In the autumn of 1984, Mike Bowling, an automobile manufacturing employee in southwestern Ohio, had a moment of inspiration. Cabbage Patch Kids were all the rage and he sought to fashion a toy that would be just as charming. Like any good cottage industry and American success story, with the help of his family and friends, Pound Puppies were born. Recognized by Time Magazine in 2011 as one of the 100 best toys since 1923, Pound Puppies have an enduring legacy.
If you’re anything like me, everything was better, brighter, and more hopeful when you were a child. When we were kids, my sister, brother, and I all had Pound Puppies. 1980s toys were the best; ’80s cartoons, too, for that matter. My niece still plays with the Pound Puppies dolls we used to cuddle and fall asleep with as children. That a child’s toy should last nearly 30 years speaks to the durability of its design and its continuing appeal.
Pound Puppies came in the standard large format as well as a later Pound Puppies newborn variety. An authentic Pound Puppies doll bore an official logo, an embroidered heart with “PP” emblazoned on the rear left haunch.
Every 1980s toy worth its salt had to have an outstanding commercial jingle, one that both was instantly recognizable and annoyingly hummable. Pound Puppies managed both in the mid-80s with a blitz of inescapable advertising campaigns.
Interestingly for what is presumably a child’s doll, Pound Puppies found themselves marketed, in the course of a single ad, across demographics — from children to college students to young professionals to seniors — as one of the few 1980s toys with universal appeal. After all, who doesn’t love dogs, or hugs for that matter?
The commercial’s opening image of the Pound Puppies’ living conditions is what really gets to me, even after all these years. Piled puppy upon puppy in a “Puppy Pound” that can only be described as a kind of gothic subterranean dungeon, the hopefully-temporary residence of the Pound Puppies would seem to be a breeding ground for all manner of horrible communicable diseases. Purchasing Pound Puppies quickly becomes an issue of moral responsibility.
A television movie was produced and aired in 1985, detailing the adventures of a dog named Violet Vanderfeller and her Pound Puppies friends. One personal part of the lasting legacy of the Pound Puppies is that, as a child, I saw that television film and liked the name of the heroine so much, I named my own dog Violet. A regularly scheduled Pound Puppies cartoon television show followed soon after, airing 26 episodes over two seasons between 1986 and 1989. A theatrical film in 1988 met with general indifference.
The unqualified success of Pound Puppies naturally led to the expansion of the product line. A variety of stuffed cats and kittens known as Pound Purries (stylized as “Pound Pur-r-ries”) followed closely on the heels of the Pound Puppies, packaged in similar cardboard housing. Eventually, each line also had clothing and carrying case accessories.
Pound Puppies have scarcely been out of production since their initial launch. Pound Puppies went through a light redesign in the mid-1990s, though they would not achieve the same sort of cultural penetration or presence again until the 2010s.
Much like He-Man and the Thundercats, Pound Puppies have enjoyed a 21st-century resurgence. Not only have ’80s cartoons been redesigned and repackaged for a new generation of children, so too have 1980s toys been brought back into circulation and found new successes.
On October 10, 2010, the Hub television network premiered an all-new, rebooted version of Pound Puppies, on the same night as the launch of the cult hit My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. The puppies in this new iteration are less homogenized, less anthropomorphized, and have character designs more accurate to the breeds of dogs they represent.
The growing popularity of Hub Network’s Pound Puppies cartoon led, in 2012, to a complete relaunch of Pound Puppies stuffed toys. While it seemed that many ’80s cartoons were created to provide merchandising for toys, Pound Puppies have been one of the rare instances where the strength of a toy led to the creation of a cartoon, which led to more toys, which led to further cartoons, which then inspired more toys. It’s like the cycle of plush life! Here is a sample of the modern Pound Puppy, representing a radical redesign from the original line.
If you were alive in the 1980s, you must have memories of the Pound Puppies. Whether it was the omnipresent commercials, fighting in the aisles of a local toy store during the holiday season for the last remaining Pound Puppies toy, or simply cuddling with one on the couch, we’d love you to share your reminiscences! Do you have or know children who are as crazy for the recent, award-winning Pound Puppies cartoons? Do you record it yourself to watch when you get home from work? Share your Pound Puppies memories in the comments!
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