Archive for March, 2016

8 recent documentaries that will open your heart

Do you love documentaries as much as I do? I especially love animal-centered narratives that educate as much as entertain. In our screen-obsessed society, sometimes a film can be the best way to spread the word about an important issue. (Just consider “The Blackfish Effect”—and SeaWorld’s announcement earlier this month that it will be ending whale breeding and phasing out Orca shows by 2019.)

The following eight recently released films either highlight critical issues or educate the next generation about the importance of animals. Take a look and prepare to open your eyes—and your heart:

1. Unlocking the Cage

Animal rights lawyer Steve Wise has spent decades working on a daunting task: achieving civil rights for animals. “Without personhood, you are invisible to the civil law,” he says. This film highlights his work starting with chimpanzees, as he fights to change every chimp from “a thing” to a “legal person” with protections under the law. The film premiered in January at Sundance and screens next week at the 2016 Sarasota Film Festival.

2. Heart of a Dog

This philosophical film, which received several award nominations, offers reflections on life and death, with avant-garde artist Laurie Anderson’s beloved rat terrier Lolabelle (who played piano and finger-painted) at its center. Animal lovers who’ve suffered a loss will surely connect with the heart of this film. Click here for a screening near you.

3. KEDI

What is it like to be a street cat in Istanbul? This documentary answers that question, with stunning footage of tough felines surviving and thriving in the city. “The love of animals is a different kind of love,” says one man interviewed in the film. “If you don’t love animals, you can’t love people, too.” Catch KEDI next month at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham, North Carolina.

4. The Champions

This film shares the inspiring comeback stories of various pit bulls—and the people who rescued them following NFL quarterback Michael Vick’s fighting ring. See how these special dogs got their second chances, and learn more about combating breed prejudice. To find a screening near you (or even host your own), click here.

5. How to Change the World

This award-winning film follows Greenpeace’s incredible rise from a grassroots group of ecology “rainbow warriors” to the leader of the modern environmental movement. Watch now on Netflix, iTunes, Vimeo and elsewhere.

6. Dog by Dog

The dark side of puppy mills is revealed in this eye-opening documentary, as well as the huge amounts of money people are raking in by engaging in this totally inhumane business practice. Some of the footage is absolutely heartbreaking, but hopefully getting the word out will incite change. Catch it on the big screen on April 7 in Kansas City.

7. Monkey Kingdom

Produced by Disneynature, this film follows the amazing story and struggles of a newborn monkey with his family in the wilds of Sri Lanka. Child-friendly and filled with breathtaking footage, the film is viewable now on Amazon and Netflix.

8. Virunga

This Netflix release, which takes place in Virunga National Park in Africa, features the brave individuals fighting to save endangered gorillas and natural resources in the Congo. An eye-opening call-to-action that uses hidden camera footage, the documentary also works on a theatrical good-vs.-evil level.

What are your favorite animal documentaries? (In case you missed it, last year I reviewed Blackfish, The Cove, and others.)

How to transform every dog walk into a meditation

After practicing meditation daily for many years, I made a startling discovery: Meditation doesn’t require one to light a candle and sit pretzel-like on a cushion with eyes closed and your hands in a formal position. Informal forms of meditation—taking a walk or riding a horse, for example—can be just as powerful (if not more so). That’s because meditation aims to bring all of our energy here to this present moment, and open our hearts to the peaceful power that exists in the now—something animals instinctively know how to do. It matters not how we do this, but rather that we do it.

Once we realize this, fitting healing meditations into your busy days becomes that much easier. Especially for those of us with dogs. Imagine if every dog walk could transform into a walking meditation. It truly can! Here are six easy tips you can try today:

Dare to be bold: Shelters and sanctuaries need meditation

Last year, I wrote “How to Transform Skeptics Into Believers,” an article about my five best tips for breaking down barriers when bringing Reiki and meditation to shelters and sanctuaries. Though holistic approaches are starting to gain wider acceptance in recent years, many of us still encounter pushback from critics when attempting to share Reiki with animals in need.

But as the article points out, don’t let that stop you! As Reiki practitioners and firm believers in the healing effects of meditation, we must be bold. We must rise above skepticism so that we may offer Reiki, a form of meditation that creates a healing space for animals, to the homeless and the suffering. And in case you need some really bold examples to jumpstart your inspiration, here are three:

The amazing before and after of a street dog from India

“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me … Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”Shel Silverstein

The following story comes from one of my SARA shelters, TOLFA (Tree of Life for Animals) sanctuary in Rajasthan, Northern India. For those of us who work with shelter animals, where navigating heartbreak and hope is an everyday occurrence, stories like these—of animals who beat impossible odds—remind us why we do what we do.

“She has a severe blood disorder. She’s so emaciated, she’s going to need a blood transfusion to survive.”  The vet’s words confirmed the rescuers’ worst fears: The condition of Twiggy, as she was later named, looked dire when she first arrived at TOLFA.

Why rescued canines make the best service dogs

Dogs from shelters aren’t usually the first choice when it comes to organizations looking to train service dogs. But I hope one day that can change: Nearly 4 million dogs are euthanized in shelters every year, and many of those are breeds best known for making wonderful service animals—golden retrievers, labs, German shepherds and the like. (But did you know pit bulls and “mutts” make great service dogs, too?) Here’s another factor worth mentioning: Dogs rescued from shelters know what it means firsthand to be abused and neglected, easing that connection with people in need who have found themselves in similar life circumstances.

As animal lovers know, companion animals often surprise us; they melt hearts, break barriers and make miracles. And as you’ll see, the following dogs do just that. Read on to see how these seven smart canines went from shelter dog to service dog—and now dedicate their lives to making this world a better place.