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.
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.
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 reviewedBlackfish, The Cove, and others.)
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.
“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.”—Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden
Although I like to stay informed about my world, sometimes I hate to watch the news because it is so pessimistic. I often call it “the bad news.” To help stay balanced, I like to meditate on the Reiki precept “be grateful.” In contemplating this precept, I remember all the blessings and good things in my life and in the world. Eventually, my mind comes to rest in the spiritual quality of positivity. When we live each moment in gratitude, it is a way of practicing a positive way of seeing the world. Practicing gratitude is also a way of focusing on our heart. Within our hearts lies our most profound healing power, and positivity helps us to harness it.
Sometimes animals are the best models of positivity. A great example of this can be seen in this video of mine on YouTube:
For me, I often remember this particular dog when I think of gratitude and positivity. This dog was so happy and so grateful for the Reiki session. He was so full of joy afterward. Clearly, he lived his life always expecting the best: as if something wonderful was happening now, and something awesome was about to occur at any moment! I was so surprised, after offering him that treatment, when I found out about his past.
He was found in the street with another dog, emaciated and left for dead. The other dog had died; this pit bull, when found, was barely alive. The vet didn’t think he’d survive, but he did. By the time I met him to share Reiki, he had been at the shelter for several months, gaining weight and strength but still waiting for his new family. I had no idea so much had happened to him in his past! All I saw was a dog full of joy, of gratitude, of positivity. What valuable life lessons this dog had taught me!
In this experience, there is also a great lesson in learning to let go of the “stories” of the animals—their sad pasts, the bad things that have happened to them and so on. When we focus on all the bad experiences from the past, this often creates a negative energy in our minds and hearts that stifles our ability to connect in the present moment. We can also become overwhelmed with sadness, at which point we are not much help to anyone, especially the animals we want to help. The more we practice gratitude and positivity, the easier it is to let go of these kinds of negative stories about the past. We can go deeper and see animals with our hearts. We can see them for who they really are: beautiful bright lights that can never be dimmed, no matter what challenges may come their way! All healing potential exists in this beautiful heart-to-heart connection.
Pit bull discrimination is a terrible problem in our society. It wasn’t always this way. Historically, pit bulls were celebrated. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson had one; so did Fred Astaire and General George Patton. And consider Petey from Little Rascals or even brave Sergeant Stubby, a stray who won many metals and became a celebrity after helping wounded soldiers on the battlefield during WWI, locating them, boosting morale and warning soldiers of poison gas attacks. He even captured a German spy!
“Pit bull” isn’t even technically a breed; the term actually refers to the American Pit Bull Terrier, the Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. But over the years, these dogs increasingly became involved in dog fighting (thanks in no part to terrible humans), and the media began writing sensational stories. So today we have a problem where “pit bull” equals “monster” to most (uninformed) people.
Luckily, we have wonderful organizations around the world, like Out of the Pits—And Into Your Hearts, dedicated to helping educate the public about the truths of pit bulls, and hopefully rescue more of them from shelters. The statistics don’t look good. Unfortunately, 33 percent of animal shelter populations are made up of pit bulls, and only 1 in 600 will find a loving family. The rest will be euthanized. And every year, 1 million are put down. One million!
Only 1 in 600 pit bulls will find a loving family
My hope is that someday pit bulls can regain the respect, compassion and love they deserve. Until then, here are five of the most stubborn myths about pit bulls—debunked:
Myth #1: Pit bulls are not safe family pets. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, did you know they are not recommended as guard dogs because they are too safe and trusting of strangers? Their great love, gentleness and compassion for people earned these dogs the nickname “nanny dog” in the early 19th and 20th centuries. Go here (and scroll down) for a very cool infographic showing the history of pit bulls. Here’s a wonderful video that captures a sweet and loving rescued pit bull relaxing into one of my Reiki treatments:
Myth #2: Their jaws lock shut when they bite. Where did this myth begin, anyway? It’s just not true, as anyone who has studied basic dog anatomy would know. And as this professor of veterinary medicine at Cornell puts it: “There is no such thing as ‘jaw locking’ in any breed.”
Myth #3: Pit bull fighting dogs can never be rehabilitated. Not true! Overcoming abuse is difficult for any animal. But this is a dangerous myth, as these dogs can be turned around, and there are countless success stories out there. Here’s just one, an inspiring story about Little Red, one of Michael Vick’s fighting dogs:
Myth #4: Pit bulls are naturally dangerous. Actually, pit bulls are naturally intelligent and loving. And they are also perfect choices for service and therapy dogs. Here is one inspiring organization rescuing pit bulls from shelters in Chicago and pairing them with military veterans: Pits for Patriots.
Myth #5: We need laws banning pit bulls to protect people. Shame on you Denver and the more than 700 other communities that have banned pit bulls and euthanized thousands of dogs based on their physical appearance. Family pets are killed or hidden away (with no access to local veterinary care), and Animal Control “decides” which dogs are pit bulls or not. Even veterans within the city limits have lost their service dogs! Studies show that Breed Specific Legislation, as it’s called, fails to decrease dog bites or ensure public safety. It should be made illegal now. Here’s a petition you can sign to demand Colorado stop killing innocent dogs.
So let’s never forget these beautiful souls can also be thought of as heroes, service dogs, therapy dogs, best friends, family members and cuddle bugs. And make sure to mark your calendars for Saturday, October 24: National Pit Bull Awareness Day! Do you have a special pit bull in your life? Share your stories below.
What are you up to this weekend? I’m still catching up on things, after spending last week in the UK. But I’m also kind of in the mood for a truly inspiring documentary, something life-affirming that can teach me something new. Here are a few of my favorites, which also happen to touch on very important subjects:
1. Beyond the Myth: The Truth About Pit Bulls
All dog lovers should see this film, which highlights the problem of discrimination against pit bulls, which can actually be wonderful companions. It also examines the harm done by negative media coverage and breed-specific legislation.