I’ve done a bit of writing on my heartfelt documentary project, but my wife has helpfully pointed out several mistakes, and one of those is the fact that I haven’t written an overview. What is it? Why am I doing it? What do I hope to accomplish? A documentary about anything is just another way to tell a story. In theory, it should be a true story, but if we’ve learned anything in the past year or two, it’s that truth is malleable and entirely subjective, so it’s safe to say that all I can claim is that this is my truth about our relationship with dogs. I’ve spoken to many people in the course of preparing this project, and I am fully aware that people hold a wide range of truths about the subject. However, it’s also evident that the whole range of dog owners, dog lovers, trainers, handlers, veterinarians, and experts of every stripe hold to a common body of truths about dogs. In a time of profound disagreement, it’s nice to know that we can agree on the simple fact that dogs are good.
Another aspect of story, in any form, is that the process involves taking a massive amount of information, organizing it around a theme, and artfully trimming the information into something that not only conveys the idea but also pleases the intended audience. I’ve been working on this process in many forms during my life, and just like anything else, developing expertise doesn’t necessarily make it easier. The more you know, the more you know what you don’t know.
In the broadest terms, my documentary is about our human relationship with dogs. It’s a remarkable thing, the domestication of dogs. After thousands of years, we have molded them into an amazing array of forms, functions, and behaviors. If you have spent any time with dogs, you probably know that they are quite good at molding us as well. Of course, I’ve done a lot of research into the more academic aspects of our ancient relationship with dogs. Their history is a close sibling to our own. They have guarded our flocks, homes, and families. They have kept us warm at night. They have fought wars with absolute courage and no question of their duty to us. On a more personal level, I’d guess I have had some lengthy, meaningful relationship with at least thirty dogs in my life, and perhaps more surprisingly, I could probably list them all. Odd that they make such an indelible impression… Currently, there are six of them on the other side of the door.
Like any other relationships, dogs come with their challenges and their rewards. Obviously for us, the rewards far outweigh the hardships, so much so that we not only choose rescue dogs, we also volunteer significant time to rescue efforts. Our primary efforts are with Old Dog Haven, a rescue organization in Western Washington with a very specific mission, and one that they do very well. This brings a tighter focus into the story I am trying to tell. Some animal advocacy is very generic, some organizations would have trouble even explaining what they do, and some fall into territory with which I cannot agree. In the case of ODH, they simply rescue old dogs from the usual fate of such animals. They pull old, unadoptable dogs into their system, and foster them to people like us who agree to care for them for the rest of their lives. We provide the food, the love and care, and the transportation to typically numerous vet visits, and ODH pays for the medical care. This is HUGE! It is a complete redefinition of the whole problem of taking care of old dogs. Most people could simply not afford to provide this level of health care, and even fewer would be willing to take on the extra effort of accommodating the special needs of old dogs. Many are blind and/or deaf. Many have trouble getting around. Many do not last for long and come with complex decisions about end of life. They are the hard cases.
While some would argue that these dogs are not worthy of adoption or even rescue, I take a more “dogs are good” philosophical stance on the issue. First, whether we like it or not, these dogs exist. It seems like a simple thing to say, but it becomes a moral argument when we consider that they exist because of us. Yes, we have bred many dogs that could survive without us, but in relative terms those dogs are few compared to the ones that we bred to be completely dependent on us. The math is simple. If there is any kind of fair exchange in life, we owe them the care and protection we can provide. It starts with general responsible dog ownership. Puppies make a mess, but they are so darn cute, we accept the trade until they can learn how to behave. Adult dogs in their prime can do a myriad of things, from entertainment and companionship to truly useful jobs. The responsibility part comes with good training, good food, good exercise, keeping them clean and healthy, and frankly giving a dog a job to do. Everyone who has lived through an entire dog’s life knows that, just like us, eventually they slow down, the health problems mount, and the dreaded day when the final painful decision must be made approaches. That’s where our real obligation kicks in.
Old Dog Haven skips all the easy parts and tackles the difficult end-of-the-life-cycle head on. Because that end is sharper, harder, and more painful, the ODH mission represents the peak of our responsibility to our canine friends. That is why they are the focus of this story.
There are three main outcomes I am seeking through this documentary. The first is nothing new. If I can raise awareness for Old Dog Haven and the work they do in the context of our partnership with dogs, if I can move a few people in the direction of a broader view of the human/canine relationship, then it’s a win for me. Obviously the hopeful follow-through is that ODH can raise more money and help more dogs to finish their lives in a loving home. In the longer perspective, I hope that ODH can continue to thrive when all of us are gone. It usually takes a few more decades, but we eventually run out of time too.
The second goal is that I can amass a high quality collection of footage so that specific messages can be created quickly by myself or others within the organization. At the end of the project, I hope to deliver a massive library of footage and mini-edits to certain members within the ODH community so that the effort can continue and others can tell their own stories about the work of old dog rescue. Mine is only one perspective, and I am anxious to see what others have to say.
The third goal has sidled up to me along the way. Dogs have become central to my life in a million ways. Sharon and I drive around pointing out our next potential vehicle purchase in terms of how many dog crates we think it can hold. I spend time writing about dogs and working out dogs as characters in stories that really have nothing to do with dogs. My idea of good time is any event that allows me to meet dogs all day. It doesn’t hurt that most dedicated dog people are pretty great human beings. Perhaps most telling is that I’m at least twice as likely to remember a dog’s name than the person on the other end of the leash. Sad but true. The point is that this particular project is very likely to be the first of many films (and books) about our beloved furry partners.
To that end, I’d like to point you to my Gofundme page, and ask that if any of my goals resonate with you, please contribute to the project. Any amount helps. The goal is large in numbers, but small in film production terms. It is an optimized budget to acquire the tools needed to acquire film quality footage of dogs doing what dogs do, to capture interviews that look and sound beautiful of the people who love those dogs, to handle the the technical requirements of compiling all this footage into a finished film, and a bit for travel and logistics as we run all over the Pacific Northwest. In return for your support, I’ll do my best to leverage the whole set of tools into an ongoing effort to tell the many remarkable stories of dogs and their people. Thank you.
Photo by Lincoln Creek Valley Labradors