A documentary film review by Dr. Lloyd Sederer
Do you have a dog? Love dogs? Can’t resist petting a passing dog behind the ears? Then this movie likely has your name on it. Otherwise, best find another film, but not on this subject.
Millions of dogs are the subject of Free Puppies!. Not all at once. That probably would violate contractual obligations with the Screen Actors Guild. Not all are puppies, but that makes for a sweet film title that can be taken a couple of ways. And those abundant canines are not on screen to endorse Purina Pro Dog Food, though I suppose they would gladly chow down a bowl.
Millions (estimated) of dogs are transported from America’s rural South to America’s North, where they become rescue dogs for adoption. Puppies, of course, squirming one on top of another eager to lick your face. Small, medium and large dogs whose saucer eyes and puzzled, tilted heads can melt your heart. They are the lucky ones among too many neglected or abused dogs; they the ones who will stay alive to be delivered to the safety and love that had eluded them.
The overpopulation of dogs in America is not new; a 1973 study by the New York Women’s League for Animals reported 13.5 million killed each year. But it took Hurricane Katrina (2005), which left more than 250,000 pets stranded, to re-surface the magnitude of this stubborn but solvable problem.
This documentary film by Samantha Wishman & Christina Thomas, shot up close and personal, is not a diatribe against the dogs’ (southern) owners, nor a glorification of their future (northern) owners. It is a wonderful shout-out to the (now) nation-wide volunteer network of “rescue ladies”, like the three featured in this 70-minute documentary: Monda Wooten, Ann Brown, and Ruth Smith, whose hard work and big hearts are making a difference.
Not to worry. “Dogs” is not a lengthy version of a compassion ad seeking your donation. Instead, it is the unknown tale of an army of unpaid volunteers, with their own cars, SUVs, pickups, panel trucks and a dog “trailer” (like a horse trailer with kennels, not stalls), who demonstrate that the kindness of strangers has not disappeared from the face of this earth.
Under resourced southern states have an estimated ten-fold greater number of strays, abandoned and shelter dogs - headed for euthanasia. Infrequent rates of (or no) spaying females and neutering males produce litters of 8-10 puppies, who, in turn, multiply themselves, again and again. This is the ‘upstream puppy production line’ that overwhelms efforts to save them. Human troubles, too, like poverty, divorce, death and substance abuse make insurmountable the demands of feeding and raising a dog, releasing more strays into an unforgiving world.
Lack of spaying and neutering are the most exigent of problems to remedy if sustainable gains are to be achieved. The rescue mission only becomes achievable when far fewer dogs need saving. As it did when population control produced a 90% reduction in strays (in the north).
We learn that northern US states (well, their human inhabitants) hold quite different attitudes about “man’s best friend” (women’s too)”, than their counterparts in the south. Not that every person in the north is kindly and every person in the south does not know from kindness. But different views about how expendable are dogs produces a great contrast in prevention (spaying/neutering), non-euthanizing shelters, and accessible and affordable animal services, all necessary to stem the formidable oversupply of canines in need. Millions, in fact.
Free Puppies! arrives at US VOD platforms, including iTunes/Apple, Amazon and other major platforms on December 13, 2022.
Dr. Lloyd Sederer is a psychiatrist, public health doctor, non-fiction writer and devoted dog owner. 🐾