'Happy dogs' replace sad-eyed pound pups in dog show ads

The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show has dumped its lead sponsor Pedigree after 24 years.

The reason? The American Kennel Club didn't like those tearjerker commercials of sad-eyed shelter dogs peering out from behind lonely cage bars.

So this year's Westminster show, which starts tomorrow at Madison Square Garden in New York, will be sponsored by Nestle Purina Petcare whose messages will feature "happy dogs."

“The feedback we got from our primary audience was that they were seeing commercials that made them want to turn the channel,” said Westminster spokesman and longtime TV host David Frei.

The Pedigree commercials, seen by 3.4 million dog show viewers, helped raise some $7 million for the Pedigree Foundation , which supports shelters across the country (click on link for happy adoption stories).

Estimates suggest six to eight million dogs and cats are taken in by shelters each year. Of those three to four million are euthanized. That means unwanted animals that end up in shelters only have a 50 percent of chance of getting a ticket out. (Unpleasant statistics I know. Turn the channel if you must.)

Some 25 percent of shelter dogs are purebred, some percentage of those enter with AKC registration papers. We know that all too well in Pennsylvania where dogs from cruelty seizures, among them kennels owned by recognized AKC breeders, flow - and sometimes flood - into shelters every year.

The Humane League of Lancaster County knows that all too well, taking in hundreds of puppy mill survivors over the years. Some 30 poodles, shih-tzus and other small-breed "designer" mixes seized from an illegal kennel last week are the shelter's newest residents.

Those are not "happy dogs" - at least not right now.

It should be no surprise that the AKC would shut out shelters at the most-watched dog event of the year. Neither the organization nor its local affiliates have publicly supported any animal welfare legislation that I am aware of - certainly not in Pennsylvania in the last six years.

So is it any surprise that the AKC would send Pedigree to the pound?

Frei said the show didn't like the idea that Pedigree was trying "shame" viewers.

“Our show is a celebration of dogs. We’re not promoting purebreds at the expense of non-purebreds. We celebrate all dogs,” he said.

“When we’re seeing puppies behind bars, it takes away from that. Not just because it’s sad, but it’s not our message.”

Yes, kennel club, shelters are sad places. That's why many people who want to adopt dogs end up at a backyard breeder or puppy mill or shop for a puppy on the Internet, which is rife with scammers. It's so much easier than walking past all those lonely cages and sad-eyed dogs.  

Perhaps the AKC might put its money where its mouth is and "celebrate all dogs" with a donation to the Pedigree Foundation?

Want to help Pedigree help unwanted dogs? Read about the company's latest Facebook contest on Steve Dale's Pet World blog.