Before we celebrate Mother’s Day this weekend, I’d like to send my thoughts, love and blessings to the forgotten mothers out there: the approximately 1 million dog mothers suffering in puppy mills across the United States.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has worked hard to draw attention to this problem; a few years ago, the organization designated the first week of May as its annual Puppy Mill Action Week. Though we are making progress—dozens of cities nationwide, including Los Angeles, Chicago and Phoenix, have banned the sale of dogs and cats from commercial breeders in retail outlets—we still have a long, long way to go. Just take a look at the HSUS’s annual list of the Horrible Hundred breeders. These businesses continue to operate, despite documented inhumane conditions. And people still buy purebred puppies and kittens in pet stores.
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 more information.
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.)
My dearest dog lovers, are you looking for something special to read this weekend? Curl up with one (or all) of these truly inspirational books about canine rescue …
Dog Is My Copilot: Rescue Tales of Flying Dogs, Second Chances and the Hero Who Might Live Next Door by Patrick Regan: Learn the heartwarming stories behind 24 real-life rescue missions facilitated through Pilots N Paws, a wonderful organization that pairs death-row dogs (and sometimes cats) with aviators willing to fly the animals thousands of miles to their new home, shelter or foster situation. Also included: more than 100 color photos of the pilots with these special canines in flight. $12.70 at Barnes & Noble
The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick’s Dogs and Their Tale of Rescue and Redemption by Jim Gorant: This well-researched book is for pit bull lovers especially. Though it’s difficult at times to read about the investigation surrounding Vick’s dog-fighting ring, learning the stories of these beautiful dogs—and the heroic men and women who helped to rescue and rehabilitate them and reshape the public’s perceptions of pit bulls—reminds us that even in darkness, there is hope in humanity. $12.08 at Amazon
DogTown: Tales of Rescue, Rehabilitation andRedemption by Stefan Bechtal: You may remember the National Geographic Channel’s show DogTown, filmed at Best Friends Animal Society a few years ago. (Loved it!) This book, a “companion to the hit” show, highlights the stories of 12 sweet dogs at DogTown and their journeys from rescue through rehabilitation. Though sad at times (some of the so-called “unadoptables” came from terrible situations, such as war zones and puppy mills to dog-fighting rings and hoarding situations), thanks to the dedication of the team at Best Friends, these stories reveal dogs now living happier lives. $11.69 at Amazon
Saving Gracie: How One Dog Escaped the Shadowy World of American Puppy Mills by Carol Bradley: In case you’re still not convinced that animals for sale at pet stores should be outlawed, read this. In this book, author Bradley, a newspaper reporter, follows the raid of a horrific puppy mill in Pennsylvania and the subsequent difficulties in making legislative changes (though progress has been made). But this story isn’t just about an adorable Cavalier King Charles Spaniel being rescued; you will see how she rescued her human as well. $13.09 at Amazon
Rescue Ink: Tough Guys on a Mission to Keep Our Animals Safeby Rescue Ink and Denise Flaim: The tough, tattooed bikers behind Rescue Ink are awesome! As revealed in this book, the guys at this Long Island, New York, animal rescue do whatever necessary (“within the means of the law”) to save the lives of all kinds of animals. Included are heartwarming rescue tales of abused and neglected animals, as well as a look at what inspired the various Rescue Ink members to follow this path. Like DogTown above, Rescue Ink is also a companion to a National Geographic Channel show. $13.26 at Amazon
What are your favorite inspirational books for dog lovers?
I’ve spent a lot of time over the years in animal shelters, so I know all about the misconceptions surrounding shelter animals. For instance: Many people think shelter animals are put there because of aggression or behavior problems. Wrong! According to the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy, the top two reasons for an animal to end up in a shelter are (1) moving/financial and (2) landlord issues. Here, I’d like to clear up some of the myths and point to my top five reasons why adopting from a shelter is the absolute best decision you can make:
1. You’re saving TWO lives: You save the life of the animal you bring home, plus you make room in the shelter for another animal to take their place. This is true even if you’re adopting from a no-kill shelter. The no-kill shelters save animals from the kill shelters whenever they can.
2. You have a better chance of knowing the animal’s personality: Animals in shelters sometimes live there for months or even years. That time gives the caregivers a good handle on the dog or cat’s personality: if they’re sociable, loving, shy and so on. When you buy a puppy at a breeder or a pet store, you truly don’t know what you’re getting until they grow up and their adult personality emerges. Shelters are also invested in helping the animals find forever homes, so there will be many opportunities for you to spend time with the animal before bringing them home for good. (I encourage my readers to please not support pet stores. You can read about puppy mills here.)
3. Shelters offer more options: What do you want, a puppy or a kitten? A calm dog that has outgrown the tiring puppy stage? A cat in her senior years? A purebred golden retriever? Whatever kind of furry family member you’re looking for, you can likely find the perfect fit at one of your local shelters. You’re not limited to just puppies or kittens. And, yes, plenty of purebreds end up in shelters, too. Next time you go for an adoption, keep this startling fact in mind: Black cats and dogs are most often overlooked in shelters, so give special consideration to these little cuties, which are more difficult to rehome.
4. Shelters save other animals, too: Maybe you’re not a dog or cat person; you’d rather save a rabbit, hamster, ferret or bird. Yes, cats and dogs make up the majority of available animals at the rescue—but don’t forget there are other critters, too!
5. It’s less expensive and a good value: Breeders charge hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a single animal. When you adopt from a shelter, they’ve had a health checkup, their shots, may be spayed or neutered (or even microchipped!), come with a collar and ID tag, and sometimes they’re even potty trained.
I hear all the time that rescued pets make the best animal companions. Did you adopt from a shelter? I’d love to hear your story!