Angelita Sampaio, Cole Owen, documentaries, dogs, Emancipet, Ernestina Zamarripa, For the Animals, Greg Travis, Houston, Houston PetSet, Jane Anne Wesson, John Whitmire, movies, pet adoptions, reviews, Sadhvi Anubhuti, Sadhvi Siddhali Shree, Sonya Franklin, Stephanie Plata, Susan Boggio, Tama Lundquist, Tena Lundquist Faust, Tyson Faust
July 29, 2023
by Carla Hay
Directed by Sadhvi Siddhali Shree and Sadhvi Anubhuti
Some language in Spanish with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in the Houston area, the documentary film “For the Animals” features a group of predominantly white people (with some Latin people and African Americans) who are involved in some way in giving animal care to stray domesticated animals, particularly dogs.
Culture Clash: Animal rescuers face an uphill battle against limited resources and limited shelter space for stray animals, as well as pet owners’ resistance to spaying and neutering animals to reduce overpopulation.
Culture Audience: “For the Animals” will appeal mainly to people who like dogs and are interested in behind-the-scenes stories of rescuing stray dogs.
“For the Animals” is an educational and inspirational documentary about rescue efforts for stray dogs. The location is in Houston, but the lessons learned can apply to any area. The twin sisters who star in the movie are appealing and memorable advocates. Although the movie’s title implies that other animals will be prominently featured in this documentary, make no mistake: This documentary is all about rescuing dogs. And that’s okay, but the documentary’s title could have been more specific to the fact that this is a dog-oriented film.
Directed by Sadhvi Siddhali Shree and Sadhvi Anubhuti, “For the Animals” (which is Anubhuti’s feature-film directorial debut) chronicles the rescue work of identical twins Tama Lundquist and Tena Lundquist Faust, the co-founders and co-presidents of the non-profit group Houston PetSet, which was founded in 2004. An unsourced caption shown in the beginning of the documentary says, “It’s estimated that over a million stray animals are roaming the streets of Houston.” There’s no way to verify that statistic, especially if you consider “stray animals” can be rodents, insects and birds, not just dogs and cats.
Whatever the real number is for stray animals in Houston, “For the Animals” shows that there’s an alarming number of stray dogs in the Houston area. Lundquist and Lundquist Faust are two of the people who are doing positive things about this overpopulation problem. Houston PetSet is one of the animal rescue groups that is aimed at giving a better life for these animals by providing the money and resources for food, medical care (including spay/neuter services), foster care and eventual adoption, if the animals are able to be placed safely in a home. Lundquist and Lundquist Faust personally go out on the streets of Houston to be part of these rescue efforts, as shown in several scenes in the movie.
The documentary mentions more than once what experienced animal rescuers and their advocates already know: It’s not enough to take stray animals off of the streets and find them good homes. There has to be enough low-cost or free spay and neuter resources available in the area, in order to reduce overpopulation of stray dogs and cats. Many of these stray animals have a parent that is not a stray, but the pet owners often can’t or won’t get these pets spayed and neutered. It’s mentioned that in certain cultures, it’s considered taboo or unnecessary to spay and neuter dogs and cats, with neutering especially disapproved of by people who think male animals should never be sterilized.
All of the animal rescuers interviewed in the documentary say that the stray animal overpopulation in Houston is getting worse. Government-run animal shelters are overwhelmed by not having enough space for stray animals, so these government-run shelters almost always use euthanasia on animals that don’t get adopted in a limited period of time, in order to make room for new animals who arrive at the shelters. It’s usually up to privately funded groups to have “no kill” animal shelters.
Who are these twin sisters who are a strikingly passionate duo of animal rescuers? “For the Animals” doesn’t go too deep into their backgrounds, but Lundquist and Lundquist Faust both say in separate interviews that they wanted to be animal rescuers because they developed a love of animals from a very early age. Lundquist is the grittier sister who’s more likely to be hands-on with dirty and sick stray dogs that they find on the streets. Lundquist Faust is the more glamorous sister who’s more likely to come up with business ideas.
Both sisters seem to be fairly affluent (based on what their homes look like in the documentary), and they’re capable of hosting million-dollar fundraisers with Houston’s high-society people, but the twins are not super-rich themselves. Susan Boggio, a philanthropist/animal rescuer/PetSet benefactor, is interviewed in the documentary. Not surprisingly, Boggio has nothing but good things to say about Houston PetSet.
Each sister has multiple dogs and tell the stories about rescuing at least one of their dogs. Lundquist talks about adopting her dog Sunny after finding him as a stray all by himself in Houston’s Sunnyside neighborhood, on a night of freezing rain. She was so upset by thinking about him being along in the cold rain, she went back the next day to find him and keep him for herself. Lundquist Faust shares her story about adopting her dog Benjamin, who was also a stray. Benjamin was severely injured with broken bones and gunshot wounds, but “I was the only person he trusted,” says Lundquist Faust.
Lundquist says in a documentary interview that the twins’ parents were strict Scandinavians who didn’t show affection easily, which is why she and her sister were drawn to getting affection from animals when the twins were children. They had to beg their parents to get a pet dog and were heartbroken when their parents made them give away a family dog that the parents thought was too difficult. Lundquist says that she has a particular interest in rescuing stray animals because they remind her of “my own pain as a child, feeling lonely, feeling isolated, feeling not good enough.”
Lundquist Faust echoes those feelings and says of the stray animals that she and her sister rescue: “We have to assume that they’re traumatized, and treat them as such.” Lundquist Faust says that her husband Tyson Faust (who appears briefly in the documentary) encouraged her to become a full-time animal rescuer, which led to the formation of Houston PetSet. Lundquist Faust says she was deeply affected and disturbed by going to Monterrey, Mexico, and seeing how stray dogs there are often killed by electrocution.
The beginning of “For the Animals” shows the twins going to a run-down, garbage-littered area of Houston nicknamed The Corridor, which is a “dumping ground” for living and dead dogs. The twins are shown interacting with a street feeder (someone who feeds stray animals) named Sonya Franklin, who is a dog owner herself. Street feeders (who are usually women) almost always do these activities with no financial compensation, and they use their own money to pay for all of the expenses involved in feeding stray animals.
Animal rescue groups such as Houston PetSet rely on street feeders to keep them informed about specific animals that are in most need of rescuing and to give alerts about emergency situations. “For the Animals” shows Lundquist Faust and Lundquist working with Franklin to rescue two starving male dogs in The Corridor: a black and white older Labrador retriever mix that they name Walter and a brown and white pit bull mix (with injuries indicating that he was used in dog fighting) that they name Ozzy. “For the Animals” shows what ends up happening to Walter and Ozzy.
Jane Anne Wesson is another Houston street feeder who is shown working with Houston PetSet. In the documentary, Wesson has nothing but praise for Houston PetSet but is very open about her criticism of Houston’s government-run BARC Animal Shelter & Adoptions, which does euthanasia on animals. Wesson says she would never want a stray animal to go to BARC, because it would mean almost certain death for that animal. Wesson also comments that stray animals are better off on the streets where they’ll “at least have a fighting chance” to survive, rather than being sent to BARC.
BARC director Greg Damianoff is somewhat depicted as a villain in “For the Animals,” which strategically shows archival news interview footage of him whenever there’s mention of people who run animal shelters but who don’t really care about the animals. In the interviews, Damianoff comes across as defensive and cocky. In one archival news interview, he denies accusations that he doesn’t care about animals and says: “Am I going to make everyone happy? I don’t think so.”
However, there’s no mention in “For the Animals” if this documentary’s filmmakers made any efforts to contact Damianoff for an interview or comment for this documentary. Likewise, no one else who works at BARC is interviewed in the documentary, although Fort Bend County Animal Services director Rene Vasquez is interviewed to give the perspective of someone who runs an animal shelter that uses euthanasia as a last resort. The documentary has people giving criticism of BARC but no one representing BARC to get BARC’s side of the story. It’s one of the flaws in the documentary, which toward the end somewhat looks like a promotional video for Houston PetSet.
However, “For the Animals” does a very good job of pointing out that if a community has a major problem with an overpopulation of stray animals, it’s an indication of larger problems in the community. Lundquist says in a documentary interview: “I keep going back to [the belief that] if these animals are suffering in these places, the people are too. What can we do for all of them? How do we alleviate the suffering? It doesn’t seem right to me. It seems like we can help all of them.”
One of the best parts of “For the Animals” is in how it shows the power of animal rescue groups working together, instead of competing against each other. The documentary includes footage of the twins in meetings with Houston PetSet employees. In one of these meetings, it’s decided that Houston PetSet will form a strategic alliance with another Houston-based animal rescue group called Emancipet, which has stronger outreach to Spanish-speaking neighborhoods than Houston PetSet does.
Emancipet vice president Angelita Sampaio says in a documentary interview: “Houston is very international … People move from another location where it’s normal for animals to roam.” Sampaio believes that part of solving the stray overpopulation problem is in helping people rethink some of their harmful beliefs that they might have been raised with about animals and animal care. For example, some cultures believe that taking pet animals for a veterinary checkup is unnecessary, even if a pet owner can afford to do it.
This rethinking about giving better animal care includes spreading the word about how animals that are not being raised for breeding can benefit from being spayed and neutered by having better health and longer lives. However, one of the obstacles is that even when people are offered free spaying and free neutering for their pets, many pet owners still resist the idea for cultural reasons. Sampaio says that when it comes to getting pet owners to give better animal care, she doesn’t like to use the word “educating,” because it sounds condescending. She likes to use the term “information sharing.”
“For the Animals” shows how Houston PetSet and Emancipet joined forces to get the word out in a predominantly Spanish-speaking neighborhood about a free spay/neuter event hosted by Houston PetSet. Emancipet community outreach worker Stephanie Plata and community member Ernestina Zamarripa are shown being crucial allies in this outreach alliance. The event is said to be a success, although “For the Animals” doesn’t actually show this spay/neuter event, for reasons not explained in the documentary.
Part of running a successful animal rescue group is inevitable interaction with government officials. The twins are shown meeting with two of them: Greg Travis (a former member of the Houston City Council) and John Whitmire, a Texas state senator for District 15. At the time “For the Animals” was released, Whitmire was a candidate to be Houston’s mayor, with the outcome to be decided in a November 2023 general election.
Travis is one of the people in “For the Animals,” who speaks out against BARC, by sharing his own personal experience of adopting his dog Chloe from BARC. He says that he adopted her in part because BARC told him that Chloe was about to be euthanized for heartworm problems that BARC did not have the funds to treat. However, after adopting Chloe, Travis said medical tests proved that she did not have heartworm. Travis believes that BARC was using heartworm as a false reason to euthanize Chloe.
Travis also says in the documentary that Whitmire is one of the few Houston politicians who would actually work with rescue groups to do something about the stray overpopulation problem. Travis also makes it known that if Whitmire would be elected mayor of Houston, then Travis would want to be appointed the new director of BARC. Although Travis appears to be helpful in recommending Whitmire to Houston PetSet and seems to have good intentions, it appears that Travis has his own political agenda in doing so.
As for Whitmire, he claims to be a staunch supporter of animal rescue groups, but he gives a lot of canned politician talk in this documentary footage, such as saying, “You can’t fix the problem until you admit that you have one.” It would’ve been better if someone had asked him in the documentary what his specific plans were for improving animal care in Houston, instead of just letting Whitmire make vague statements. Other candidates in the 2023 Houston mayoral election are not interviewed in the documentary.
“For the Animals” isn’t a completely “feel good” documentary where everyone gets a happy ending. There are heartbreaking stories of animal abuse and neglect that result in death. The documentary also mentions the real-life dangers of feral and hungry stray dogs that can and have killed people. It’s probably why stray dogs, rather than stray cats, get more of the focus when there’s talk about stray domesticated animals being a public health problem.
The twins candidly talk about the emotional and physical toll that can happen from the stress of being an animal rescuer. They both say that this type of work takes a lot of time away from their loved ones. The twins worry about the damage that it does to their relationships and their physical well-being. That doesn’t mean that the twins are giving up anytime soon, but they know there will come a time in their lives when they have to slow down.
Lundquist’s adult son Cole Owen, who is briefly seen in the documentary, says that his mother’s life revolves around animal rescuing. Later, in the documentary, Lundquist breaks down and cries when she thinks about how she was preoccupied with a Houston PetSet fundraiser during a summer that she did not know would be the last summer she would spend with her father, who died in a car accident that December. She expresses regret that she didn’t spend more time with her father that summer.
Lundquist admits that when it comes to the problem of stray animal overpopulation, “I get so fucking mad at the people who don’t do anything, because if everybody could do a little bit, we could fix it.” Franklin makes a comment that is the biggest takeaway from the documentary and which sums up what motivates many animal rescuers/caregivers to get involved in saving helpless animals: “Everybody’s looking for someone else to do it, but we have to be the change we want to see.”
RouTTe One Productions released “For the Animals” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on July 28, 2023.