be as a guard or any other military job it has held in the past.
The decision by the North Rhine-Westphalia police to replace German shepherds with less-popular Belgian Malinois, may encourage an increase in adoptions from shelters, which have, unfortunately, an oversupply of abandoned purebred dogs.
But not to rain on any animal lover’s parade, though, as German shepherds are being spared from over breeding, other breeds of dog, and for that matter, of any other pets, may be going through the same painful process.
We love them, we adopt them, we put them on a pedestal of virtue and nobility. Then we grow bored with them and discard them like milk cartons.
No wonder no one calls anybody else an animal anymore. The way things are, if they could talk, it’d be their turn to call us irrational beasts.

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