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‘We Don’t Deserve Dogs’ a doggone good doc

April 10, 2021
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“Every dog must have his day.” – Jonathan Swift

I love dogs. I love my dog Stella and every dog I ever had growing up. I love dogs I pass on the street. I love dogs that bark and dogs that whine and dogs that growl. I love them all, regardless of whether or not they love me back (although they usually do).

So it’s no surprise that when the opportunity was presented to me to review the new documentary “We Don’t Deserve Dogs,” directed by Matthew Salleh in collaboration with his partner Rose Tucker. It’s a voyage around the globe, looking at the various ways that dogs impact the worlds in which we live. Across borders and cultures, dogs are present, helping us by simply being the wonderful creatures that they are.

From country to country, from circumstance to circumstance, we bounce from place to place, encountering our four-legged friends in various environments. And even in those spots where the life of a dog is difficult, these wonderful creatures find ways to shine their light upon us. It is heartfelt and charming and uplifting – and don’t forget the tissues, because if you’re anything like me, you are going to need them.

We start by meeting a charming street dog named Chino, an absolute unit making his way in Santiago, Chile. Like many of his ilk, Chino is without a home, but through hustle and charisma, he becomes a beloved part of the lives of many that he encounters. There’s a tinge of sadness to the idea of a homeless dog, but by all appearances, Chino has carved out a good life for himself.

From there, we go to Uganda, where we meet a number of former child soldiers who are working with dogs in an effort to find healthy ways to deal with the traumas of their brutal, bloody pasts. Watching the obvious connection between these people struggling to heal and the canine companions offering the unconditional love that helps them through that process, well … remember the tissues?

And on and on we go, crisscrossing the globe to visit dogs in far-flung locales (people too, I suppose, but we all know who the stars are). We watch the planning of an elaborate dog birthday party in one case and meet a woman who considers her dog her baby in another. We see celebrations of street dogs in Nepal and watch as dogs help soothe the old and the young alike in Finland.

We meet some working dogs as well, dogs who seem to genuinely love what they do, whether that is herding sheep or hunting truffles. Seriously, everyone should be so lucky to love their jobs as much as these dogs do. And the people who work with them, well – it’s still love. A different kind of love, perhaps, but love nevertheless.

Ultimately, that’s the point. Dogs and humans are inextricably intertwined, connected by millennia of biological and social evolution. We share our lives with them and they in turn share their lives with us, a binding tie that may mean different things to different people and cultures, but that is inevitably present.

Setting aside the subject matter for a moment (don’t worry, we’ll get back to the dogs soon enough), “We Don’t Deserve Dogs” is a beautifully-shot and produced piece of filmmaking. Salleh and Tucker are essentially a two-man band here, each wearing a number of hats as they bring the movie to life. It’s an apt turn of phrase, because one thing is for certain – this movie positively overflows with life. There’s a lushness to it, a visual acuity that captures landscapes both natural and urban with equal aplomb. It’s a lovely film to look at, with some truly striking images to go along with the subtle and overt joys of the subject.

That said, it’s about the dogs. By moving from place to place and offering a glimpse at the cultural niche occupied by dogs in each of them, the filmmakers do a wonderful job of giving us a sense of just what dogs mean to different people. Through these conversations, we’re gifted with an honest appraisal of the affections people bear toward their dogs.

(It’s also worth noting that no time is spent in the United States. The dog culture here is prevalent and pervasive; by eschewing coverage, Salleh and Tucker can be that much more expansive in their exploration of the world’s relationship with dogs.)

I’ll happily concede that I am a soft touch when it comes to the relationship between person and dog. That dynamic almost always impacts me emotionally and this film is no exception. If anything, it is rendered more effective by the mere fact that it’s all true. I shed tears during multiple segments – the filmmakers do a remarkable job of capturing the affection and connection expressed by people to their dogs. Some of it is silly, some of it is sad, some of it is sweet, but all of it is real. That reality is what calls to my heart.

“We Don’t Deserve Dogs” is a heartfelt paean to the connection mankind shares with its four-legged friends. To my mind, the titular assertion is an accurate one – we DON’T deserve dogs, even as they continue to show up for us again and again – and if you’re of a similar mindset, then you are absolutely the target audience for this film.

“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” – Roger Caras

[4.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Saturday, 10 April 2021 15:34

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