Evelyn Nieves

The heartbreaking truth about those cute doodle dogs

The family—a couple and their four children, ages 5 to 11—wanted a dog in the worst way. Not just any dog, but the type more popular today than any of the dazzling breeds at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show.

They wanted a labradoodle.

With luck and money, they found one not far from where they live in Connecticut. The breeder claimed the dog came from several generations of labradoodles, who in turn were carefully bred from miniature poodles and Labrador retrievers in Australia, where labradoodles were popularized 25 years ago. A ball of chocolate fluff, the puppy cost $2,800. That's more than it would have cost the family to adopt every single dog at their local shelter. But it was not outlandishly priced for a labradoodle.

The family installed an electric fence inside the house to keep the pup contained, paid for obedience classes from a trainer, and were set.

Only they weren't. Theirs is a cautionary tale, an increasingly common one, of what can happen when a dog becomes too popular for its own good.

The puppy did not have the docile temperament of a lab, as advertised. He was high-strung, as poodles can be sometimes, especially miniature poodles. He was not good with children; he competed with them as if they were littermates—scolding, wrestling, biting them. He was not, as labradoodles are marketed, low-maintenance. Like both a poodle and a labrador, the puppy craved constant company. Being confined to two rooms by an absurd, zapping, invisible "fence" drove him crazy. So did the children and the nanny, who were inconsistent with their attention and discipline.

Like more and more labradoodles—and their cousins, the golden doodles, a golden retriever-poodle mix—this pup was dumped. He ended up at the Doodle Rescue Collective, Inc., based in Dumont, New Jersey, which fields calls from doodle owners all over the country desperate to dump their dogs.

Since the Doodle Rescue Collective began rescuing doodles in 2006, it has helped over 1,200 dogs and counting. And it is not alone. There are dozens of other poodle-mix rescues, including rescues for cockapoos, or cocker spaniel-poodle mixes; schnoodles, for schnauzer-poodles; chi-poos, for chihuahua poodles; maltipoos, for maltese-poodle mixes; and so on. The rescues often spend thousands of dollars in healthcare and rehabilitation for these so-called designer dogs, mutts actually, whose owners spent months on breeder waiting lists to get them, and thousands of dollars to buy them, only to abandon them within a year or two.

Of course, not all labradoodle breeders run puppy mills. Gail Widman, president of the Australian Labradoodle Club of America, said that all members of the club must adhere to strict breeding standards, using DNA tests as proof, register with the source group in Australia, and guarantee the health and temperament of their dogs.

Given all those qualifications, Widman said, for people who might not be able to have a dog otherwise because of allergies, the true labradoodle, she claimed, "is the perfect dog."

"You'll be hard-pressed to find a real Australian labradoodle in a shelter," Widman said. "They have wonderful temperaments, no smell, no shedding—they're brilliant dogs and they simply do not get given up."

But it is true, Widman added, "That a lot of people [breeders] call their dogs Australian labradoodles and they aren't."

These dogs have become victims of their hype, rescuers say. It's a phenomenon that happens to many breeds of dog. Every time a type of dog captures the public's imagination, the clamor surrounding it creates new backyard breeders, a new product for puppy mills, and new owners swept up by the hype. Dalmatians were all the rage after Disney's 101 Dalmations was released. Cocker spaniels had their day after Disney's Lady and the Tramp. Paris Hilton made teacup Chihuahuas dressed up in tutus a fleeting fad.

Each time a breed becomes too popular, it gets inbred and overbred, causing severe health problems or behavioral issues the dogs' guardians don't want to pay for or live with. Labradoodles and other poodle mixes are marketed as hypo-allergenic, non-shedding and odor-free, attracting some people who have never lived with a dog before, but like the idea of one that sounds low-maintenance.

Labradoodles attract some people, in short, who probably shouldn't own dogs.

Meanwhile, dogs—or cats—that might be a better fit languish in shelters, or are euthanized for lack of space. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) estimates that out of the six to eight million dogs and cats animal shelters care for each year, three to four million healthy, adoptable animals are euthanized.

Puppy mill rescue teams are finding more and more designer dogs in farms where dogs are kept in misery— in cages, usually in filthy conditions, in every state in the country. Such dogs are often in poor health. Breeding females are treated like puppy factories, pregnant at every heat for years on end. A breeder may use the same miniature poodle—or cockapoo, which looks like a miniature poodle—to breed labradoodles, maltipoos, schnoodles, affenpoos (affenpinscher-poodles) or jackipoos (Jack Russell terrier-poodles).

Last week, the HSUS announced it had investigated a large suspected puppy mill in Arkansas on Thursday, and posted a picture of one of the 121 dogs it rescued, a severely matted goldendoodle.

Kathleen Summers, director of outreach and research for the Humane Society's Stop Puppy Mills Campaign, said the HSUS is finding designer dogs in half of all the puppy mills it investigates.

"The hybrid breeds are very attractive for the puppy mills to produce," Summers said. "They really cash in on the whole 'hypoallergenic' sales pitch that there are some dogs that don't shed and that won't aggravate some people's allergies. Puppy mill breeders try to sell the notion that anything mixed with poodle is going to be hypoallergenic."

While people research their breeders on the Internet, what they don't know, Summers said, is the amount of false advertising presented in the marketing of the dogs.

"Most of the websites for puppy mills that we've shut down for horrific conditions," Summers said, "say things on their site like 'We don't support puppy mills.'"

No one has lamented the popularity of the doodles more urgently than Wally Conron, who created the first labradoodle. As the puppy-breeding manager at the Royal Guide Dog Association of Australia, Conron was trying to fulfill the need for a guide dog from a woman in Hawaii whose husband was allergic to dogs. He bred a standard poodle with a Labrador retriever for this couple. But there was more than one puppy in the litter, and no one on his three- to six-month waiting list for guide dogs wanted a crossbreed. So, "We came up with the name labradoodle," Conron said in a recent interview with the Associated Press. "We told people we had a new dog and all of a sudden, people wanted this wonder dog."

With all the breeds and crossbreeds in the world, Conron says, he is horrified at the proliferation of labradoodles and the other poodle mixes. He blames himself for "creating a Frankenstein." Instead of breeding out problems, he said, clueless and unscrupulous breeders are breeding them in.

"For every perfect one," he says, "you're going to find a lot of crazy ones."

The gold standard for labradoodles remains the Rutland Manor Labradoodle Breeding and Research Center in Australia, which now calls its dogs "cobberdogs." Rutland Manor claims the true Australian labradoodle has developed over two decades of careful breeding into a breed in its own right. Its hallmarks, the Rutland Manor website says, "are a highly developed intuitive nature, a love of training and a yearning for eye contact. It has a 98 percent record for allergy friendliness, a reliably non-shedding coat and is sociable and non-aggressive.

But at the Carolina Poodle Rescue, outside Spartanberg, S.C., Donna Ezell, who has been rescuing poodles for 15 years, said that labradoodles and other poodle mixes she sees are not only unpredictable in size, shape and looks, but also in temperament.

"If you have a purebred poodle or a purebred boxer from a reputable breeder," she said, "you know what you're going to get. You know what it's going to look like. You have a pretty good idea of its temperament. With the doodles and maltipoos and all these others, they don't breed true. You can't predict what they'll be. They all look different. They have different temperaments. And some are non-shedding, some are not."

Jacqueline Yorke of the Doodle Rescue Collective, said poodle-mix owners are often surprised to find that they are still allergic to their "hypoallergenic" dogs. "They may be allergic to the dog's saliva, or the skin it sheds or the fur it does shed," she said. "And they've also found out that non-shedding does not mean no work. If the fur doesn't shed, it grows and grows. They need to be mowed down and groomed every six to eight weeks."

Yorke said the rescue has taken in dogs with fur so matted the dogs were unable to relieve themselves; their feces were stuck in their fur.

Time and again, the rescue has fostered dogs with the same health conditions, including hip dysplasia, cataracts, torn anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, injuries which require expensive surgery, and megaesophagus, a potentially life-threatening disease which causes the dog to choke on its food.

But the primary reason doodles end up in the rescue, Yorke said, are issues with children."We just got three more," she said. "Every one listed 'aggressive with children.'"

The poor dog featured at the beginning of this article ended up being euthanized after he attacked and bit Yorke and was evaluated by veterinarians and trainers who deemed him dangerous. But that kind of extreme situation, Yorke said, is rare.

One bit of good news, Yorke said, is that doodles and other designer dogs are so popular rescues have long waiting lists of potential adopters.

"We have hundreds on our list," Yorke said. Most will not make the cut when vetted by the group. The rescue will not adopt out doodles to families with small children, for example. The goal is to provide the dogs a permanent home, Yorke said, and not see them back at the rescue.

"We get hate mail all the time from people mad at us for not handing them a dog. They'll say, 'Well, I'm going to a breeder.'"

Her response? Buyer beware.

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Darren Aronofsky is likely the happiest movie director alive today. His big studio blockbuster, "Noah," inspired by the Old Testament saga of Noah and the Ark, opened Friday to wide release, decent reviews and the one ingredient that guarantees a film opening weekend box office super stardom: Controversy. Glorious, world-wide, banned-in-some-countries controversy.
Paramount is promoting the heck out of its $160 million investment, cluttering television and the net with with ads showing Russell Crowe looking not like your average servant of God but like an alpha gladiator in macho drab leather vests and road warrior boots. But the studio could probably pocket its ad dollars and still make a mint.
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Fundamentalist Christians are also incensed at the retelling of a tale of Genesis as a fable with fallen angels made of molten rock. But rather than ignore an IMAX-ready, CGI-laden popcorn flick in the hopes it'll go away, Christian conservatives are publicly condemning the film as a travesty and insult to God. Conservative talking head Glenn Beck, one of the few to excoriate the film who had actually seen it, issued this review: "It's just so pro-animal and anti-human. And I mean strongly anti-human." 
The twittersphere exploded with "Noah" assaults, blasting its secularness, among other sins, days before the film actually opened. (See http://bit.ly/1dEkkRF).
Meanwhile, Faith Driven Consumer, a Christian consumer group, posted a survey that found that 98 percent of more than 5,000 people polled were unhappy with "Noah"--and here's the kicker--and other biblical Hollywood films. 
That's perhaps the real story behind the backlash over "Noah": Just as any actor who loses or gains a ton of weight for a role is pretty much guaranteed an Oscar nod, any Hollywood retelling of a Bible story is going to produce an outcry and a surefire hit.
With that in mind, here are the top five films based on stories from the Bible that inspired a religious backlash and became media sensations as soon as or even before they opened.
5) Stigmata 
This 1999 Horror film by director Rupert Wainwright starred Patricia Arquette as an atheist hairdresser from Pittsburgh who experiences the stigmata, or spontaneous appearance of crucifixion wounds on a person's body, in a way that makes her seem demonically possessed. Meanwhile, a Jesuit Priest (Gabriel Byrne) who works as a kind of Catholic investigator, examining claims of miracles, discovers a shady connection between the stigmata and a 4th century gospel condemned by the Catholic Church. He uncovers a plot within the Vatican to keep the gospel's truth on the down low, fueling the film's plot and the ire of Catholics, whose protests turned this B-movie into a media sensation for months after the flick was released. 
The film was panned by critics, earning a 22 percent favorable rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Roger Ebert called it "possibly the funniest movie ever made about Catholicism--from a theological point of view." It was nominated for a Razzie Awards for Worst Supporting Actor (Byrne). And yet--"Stigmata" still made bank. Produced for $29 million, its controversy earned it a world wide gross of $90 million.
"Stigmata" trailer: 
 4) Dogma
This 1999 satire on the Catholic Church and Catholic beliefs by director Kevin Smith follows two fallen angels (Ben Afflect and Matt Damon) who, through an alleged loophole in Catholic dogma, find a way to get back into Heaven after being cast out by God. Since God is infallible, their success would prove God wrong and turn creation (and creationism) on its head. 
 The film didn't make waves until post-production, when word spread in religious circles that the film contained an anti-Christian message. Eventually, Smith received over 30,000 pieces of hate mail--a lot for those pre-social media times--and several death threats. But controversy kept the film alive at the box office after critics excoriated the flick as a dud.
"Dogma" trailer:
 3) Monty Python's Life of Brian
This 1979 comedy aimed for outrageous irreverence and succeeded in spades. Written, directed and mostly performed by the Monty Python comedy crew, the film explores the story of one Brian Cohen (Graham Chapman), a young Jewish man mistaken for the Messiah. Upon its release in Britain, the film was banned by several town councils, even in towns that had no movie theaters. It was banned for eight years in Ireland, for a year in Norway and banned outright in several American states. In New York, screenings were picketed by both Rabbis and nuns as lines to get into the movie spanned half a block.
"Life of Brian" trailer: 
2) The Passion of the Christ
This 2004 Mel Gibson project about the horrors Jesus Christ suffered in the 12 hours before his crucifixion received an avalanche of publicity thanks to pre-release stories that the film was anti-Semitic. (Recall that two years later, a drunken Mel Gibson disgraced himself on video with an anti-Semitic rant when arrested by Los Angeles Sheriff's Deputies for D.U.I. ) 
The Passion--as it's often called--was slammed by critics as torture porn. Frank Rich, then a columnist for The New York Times, called it propaganda for a splinter sect of Roman Catholicism that rejected the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, including the lifting of the "Christ-killers" label from the Jews. In the end, all that anger fueled ticket sales to the breaking point. Mel Gibson's cinematic baby remains the number one R-rated film all time in the United States, earning $371 million.
"The Passion" trailer:
1) The Last Temptation of Christ
Martin Scorsese's 1988 take on a controversial 1953 novel by Nikos Kazantzakis tried to deflect what he and Universal Studios knew would spark sure-fire criticism from Christians for its portrayal of Jesus (Willem Dafoe) as a man subject to every form of temptation that humans face, including lust. Well before the film was finished, Scorsese did many interviews in which he stressed that the film was not a literal retelling of the Christ story, but a fictional representation. The film itself contained a disclaimer saying the same thing. No matter. "Last Temptation" was demonized before it was even finished and the world-wide protests against it were unprecedented. 
During a screening of the film on Oct. 22, 1988 at the Saint Michel theater in Paris, a French Christian fundamentalist group launched molotov cocktails that injured 13 people, four of them severely, and nearly burned down the theater. The film was banned for several years in Mexico, Turkey, Argentina and Chile and continues to be banned in the Philippines, South Africa and Singapore. And while a critical success, the film's unavailability made it difficult for it to find an audience. Produced for $7 million, the film grossed under $9 million. Scorsese has said it found its audience on video, though even proved a challenge; Blockbuster Video refused to carry the film up until the video rental big box store went belly up. 

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1) Coconut Oil
Old wisdom: Coconut oil is a saturated-fat body bomb that should be avoided.
New wisdom: Coconut oil can cure what ails you.
Talk about an about-face. Anyone who grew up eating such nutritious fare as SpaghettiOs, Nestle Quik and Bisquick—actually, anyone old enough to vote in the United States—probably doesn't remember a jar of coconut oil in the cupboard, or anywhere in the family diet.
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It turns out that unrefined coconut oil offers terrific health benefits. Yes, it is a saturated fat. But the scientific consensus on whether saturated fats are bad for us is changing. Now researchers are stressing that saturated fats like coconut oil actually lower bad cholesterol in our bodies. Studies of people in countries that consume high amounts of coconut oil have found fewer instances of heart disease than in nations, such as the United States, where coconut oil has not been a staple. Coconut oil is rich in lauric acid, which is known for its antiviral, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial properties. Coconut oil, the new wisdom says, is good for our bodies inside and out. Studies and anecdotal evidence across the blogosphere tout coconut oil as a wondrous beauty aid, which can and should be used as a moisturizer to reduce lines and wrinkles, a moisturizer for dry hair, a soap and mouthwash. 
2) Coffee
Old Wisdom: Coffee equals caffeine equals bad for you. 
New Wisdom: Coffee is loaded with antioxidants and other nutrients that improve your health. Plus, a little caffeine makes the world go round.
Why? Actually, most of the world never bought into the whole caffeine/coffee scare that made so many Americans start to swear off coffee, or heaven help us, switch to decaf. But these days, the U.S., chock full of Starbucks, has come around. Several prominent studies conducted over the last few years unearthed a bounty of benefits in the average cup of joe. As everyone knows, caffeine boosts energy. Based on controlled human trials, it has also been proven to fire up the neurons and make you sharper, with improved memory, reaction time, mood, vigilance and general cognitive function. It can also boost your metabolism, lower your risk of Type II diabetes, protect you from Alzheimer's disease and dementia, and lower the risk of Parkinson's. Whew. 
3) Whole Milk
Old wisdom: High-fat milk lead to obesity. Exposing children to lower-fat options keeps them leaner and healthier and instills the low-fat habit.
New Wisdom: Ha!
A study at Harvard University found that despite recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics that children drink skim or low-fat milk after age two, doing so did not make for leaner or healthier children. In fact, the study found the opposite. Kids who consumed skim milk were likely to be fatter than those who drank it whole. Turns out that skim drinkers were more likely to indulge in junk food, which spiked their blood sugar levels, leading to more cravings for junk. And so on and so on.
4) Salt
Old Wisdom: Salt kills. It raises blood pressures, causes hypertension and increases the risk of premature death.
New Wisdom: Salt is essential to health. Too little salt can actually lead to premature death.
The new wisdom is actually older than the old wisdom. Long before it became the number-one evildoer in the Department of Agriculture's hit list, worse than fats, sugar and booze, salt was considered so valuable to body and soul that it was literally used as currency. Homer called it a "divine substance." Plato described is as dear to the Gods. The Romans considered it the spice of life; a man in love was salax—in a salted state. Only fairly recently, in that oh-so-wise 20th century, did salt become the bad guy at the dinner table.
It turns out that high-sodium processed "food" is the real villain in our diets. Unrefined salt, such as Himalayan salt or raw sea salts, contain 60 or more valuable trace minerals. It supports thyroid function and a faster metabolism and speeds the elimination of cortisol, the stress hormone that causes weight gain. Did you know salt is also a natural antihistamine (a pinch on the tongue may stem an allergic reaction). Finally, unrefined salt is needed for good digestion. 
5) Chocolate
Old Wisdom: Chocolate gives you pimples, makes you fat and creates heartburn.
New Wisdom: Dark chocolate is loaded with antioxidants.
Chocoholics of the world rejoiced when the food scientists started doing an about-face on chocolate. After a few decades on the vilified list, in 2001, scientists began doing a double take, with the New York Times reporting that the science on chocolate was up in the air. Ten years later, chocolate had moved squarely into the good-for-you column. A 2011 Cambridge University study concluded that chocolate "probably" lowers stroke rates, coronary heart disease and high blood pressure. A more recent study has found that regular chocolate consumers are often thinner than non-chocolate eaters.
No one is advising you to grab a Snickers bar for lunch, though. Eating chemically laden, sugar-bombed milk chocolate is still a no-no…for now, anyway.

6) Popcorn

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