Documentary explores the complicated relationship between man and dog
- Last Updated: 12:29 AM, June 17, 2012
- Posted: 9:50 PM, June 16, 2012
In a city where dogs can get reiki, a personal running coach and even “bark mitzvahed,” it’s clear New Yorkers are obsessed with their four-legged friends.
But how far will dog lovers really go to prove their devotion?
Tribeca producer and director Ellen Goosenberg Kent set out across the country on a yearlong trip to document the answer.
“We’re all dog lovers,” says Goosenberg Kent, who with fellow partners and directors Amanda Micheli and Jenny Carchman will debut their discoveries via “One Nation Under Dog,” a documentary airing on HBO tomorrow at 9 p.m.
“We each had a different fascination [with them] but all realized that we were asking the same question: ‘How far would you go for a dog?’”
Aiming to avoid a soapbox-style advocacy movie, Goosenberg Kent and her crew wanted to highlight and explore America’s complex — and often conflicted — dog relationships via true stories.
“We wanted to do something unflinching and honest, that not only looks at the upside of loving dogs, but also some of the darker realities about the way dogs are bred and discarded,” says the filmmaker who doesn’t herself own a dog.
Part one of the documentary discusses the notion of fear, illuminated by the story of Dr. Robert Taffet of New Jersey and his family’s Rhodesian Ridgebacks. One of his dogs, Duke, had been accused of being dangerous (he had bitten off a 3-year-old girl’s ear) and Taffet went to court to defend him.
“My feelings about the situation flip-flopped from when I first heard about it to when I watched it on film,” says Goosenberg Kent. “You have neighbors who feel the dogs are dangerous. On the other hand, you have people for whom that dog is a family member who they’d defend no less than one another.”
In part two, the film delves into loss, and how it affects pet-owners. It focuses on a grief group in San Francisco who mourns the loss of their dogs, New York owners who spend over $1,000 to lavishly bury their pups in a pet cemetery and one Florida couple who spent $150,000 to have their beloved late dog cloned (“It was less than a boat,” they reasoned).
Even fellow director Amanda Micheli drained her bank account trying to save her sick dog, who died during filming. She’s in the process of adopting a new one now.
Part three explores betrayal, and one of the issues closest to Goosenberg Kent’s heart: the over-breeding of dogs and euthanasia.
“Going into shelters, you know that these dogs only have a day or two to live. It’s a huge responsibility; if you rescue a dog you know you’re basically saving their life,” she says.
The reality of the situation — 4 million dogs are put down each year, a number that could be greatly reduced by spaying and neutering — is brought home with a particularly disturbing scene that shows dogs being euthanized in a gas chamber.
But more so, the film celebrates champions of dogs who work to prevent abuse and neglect, like Julie Adams, who shelters 110 dogs on her farm in Missouri — “a legend in her area,” says Goosenberg Kent, whose relationship with dogs changed as a result of the film.
“At every point [during filming], I had to talk myself out of bringing a dog home on the next plane,” she says. “ My son is leaving for college soon and is already placing bets on how quickly I’ll adopt [one] after he leaves.”