|With Christopher E. Grimes, the director of Dog by Dog at the Mayan Theater in Denver, CO|
On Thursday night I attended the premiere of Dog by Dog, a documentary that seeks to reach the general public with information about the reality of puppy mills and the politics and pocketbooks that continue to support them. It was incredibly uplifting to see the support the documentary received in the local animal welfare community. Hosted by Colorado Citizens for Canine Welfare and attended by famous football players and state representatives, the turnout in my favorite historic theater in Denver warmed this advocate's heart.
While it had extremely emotional moments (and in fact I saw most men in the theater wiping their eyes at the end), this is not a film filled with graphic footage of abuse. The shots of the empty cages and the tough guy cradling a filthy rescued puppy against his chest are enough. The real impact of the documentary lies in its informed interviews and shocking statistics, as well as exposure of the ways in which corporate agribusiness and the AKC fight against legislation meant to improve conditions for commercially bred dogs. The film was well-researched and effectively delivered, including interviews with rescue volunteers, politicians and heads of animal welfare organizations.
I already knew much of the information presented, but what I was most surprised by was the widespread lack of knowledge. One of the women interviewed sincerely believed that the puppy she bought online was coming from a loving family home where the dogs were frolicking in fields of flowers. This could not be further from the truth - internet retailers with payment plans and immediate shipment are more than likely puppy mills. According to the film, between two and four million puppies are born in puppy mills every year, to parents who will never know grass beneath their paws, a kind hand on their head or even shelter from the elements.
For my own reasons, I will probably always adopt from rescue. I love potcakes and podencos, and don't have any purpose for my dogs outside of companionship; however, I understand the purpose-bred dog and the love of purebreds, and the movie does, too - it does not vilify all breeders. During the panel discussion after the film, one of the audience members asked why the director and filmmakers didn't take a stand against all dog breeding and the answer was that this was simply not realistic, too polarizing, and essentially shooting themselves in the foot when rescue groups and reputable breeders can and should be a united front against large, profit-driven commercial puppy mills.
The most inspiring part of Dog by Dog - much needed after the discouraging illustration of just how deeply embedded the politics and bureaucracy surrounding legislation of puppy mills are - was the story of Mindi Callison Long, founder of Bailing Out Benji. Since 2011, Mindi has been educating and organizing peaceful pet store protests in her hometown, rain or shine. For a while now I have been considering joining a local protest group, and I think this was exactly the push I needed to get my hands on a sign and my feet on the pavement. If any one of us can get just one person to turn around at the door of a pet store and head to their local shelter instead, or to sign up on the waiting list of a reputable breeder instead of clicking "Buy Now" on that cute picture at the commercial breeder website, then we are making a difference, person by person, dog by dog.
The goal of this documentary is to reach beyond those of us who already know about the horrors of puppy mills. The Mayan Theater was filled with people who were already deeply aware and passionately supportive of this cause. While in this early stage of screenings around the country, the ultimate hope is for Dog by Dog to have the same powerful impression as Blackfish did, for the general public's eyes to be opened to the injustice of keeping loving, intelligent dogs in wire cages for their entire lives, churning out puppies to be sold behind facades of storefronts and webpages, dressed in ribbons and lies. If one by one, our family members and co-workers - potential puppy-buyers whose lives don't revolve around dogs as ours do - abandon pet stores and wholesaler websites the way families and sponsors and stockholders have been abandoning Sea World, then we will see the world start to change the way it should. Please spread the word about this important film - follow Dog By Dog on Facebook, share the trailer, and watch for it in a theater near you.