I first heard about a new film called "The Dog Lover" about a week ago. I had seen something about it on a website and heard about a review by Bailing out Benji, but did not have the time to really delve into the topic. On the surface, the film looks to be a feel good story of a woman who champions the cause of animal welfare for dogs and triumphs over evil. I checked in with a couple of contacts who told me that the film was pretty much "pro mill." When my husband picked up a copy and brought it home, I told myself I would do my best to remain neutral about it when we watched it. I tried, really I did. If you plan to see the film, you may want to stop reading here so I don't spoil the plot for you. I don't go into much detail, but I do touch on some of the story line.
The Dog Lover is a film which purports to be based on a true story. It is not. There are very few actual facts in the movie and the rest of the plot is tossed together for effect. The film was produced by a group called Protect the Harvest which is led by oil giant Forrest Lucas. The name of the organization alone tells you a lot. You can do some simple searches to see that their mission is. I will not link to the organization here.
But back to the movie. The premise of the film is pretty simple. A woman who works for a large animal welfare organization and who thinks all dog breeding is morally wrong agrees to go undercover working as an intern for a breeder of hunting dogs. She is sure she will find evidence to help shut down what she was told is a "puppy mill." The breeding operation is not what she expected, she ends up liking the breeders and decides that they have been falsely targeted by her employer. Rather than act on her knowledge, she hangs around to get friendly with a boy she likes, only to have law enforcement authorities sweep in to seize the dogs. Many of the dogs get sick only after having been taken from the breeder and a lot of them die. The breeder is later vindicated in legal proceedings and proclaims that he is glad his reputation has been restored.
For me, this movie just really served no purpose and it may only serve to confuse the dog-loving American public. I'm not so much hung up on the fact that the movie claims to be based on a true story when it really is not. I am hung up on what our take away from the film is supposed to be.
In The Dog Lover, everyone loses.
The HSUS loses. In the film, the lead character works for the United Animal Protection Agency. In real life, this case involved the Humane Society of the United States. I am no fan of the HSUS as an organization and I have never shied away from being critical of how they spend their millions. I see them as a self-perpetuating money collection agency which brings in money by playing with the hearts of the American public. The HSUS loses in this film because it is made out to the the bad guy and exposed for being hypocritical. I'm okay with that. It is deserved criticism. It was about 5 years ago that the HSUS did a "raid" on a property not far from where I live. The dogs became known of simply as "The Alabama 44." The short story is that HSUS seized 44 dogs from a rural property under the guise of taking them from deplorable conditions and without the knowledge of local law enforcement officials. The dogs were dispersed to a variety of locations. Some were destroyed in gas chambers in another state, some were destroyed locally, having been deemed "unadoptable," and many were never accounted for.
The dog breeder loses. The breeder in the film is just that: a breeder. Although I am not a fan of breeding dogs, the reality is that breeding dogs is perfectly legal in our society even if the conditions in which the dogs are allowed to be housed would make us all sick. The film shows dogs who are fed, have clean water, receive veterinary care, live in pens which allow room for movement and the dogs are socialized. If the reality of the dogs' care and living conditions was anything like what is portrayed in the film, I honestly am not that critical of it. That may not be popular to say. I am well aware that many of the people who breed dogs would otherwise be engaged in some other type of livestock or farming industry and that for them, breeding dogs is the source of their livelihood. It is all they know. I know there are responsible breeders and I know that not every breeding operation is a puppy mill. I long for the day when all, large commercial dog breeding operations end but I really see that as being the responsibility of us as consumers. If we want them to stop breeding dogs, we need to stop buying them whether we are individuals or call ourselves rescuers. In the film, the dogs are taken from the breeder even though they are shown as being well cared for. It is only after the dogs are taken from the breeder that they get sick and a number of them die.
The dog lover loses. I am sure that there are people who work for large national animal welfare organizations like the HSUS, ASPCA or even PETA who are simply ethics-driven. For them, this is an issue of morality and they likely count themselves fortunate to be paid to do a job they love. The tide is beginning to turn on these organizations as the donating public learns more about how their money is being spent in the name of animal welfare and often not in ways of which they approve. In the film. the conditions found by the dog lover are nothing like she expected. Instead of breaking off her undercover investigation and reporting back to the powers that be that they are focused on the wrong location, she stays on board and then tries to do damage control later. Shame on her. You can believe in a cause all day long, but with that comes responsibility to think for yourself and not just blindly follow those who possess incredible power.
And the worst part.
The dogs lose. I think the thing that struck me most about this film was the lack of focus where it should have been: on the dogs. Regardless of whether you think every breeder runs a mill or if you think all dog breeding is wrong or your loathe the HSUS, I would like to think all of us would be focused on the well-being of the dogs we produce by the millions and which we then, as a society, destroy by the millions. In this film, dogs are bred, dogs are seized, dogs get sick, dogs die and in the end, no one really seems too broken up about that result. Although the breeder portrayed in the film says at the end that he's glad his name has been cleared, nothing at all is said about the fact that the entire process resulted in unnecessary death.
If you really want to see an educational or empowering film about the dog breeding industry, find an opportunity to see Dog by Dog at a city near you or get your own copy once it is available for purchase. You can see excellent trailers for the film here. You can also pick up a copy of I Breathe which covers the topic of commercial dog breeding and which includes the story of Lily, the dog who inspired National Mill Dog Rescue.
I am an animal welfare advocate. My goal is to help people understand some basic issues related to companion animals in America. Awareness leads to education leads to action leads to change.
image courtesy of Terrah Johnson