Interview with Producer Ellen Goosenberg Kent
The film features some indelible footage—moments that were truly heartbreaking to watch. Why did you decide it was important to include such provocative footage?
As we were exploring rescue, our original idea was to try to figure out why in some parts of the country there were so many homeless dogs. In the process of exploring that, we discovered some really dark truths about the way dogs are bred and the way they are discarded. The word euthanasia is a euphemism in those circumstances. We're not mercy killing sick dogs, we're unnecessarily killing healthy and wonderful dogs. We discovered, to our horror, that there are gas chambers in America. And that was a story we thought had to be told—and shown.
Did you have an idea of what the conditions would be like in the puppy mills before you filmed them?
We were aware of them, but we hadn't really seen what those conditions looked like in any in depth way. It turned out that while we were filming, there was a raid on a puppy mill in a county in Tennessee very close to where we were at the time. That was just good timing, because I don't know if we could've told that part of the story if we didn't have that kind of access.
Were you worried about turning people off with the more difficult footage?
Yes, we were. That's why we made two versions. One, a daytime version, is much less graphic and shorter. But despite our fear, we felt people should be exposed to the truth: If you drop a dog off at a shelter, it isn't necessarily going to get adopted. We felt it was important that people know what the fate of that dog is in some shelters— that dog is likely to be put down and not in a nice way. We weren't trying to traumatize people, we were trying to educate them and encourage them to rescue dogs.
What did you set out to accomplish with this film? Is there a political message?
We didn't set out to make a message film; it's not an advocacy piece. All of us felt passionately about dogs and looking at America's obsessive and conflicted relationship with them. We pose this question of "How far would you go for a dog?" and answer it in different ways.
Where did the ideas for the three segments come from?
They came from us, the directors. Jenny Carchman was very interested in pet crimes—what happens when your dog bites someone. She found a family that would spend a fortune defending their dog in court, because their dogs are family members and they'd do no less for anyone else in their family. Amanda Micheli was very interested in loss and bereavement, because her dog got cancer and she drained her bank account trying to save this dog's life. She went to the San Francisco pet loss support group and met an amazing group of people and decided she wanted to look deeper into that relationship. I was interested in rescue and rescuers. When I was growing up, there was no such thing. Someone realized it made sense to transport some of the overpopulation of dogs in the South to the East Coast, where there's more of a demand for them, and that's where the rescuers come in.
Why is there such an overpopulation of dogs in the South?
Because people do not spay and neuter their pets there. It's partly cultural, it's partly religious, it's partly economic. Rescuers realized there was a huge overpopulation of dogs in that part of the country, and the kill rates in those shelters are very high. They began to post pictures of these dogs online and on places like Petfinder, so that people in other parts of the country could adopt them. That's what got me interested. You could get any kind of puppy you wanted, a pure bred, and you don't have to go to a pet store, which might be supplied by a puppy mill.
There is a movement to provide low-cost spay and neuter services. If you go to HBO.com, there are a number of links that will tell you where to get an inexpensive spay/neuter service in your area. There are also shelters and rescue groups. We want people to have that information at their fingertips, so if they want to do something, they can do it right away.
Is it dangerous to adopt a rescue dog?
People have the misperception that a dog is in a shelter because there is a problem with it. That's usually not the case. Sometimes their owners have moved, or had a change in their economic situation, or some sort of tragedy. Most dogs aren't relinquished because they misbehave or bite. We know that's true because rescue groups put them in foster homes and see how they do—with young kids, with cats, with elderly people. For the most part, these dogs find homes and are great. It's rare that they have a dog that can't be trained or rehabilitated.
Do you have dogs yourself?
The hard answer is I don't have one right now. My house would be full of dogs if I could take home all of the dogs I fell in love with in the course of filming. There's a rule in my house that it needs to be unanimous before we get a dog, and we haven't gotten there just yet.