Free Puppies!, a new documentary film about the grassroots network of dog rescuers, takes a closer look at the rescue dog crisis.
I’m a dog lover and naturally, a film with this title is going to pique my interest. It’s a film about how a grassroots network across the rural South have been rescuing millions of rescue dogs. If not for their efforts, many dogs would have seen a tragic ending. Nobody wants that, certainly not me. My current living conditions do not have me in a position to adopt a dog but believe me, I would do so in a heartbeat if I could. But at the same time, this isn’t the film that I thought it was going to be. It’s not unfair to say that we’re in this rescue dog crisis because people didn’t listen to Bob Barker on The Price Is Right. When you don’t spay and neuter your pets, it increases the dog supply faster than the demand allows, especially in the South.
Everything changed when Hurricane Katrina hit and left 250,000 pets without a home. This led to a nationwide effort to rescue dogs and the formation of new infrastructure. It’s been a team effort of volunteers, transporters, shelters and rescue groups ever since. Because of this grassroots networks, millions of dogs have been moved from the South to other areas across the country where there is high demand to adopt but a lower supply of dogs to choose from. Cut to the present day and there’s still a rescue dog crisis. Free Puppies! follows the efforts of Monda Wooten, Ann Brown, and Ruth Smith. The filmmakers also travel to a number of animal shelters, too. As we watch the film, we learn more about why America is facing this crisis in particular.
Co-directors Samantha Wishman and Christina Thomas don’t always show us the good. They also show us the bad, including a pair of brothers who disagree over what to do about their puppies. One wants them in a better situation while the other cusses out the rescuers. And this is where the women rescuing these dogs also face some of the challenges in saving them. Some of their work also comes in spaying and neutering the dogs. By moving the focus into spaying and neutering, the film more or less also becomes a message movie. It isn’t that there’s an abundance of dogs but there are just too many that are still living in animal shelters. The film’s main subjects work to get the dogs out of kill shelters and into other rescue shelters, where they can find their forever home.
Here’s something to know about no-kill shelters: they only take in the dogs that they want to take in. These are the dogs that families typically want to adopt. The animal shelters have no choice but to euthanize dogs if they do not find a home. It’s why they push the transport of dogs that are able to be adopted. Many dogs from the South end up in the north for this season.
There are people that think it is okay to shoot a dog. Thankfully, the husband couldn’t do it. When the rescuer came, they didn’t just took the puppies but the mother, too. The mother, a big black dog, was unadoptable and ended up staying with Monda Wooten. Here’s an interesting fact: big black dogs are seen as scary and typically do not get adopted. However, there is a happy ending, the couple that was going to kill their dog is now in the business of recuing animals.
Leslie Ledbetter, director of the DCAAC in DeKalb County, Alabama, is one of many interviewees in the film. What she has to say is pretty heartbreaking: “If we didn’t have rescue groups helping us, our euthanasia rate would be almost all of our dogs.” Read that line again. If you’re able to foster dogs, please consider doing so.
Things I learned from watching this film is that puppies don’t do well in a shelter. Dogs don’t have much room to move in a kennel and watching this film is heartbreaking on that front. Meanwhile, a public animal shelter in Georgia previously euthanized their dogs by way of a gas chamber. They now euthanize via lethal injections but it’s not any less heartbreaking.
Free Puppies! shows the ins and outs of how dog rescuers work while also stressing the importance of spaying and neutering pets.
DIRECTORS: Samantha Wishman & Christina Thomas
NARRATOR: Christina Thomas
FEATURING: Monda Wooten, Ann Brown, Ruth Smith
First Run Features released Free Puppies! in theaters on August 12. 2022. Grade: 3.5/5
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