The following is a press release from First Run Features:
Millions of rescue dogs from the rural South have been transported to new homes thanks to the tireless efforts of a vast, grassroots network of dog rescuers. “Free Puppies!” is the true story of where those dogs come from and how a group of feisty and intrepid women rescuers are working together to save them.
Although transports have moved dogs from the South for decades, when Hurricane Katrina left more than 250,000 pets stranded, the infrastructure of modern pet transport for a nation-wide dog rescue effort was born. Since then, individual volunteers, transporters, shelters and rescue groups have created a movement to place millions of southern dogs in areas of the country with high demand for adoption but low supply.
By following a group of women dog rescuers from Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee, “Free Puppies!” reveals the challenges that contribute to the rescue dog crisis in the first place. These women not only save dogs from euthanasia, but also organize affordable and accessible spay and neuter, reform local ordinances, advocate for humane education, and fight urgent and complex challenges facing underserved areas of the rural South. The film includes interviews with the ASPCA, Atlanta Humane Society, McKamey Animal Center, My Kids Have Paws Veterinary Clinic, Dixie Day Spay, and dozens of rescue organizations, shelter directors, healthcare providers, and local officials.
“Free Puppies!,” a film by Samantha Wishman and Christina Thomas opens August 12, 2022, in live cinemas.
70 minutes | Color | English
Samantha Wishman – Director, Producer, Editor
Christina Thomas – Director, Co-Producer, Editor
Muffie Meyer – Story Editor
Carter McCormick – Director of Photography Eliot Popko – Director of Photography
Joey McCormick and Willard Hamilton – Original Music
“The American Rescue Dog Show” is the preeminent dog competition featuring rescued companions as they strut their fluff, competing for a slew of “best in” titles while stealing America’s hearts. These prized pups may be cute, but the competition is fierce. In the two-hour special, rescued dogs from all across the country will compete in seven categories including Best In Underbite, Best In Snoring, Best In Belly Rubs and more. A $10,000 donation to a local animal welfare organization will be made in honor of the winning dog in each category, and each category winner will have the chance to be named the Best In Rescue with an additional $100,000 donation being made in their honor. This comedic and heartfelt take on the world of competitive dog shows is a celebration of rescued dogs and the joy they bring to our lives. Dynamic duo Rob Riggle and Joe Tessitore host America’s cutest competition special with ESPN’s Monica McNutt serving as sideline correspondent. Dog-loving celebrity guest judges, who will be announced at a later date, will also make special appearances.
“The American Rescue Dog Show” was created by Michael Levitt and Jennifer Schulz. Michael Levitt, Charles Wachter, Jill Goularte and Jennifer Schulz serve as executive producers.
Culture Representation: Taking place in Montana and the West Coast of the United States, the comedy/drama “Dog” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: In exchange for a job recommendation from an ex-boss, a former Army Ranger agrees to take an unruly Belgian Malinois named Lulu, who has been hailed as a war hero, to the funeral of the Army sergeant who was her handler.
Culture Audience: “Dog” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of star Channing Tatum and anyone who likes “rowdy dog” movies, no matter how dull and cliché they are.
“Dog” can’t seem to decide if it wants to be a wacky comedy or a sentimental drama. Either way, it’s a dull misfire. The movie’s star dog literally takes a back seat to stupid antics from humans. Considering how irritating so many of the human characters are in the movie, it would have been a welcome improvement to give more screen time to the dog. In addition, “Dog” is completely irresponsible in showing legal issues of how people should handle problematic dogs that were trained to attack and kill.
“Dog” is one of those films where the funniest scenes are already in the movie’s trailer. And they’re not very funny, because the concept of an exasperated person who’s stuck taking care of an unruly dog has been done so much better in other movies. In addition, “Dog” is a road trip movie that rehashes the same old stereotypes of “mismatched duos” who are forced to go on the road together. And yes, one of the movie’s numerous clichés is a car breaking down during a crucial part of the road trip.
Channing Tatum stars in “Dog,” his feature-film directorial debut, which he co-directed with Reid Carolin, who wrote the “Dog” screenplay. In the movie, Tatum plays Jackson Briggs (who likes to be called by his last name), a down-on-his-luck former U.S. Army Ranger, who wants to get back into some type of government protection job. Instead, Briggs is living in Montana and working at a low-paying, behind-the-counter job at a deli. Briggs lives alone and is divorced. His ex-wife Niki (played by Q’orianka Kilcher) and their 3-year-old daughter (played by identical twins Jacqueline Seaman and Francine Seaman) live in Arizona.
The biggest obstacle to Briggs getting his dream job is that he has a history of brain injuries. Briggs has applied for a diplomatic security job at a company called Black Canopy Global Security. This job application won’t be considered unless he gets a full medical exam certified by his former commanding officer. The movie has some repetitive scenes of Briggs persistently calling Black Canopy Global Security to find out what he has to do to make it to the next level of this job application process.
Briggs has been told repeatedly that even though he has completed the medical exam with a doctor’s approval, he still needs to have his former commanding officer sign off on the exam. During one of these phone calls, Briggs finds out that the applications have a yearly rotation (people can only apply once a year), and this year’s rotation closes on the following Wednesday. “I can’t wait until next year’s rotation!” Briggs exclaims. “You’ll be hearing from me.”
Meanwhile, Briggs gets some bad news: A former Army buddy named Sgt. Riley Rodriguez (played by Eric Urbiztondo, seen only in photos) has died in a single-car crash, when Riley’s car rammed into a tree. Was it an accident or a suicide? The answer is revealed in the movie. And it’s exactly what you think it is.
Briggs goes to his former work base Fort Lewis in Joint Base Lewis–McChord in Washington state for the memorial. He meets up with some of his former Army buddies at a bar, but he feels slightly out of place because he’s the only one at this gathering who’s not in the military. They talk about Riley and the good times they had with him.
While he’s in the area, Briggs visits his former commanding officer at Fort Lewis. He almost doesn’t get in because his employee pass has expired, and the Fort Lewis MP (played by Devin White) at the gate won’t let him through the gate. Briggs acts hostile and defensive, even though the MP is just doing his job. It’s the first sign that Briggs can be an entitled jerk.
But luckily, right at that moment, Briggs’ former commanding officer Captain Luke Jones (played by Luke Forbes) drives up and tells the MP at the gate that it’s okay to give Briggs access. Briggs then drives through the gate while giving the MP a smug grin. This gatekeeping scenario is repeated again in other parts of the movie, with Briggs reacting in obnoxious ways to the guard at the gate, such has giving him the middle finger and cursing at him. Briggs is so immature, you almost expect him to stick out his tongue like a bratty child during these interactions.
When Briggs explains to Captain Jones that he needs him to certify Briggs’ medical exam for this security job application, Captain Jones initially refuses and asks sarcastically if Briggs paid a bribe to get a doctor clearance on a medical exam. However, Captain Jones changes his mind when he tells Briggs that he needs someone to transport Riley’s combat dog—a Belgian Malinois named Lulu—to Riley’s home state of Arizona to attend Riley’s funeral. After that, the dog will undergo euthanasia, because Lulu has been deemed unfit for adoption.
Captain Jones says that if Briggs can get Lulu to the funeral and back to Fort Lewis with no mishaps, then he will certify the medical exam for Briggs’ job application. The trip has to be done by car, because Lulu is too dangerous to take on public transportation. Captain Jones warns Briggs: “Lulu is not the same dog you served with. She’s got every combat trigger in the book.”
A montage at the beginning of the movie shows that Lulu was born on August 12, 2014. She was adopted at 5 months old by the Fort Lewis 75th Ranger Regiment. She served with Riley in the Afghanistan War. Lulu is considered too hard to handle because she has the canine version of post-traumatic stress disorder. She’s easily agitated and might attack if she’s “triggered.” (Three dogs actually play Lulu in the movie. Their names are Zuza, Britta and Lana 5.)
Lulu often has to wear a muzzle because of how unpredictable she is with her attacks. Briggs finds out the hard way when he sees Lulu for the first time in years. And she immediately knocks him down during an attack. Captain Jones and the kennel master (played by Trent McDonald) just laugh at this spectacle. Expect to see more “out-of-control attacking dog” scenes that wouldn’t be funny at all in real life.
As so, off Briggs and Lulu go on this road trip in his 1984 Ford Bronco. Briggs is told the dog can only wear the muzzle for two hours at a time, or else she’ll get overheated. Briggs starts his road trip with Lulu on a Wednesday. The funeral is four days later, on a Sunday. His job application is due the following Wednesday. Therefore, “Dog” is not only a road trip movie, but it’s also a “race against time” movie. But you wouldn’t know it by how this movie drags and lumbers along with distractions that would take up valuable hours in real time.
Early on in the road trip, Briggs stops at a shooting range to spend time there for fun. When he comes back to his Bronco, he finds that Lulu has broken out of her carrier and chewed up the upholstery seating. “You’re just a demon!” he yells at Lulu, before he drugs her so that she’ll go to sleep. Briggs openly laughs that he can make this dog unconscious whenever he wants. Yes, this movie tries to make a pathetic joke out of a dog being drugged to unconsciousness.
It should come as no surprise that at some point in the movie, Briggs doesn’t bother putting the muzzle on her. That’s because there are many scenes contrived so that Lulu’s agitated barking causes unwanted attention, with Briggs acting mortified, while some unrealistic slapstick comedy scenario ensues. These scenarios have no imagination and are actually not very amusing.
One of the stops on the Briggs Buffoonery Tour is Portland, Oregon. The filmmakers of “Dog” must have some type of grudge against Portland, because there’s a big chunk of the movie that shows open disdain for Portland residents. Everyone in Portland is depicted as progressive liberal hipsters, weirdos or aging hippies who automatically dislike/distrust people with a military background. It’s an over-the-top portrayal that’s supposed to be funny, but it just comes across as lazy and unrealistic stereotyping. Portland is a lot more diverse than the narrow-minded, warped way that the city’s residents are depicted in “Dog.”
On his first night in Portland, Briggs goes to a bar to find any woman who wants to have sex with him. The bartender (played by Luke Jones) announces to Briggs that they only serve organic beer. While waiting in line to use the restroom, Briggs is pestered by a guy (played by Cole Walliser) babbling to him about technology and virtual gifts. And then, Briggs meets a succession of women who don’t have regular conversations with him. They give sanctimonious lectures spouting their political views to let him know how “woke” they are.
One woman named Sonia (played by Tory Freeth) says she likes country music but has a problem with how country music celebrates “toxic masculinity.” Did she forget that there are plenty of successful female country artists? Another woman named Natalie (played by Skyler Joy) scolds Briggs after she find out he’s an Afghanistan War veteran: “Did you realize you were just a pawn for Big Oil? Just body bags carrying out ecological genocide for the corporate elite?” Another woman named Tara (Patricia Isaac) says she’d like to meet any man who doesn’t have a “white savior complex.”
Briggs leaves the bar in disgust at all the politically correct people he met there. In the parked truck, he tells Lulu, “We’ve got to get out of here, because you’re the only woman in this entire city that I’d like to have a conversation with.” But just then, Briggs thinks he’s going to get lucky with two women who approach him in the parking lot because they see Lulu in his truck. The women—whose names are Bella (played by Emmy Raver-Lampman) and Zoe (played by Nicole LaLiberte)—live together and have Shih Tzus with them, so they all talk about their dogs. Bella and Zoe, who describes themselves as “tantric healers,” invite Briggs back to their house, for what he’s sure will be a sexual threesome.
Bella, Zoe and Briggs start to get touch-feely at the house, and his shirt comes off. Lulu doesn’t like being cooped up in the truck, of course. She starts barking loudly while the Bronco is parked out on the street, in front of Bella and Zoe’s house. A nosy next-door neighbor named Brad (played by Timothy Eulich) comes out of his house and gets angry—not at Lulu, but at Briggs for keeping the dog in the car. Brad yells that the dog is an “abused animal” and continues his rant by saying, “Animals are people too!”
A shirtless Briggs runs outside to see what all the commotion is about, and he sees that Brad has a rock in his hand. Briggs tells Brad to put down the rock, but an incensed Brad calls Briggs a “redneck,” even though Brad knows nothing about Briggs. And then, Brad throws the rock at the back window to smash it and so Lulu can jump out of the car. (And apparently, with “concerned animal lover” Brad not caring if the shattered glass could injure the dog.)
After the entire back window is broken, Lulu jumps out and tears off part of Brad’s jacket before he quickly runs back into his house. Bella and Zoe, who witnessed all this chaos, are so turned off by this violence, they don’t want anything to do with Briggs. Briggs has a hissy fit while he puts Lulu back in the car again. He yells at Lulu: “You ruined an epic threesome!” And then he shouts at her: “Bitch!” Yes, the movie is that idiotic.
Briggs finds himself in more ridiculous scenarios. In one sequence, Lulu runs away in a wooded area, with Briggs giving chase on foot. He ends up in a marijuana greenhouse owned by a hippie-ish married couple named Gus (played by Kevin Nash) and Tamara (played by Jane Adams), who’s another “cosmic” type who likes to talk about karma and energy. It’s one of the worst parts of the movie because of how mindless and unfunny it is. (Hint: A tranquilizer gun and a kidnapping are involved in this scenario.)
More of Briggs’ asinine antics continue. Another low point in the movie is in San Francisco, where he pretends to be a blind military veteran so he can get a free room at a luxury hotel. What happens in the hotel is partially shown in the trailer for “Dog.” But there’s a tone-deaf scenario in the movie where Briggs is accused of being a racist after Lulu attacks a man wearing Muslim garb in the hotel lobby, because she was trained to attack men wearing Muslim garb in the Afghanistan War.
Unrealistically, Briggs is arrested for a hate crime, when he should have been arrested for negligent handling of an animal. As shown in the movie’s trailer, Lulu’s rampage also “outed” Briggs for not being blind, as he claimed he was, so he’s also arrested for fraud. Needless to say, there’s more time wasted as Briggs is locked up in jail.
The man who was attacked is named Dr. Al-Farid (played by Junes Zahdi), who has to decide whether or not he’ll press charges against Briggs. Because this movie is so sloppily written, it never addresses how the hotel wants to handle the fraud charges. It also never shows what would happen in real life: The dog would be taken away to a city animal shelter and undergo euthanasia because it viciously attacked a human being who did not provoke the dog.
But there would be no “Dog” movie in all of its awfulness if the movie tried to be realistic. Briggs’ version of “dog therapy” is to show Lulu videos of herself fighting in a combat zone. (Briggs gets the videos from an I Love Me scrapbook that Riley made for Lulu.) Not only does Briggs stupidly reinforce anti-social behavior for the dog, but he also rewards the dog for it with treats, like she’s a child who needs to just be parked in front of a TV and given snacks while watching violent videos of herself. It’s so heinous and absolutely the wrong way to teach a dog how to un-learn violent training.
After a lot of pathetic attempts to be a zany comedy, the movie takes an abrupt turn into sappiness that’s supposed to be tearjerking but comes across as cynical and calculated. It’s all very unearned. People who know how long it takes for a problematic dog to un-learn any dangerous training will be rolling their eyes at the ending of the movie. Lulu’s personality transformation in less than a week is very unreal.
There’s a scene where Briggs meets a man named Noah (played by Ethan Suplee), and it’s enough to say that no expert “dog whisperer”/dog trainer in the world would be able to accomplish what Noah does in less than an hour. This dog would’ve been permanently taken away from Briggs after his arrest in San Francisco. An incompetent character like Briggs makes things worse, but the movie lets him off the hook too easily. The redemption arc that’s rushed in at the end of the movie is extremely phony.
There’s not much to say about the acting in this movie except that most of it ranges from adequate to not very impressive. The movie’s editing, tone and pacing are all very uneven. The horrendous screenplay has too many plot holes and unrealistic scenarios that give misleading depictions of how military combat dogs are handled. And a big takeaway from “Dog” is that Tatum has the dubious distinction of co-directing himself in a movie where a dog has a better personality and more intelligence than the character he plays in the movie.
Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures will release “Dog” in U.S. cinemas on February 18, 2022.
The following is a press release from Discovery+ and Animal Planet:
Everyone’s favorite other game is back in action for the ultimate woof-a-thon. The original call-to-adoption television event and cutest sports competition, PUPPY BOWL, returns for its 18th year, highlighting more shelters, more incredible stories, and the most puppies ever featured in PUPPY BOWL history. Get ready to cheer on the adoptable puppy players of TEAM RUFF and TEAM FLUFF as they give it their all to catch air-speed and take home this year’s CHEWY “Lombarky” trophy. Catch all the action in the GEICO ‘stadium within a stadium’ that takes this game to the next level. Between ear pulls, tail tugs, sloppy kisses, incredible interceptions, puppy penalties and hard-won touchdowns, this is the game you don’t want to miss! Tune in to PUPPY BOWL XVIII, the 3-hour spectacular event that can be streamed on discovery+, the definitive non-fiction, real life subscription streaming service, and Animal Planet on Sunday, February 13 at 2 PM ET/11 AM PT.
PUPPY BOWL celebrates adoptable pups in all their cuteness and showcases the incredible shelters and rescues, as well as their staffers, who dedicate their lives to helping animals find their fur-ever loving homes. This year an astounding 67 shelters and rescues from 33 states bring 118 incredible adoptable puppy players out to sport their TEAM RUFF ‘Tail Mary Tangerine’ and TEAM FLUFF ‘Bark Blue’ bandana colors. Each pup player is coming to strut their paws and show off their uniqueness, and with the help of the Wisdom Panel™ dog DNA test, we’ll find out what’s beyond those bandanas and luscious fur, and how each dog’s breed mix might give them a leg-up on the field. And on top of these hidden traits which may be revealed, these players will give it their all to chase, fetch, guard, heel, and sprint to the CHEWY end zone pylons for the ultimate touchdowns and score game catching field goals on THE HOME DEPOT goal posts.
Thanks to our returning and notoriously entertaining slo-mo cam, fans will get to see these canines’ devotion to the game as they put their tricks to the test to score a touchdown and a possible chase of the tail. While showing off their tricks and shakes, audiences will get the pawesome views from the water bowl cam which will catch our furry friends in a PEDIGREE® timeout to re-energize their quirky selves and quench their thirst. For the ultimate top-notch aerial view, the TEMPTATIONS™ Kitty Sky Box will also be featured throughout the game so fans can feel as if they’re in the center of all the puppy madness.
The PUPPY BOWL XVIII Pre-Game Show begins exclusively on discovery+ and Animal Planet at 1PM ET/ 10AM PT where fan-favorite PUPPY BOWL sportscasters Rodt Weiler, Sheena Inu, James Hound, and field reports Mini Pinscher and Greta Dane provide the inside scoop on this year’s Puppy Bowl Draft ahead of the big game. The pre-game show spotlights exclusive interviews with coaches and players, a look at the adorable pups warming up and running their favorite routes during CHEWY’s ‘Play of the Day.’ In addition, audiences will get a first-look tease at the purr-fect halftime show through the ARM & HAMMER™ Clump & Seal™ Kitty Halftime Report. We’ll also get puppy DNA analysis from Wisdom Panel™ dog DNA test Players Report and catch up with several special puppy players past and present including Chunky Monkey, who won the hearts of many during Puppy Bowl XVII and Marshall, who was declared victorious as the winner of the Puppy Bowl XVII ‘Pupularity Playoff”. Those who tune-in will meet Biscuit, the Washington Capitals service pup who is training with America’s VetDogs and see a special look at the BISSELL Pet FoundationTM and their rescue efforts of transporting cats and dogs out of the Hurricane Ida danger zone to safety at Animal Welfare League in Alexandria, VA.
To kick off the game, special guests Elmo & Tango are traveling all the way from Sesame Street to gather the PEDIGREE® Starting Lineup players in the center of the field for the PUPPY BOWL XVIII coin toss to who from Team Fluff or Team Ruff will be the first to wag their tails! In addition, Elmo & Tango will be featured throughout the game as they cheer on one unforgettable pup, Wasabi, a Chihuahua/Cocker Spaniel mix from The Sato Project, from the sidelines throughout the game. As the game progresses, we will see which pup has what it takes for the one and only BISSELL Pet FoundationTM MVP (Most Valuable Puppy) award by scoring the most touchdowns. This pup will join a league of past MVP champions, and through TROPICAL SMOOTHIE CAFE®, audiences will catch up with a previous Puppy Bowl MVP now in his loving, forever home and living his best life “on Tropic Time”. Be sure to tune in to find out which lucky pup will also take home the coveted SUBARU OF AMERICA, INC. Underdog Award!
And of course, Dan Schachner, PUPPY BOWL’s official and favorite Ruff-eree is returning for his 11th year of calling the puppy penalties, ruffs stumbles & tumbles, and awesome touchdowns for a game unlike any other. Dan is ready for the ultimate puppy showdown and fans will hear all these calls and more from returning commentators Steve Levy and Taylor Rooks as they give us the play-by-play coverage of the rambunctious pups of Team Fluff and Team Ruff as they frolic, jump, dive, and occasionally snooze their way to victory. In addition to seeing these puppy players on the field, audiences will also see the return of the SUBARU OF AMERICA, INC. Pup Close and Personal segments that shine a light on adorable star athletes including one special Senior Spotlight story which showcases that age is just a number and senior dogs are ultimately puppies at heart. This year’s Pup Close and Personal features various segments including:
A special profile on Orange Twins Rescue, started by Ariana Grande and her choreographers and creative directors’, twins Scott & Brian, who accompany a pair of bonded Siberian Husky/ Chihuahua mix puppy sisters, Bimini & Tayce to Farm Animal Refuge in San Diego where they meet baby goats and cows
Kirby, a very special Labrador retriever who is the Houston Texans’ service pup in-training in partnership with America’s Vet Dogs, who visits NRG Stadium for a service practice session with Texans player Justin Reid
Hoku, a American Staffordshire Terrier/ Catahoula Leopard Mix; and Puppy Bowl’s first ever Hawaiian pup, from Maui Humane Society, who as a participant of the rescue’s ‘Buddies’ program, embarks on a special field trip to a hike in Maui’s National Parks where we learn about the legend of the ‘Poi’ dogs of ancient Polynesian culture
Birch, a Chihuahua / Toy Fox Terrier mix who is cared for by a special foster under Ninna’s Road to Rescue foster program and is coached for the big game by Puppy Bowl XVI alum, Darcy
Benny, a special needs Labradoodle, who is living his best life with a foster from Bosley’s Place where he spends his days practicing laps on the lush property with his fellow dog companions
A special look at The Dogist (Elias Weiss Friedman) who teams up with Pilots to the Rescue, to bring one incredible Dalmatian puppy, Pongo, on a flight from a Virginia shelter to New York City for PUPPY BOWL XVIII
In addition to these incredible Pup Close stories, PUPPY BOWL XVIII will also feature an unforgettable senior spotlight story featuring Mr. Lee Asher from the upcoming discovery+ series, My Pack Life, as he hosts Sharkey, a Greyhound Mix from Family Dogs New Life shelter at his own rural sanctuary, The Asher House, in Oregon where Sharkey will not have a day full of adventure but will have a chance of finding a forever home.
During the game, audiences will also meet nine fuzzball special needs players that are looking forward to finding their forever home; including Benny, a wheelchair bound Labradoodle featured in one of this year’s Pup Close stories; Forrest, a one-eyed Neapolitan Mastiff/Cane Corso Mix; Rocket, a deaf Chihuahua/Dachshund: Pongo, a deaf Dalmatian; Ridley, a deaf and vision impaired Border Collie; Bunny, a deaf American Staffordshire Terrier/Labrador Retriever Mix; Moby, a French Bulldog with a cleft palate; Bimini, a vision impaired Siberian Husky/Chihuahua Mix; and Irwin, a three-legged American Pit Bull Terrier/Chihuahua Mix. This year’s big game will feature the return of two special PUPPY BOWL moments. First, TEAM RUFF and TEAM FLUFF players will be cheered by adorable, adoptable puppy cheerleaders who will root and howl for their favorite players from the sidelines. This year, the new cheer squad will bring-it from their own special sideline setup to shake their pom poms, run a few cheer-formations, and amp up the volume with an overload of cuteness as PUPPY BOWL XVIII players make their way down the field. Next, audiences will again see Puppy Bowl’s ‘Adoptable Pup’ segments, hosted by Dan Schachner and sponsored by CHEWY. Sprinkled throughout the program, 11 shelters from around the country will feature one of their puppies (and 3 shelters with kittens during KITTY HALF-TIME) that are all up for adoption during the game!
In addition to these unforgettable moments, put your paws together midway through the game for the ARM & HAMMER™ Clump & Seal™ KITTY HALF-TIME SHOW for these adoptable kittens at their practically purr-fect beach party. At this ocean-side getaway, audiences will experience the beach-tastic party with these felines having some fun in the sun and learning about their heartwarming adoption stories in their loving new fur-ever home.
Fans can also access even more furry fun and exclusive content by downloading discovery+. Leading up to PUPPY BOWL XVIII, discovery+ and Animal Planet GO users will find exclusive in-app original programming, including the PUPPY BOWL mid-form series “Pupclose & Personal” featuring Ariana Grande’s best friends and choreographers, Scott and Brian Nicholson, who founded Orange Twins Rescue, a non-profit organization that rehabilitates and rescue animals in need. Plus, we’ll also see Dan the Ref take us down memory lane, highlighting the very best and firsts of Puppy Bowl’s 17-year history. Additionally, fans are also invited to Tweet along with game day commentator Meep the Bird and vote in real time, for the winner of the Most Valuable Puppy award. Results will be revealed during the epic program.
For the first time in Puppy Bowl history, there will be 23 exclusive Puppy Bowl NFTs released leading up to and on the day of the game hosted by Chronicle, an NFT studio and marketplace. Each drop will feature unique and pawsitively adorable trading cards varying in price and rarity, and a portion of the proceeds from all the sales will benefit Orange Twins Rescue, an animal rescue organization founded by brothers Scott and Brian Nicholson, and Ariana Grande. For the latest on when the NFTs are releasing, follow along on Animal Planet’s Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok.
Additionally, fans can look forward to the following exclusive digital content: Elmo will be taking over Discovery’s Instagram Story to tell his own puppy adoption story; Kirby, the Houston Texans’ service pup in-training, will be hosting a Discovery Instagram Story takeover as he prepares to play in the Puppy Bowl; and the cutest pregame puppy scrimmage will stream live on Animal Planet TikTok the day of the game.
Fans can also show off their puppy fandom by using the special custom GIF sticker pack available by searching “Puppy Bowl” in the GIF section on social platforms or by visiting the Puppy Bowl GIPHY page.
Official PUPPY BOWL XVIII sponsors include ARM & HAMMER™ Clump & Seal™, BISSELL Pet FoundationTM, CHEWY, GEICO, THE HOME DEPOT, the PEDIGREE® brand, SUBARU OF AMERICA, INC., TEMPTATIONS™, TROPICAL SMOOTHIE CAFE®, and Wisdom Panel™ pet DNA test.
For more information about the shelters, rescues and organizations that participated in PUPPY BOWL XVIII, Animal Planet audiences can visit Puppybowl.com/Adopt.
PUPPY BOWL XVIII is produced for discovery+ and Animal Planet by Bright Spot Content, an All3Media America company. Simon Morris is executive producer and showrunner with Suzanne Rauscher and Sandy Varo Jarrell also serving as executive producers. For Animal Planet, Erin Wanner is executive producer, Pat Dempsey is supervising producer, and Marissa Donovan is production coordinator.
The absolute pinnacle of the fierce world of dog show competitions are the AKC National Championship and the Westminster Dog Show, but it takes countless hours of practice, grit, and determination to get there.And while the adult competitions are fierce, emotions run higher in the junior division where kids are still learning the ropes of competition on top of figuring out who they are as individuals and where they fit in the world. In this all-new coming-of-age competition series, THE MIGHTY UNDERDOGS brings a never-before-seen look inside Junior Showmanship where teen handlers compete among thousands for one of the limited, and highly coveted spots at the Westminster Dog Show, while also navigating the everyday journey of being a typical teenager! Get ready to meet this unique group of champions who reveal the heart, spirit, and what it ultimately takes to be “best in show.” The first two episodes of THE MIGHTY UNDERDOGS stream exclusively on discovery+ beginning Wednesday, November 17, 2021, with new episodes streaming every following Wednesday.
In THE MIGHTY UNDERDOGS, it’s not just the dogs who are judged—it’s also the aspiring teen dog handlers. And that’s where world-renowned coach Jody Davidson comes in, with her long-standing record of winning dog competitions and guiding these young adults each step of the way on their path to self-discovery. The teen handlers and their enthusiastic parents learn exactly what it takes to stand out from the crowd and ultimately take home the winning title. And while the drama may heat up with each dog show, Jody’s group of teens are true athletes who support each other and have each other’s backs through the thick and thin of each competition.
In this all-new series, audiences will see these ambitious, quirky, and curious kids learn the tricks of the trade as they embark on the journey of growing up and learning more and more about who they are. We’ll meet the latest team members from Jody’s group of competitors; 13-year-old Emerson who has to make the decision of retiring her beloved dog Rye from the ring and start from scratch with a brand new puppy; 11-year of Griffin, Emerson’s little brother, who has big dreams of becoming the best of the best, and even beating his sister in the competition; 16-year-old Turner who hopes to make the Nationals before he ages out of the age-based competition, while also balancing his relationship with girlfriend, Emma, whom he competes within the ring; 13-year-old Camryn who is obsessed with getting that first prize ribbon with her show-stopping Pomeranian Kevin; and 13-year-old, Lily, who is busy showing her dog Gnarly as she works tirelessly to overcome her social anxiety inside and out of the ring, while also exploring and growing into her own identity.
Follow the conversation on social media with #TheMightyUnderdogs, and follow Animal Planet on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more updates.
THE MIGHTY UNDERDOGS is produced for Discovery by Catalina Content. For Catalina Content, Jeff Collins and Brenda Coston are executive producers. For Discovery, Keith Hoffman is executive producer and Sarah Russell is supervising producer.
discovery+ is the definitive non-fiction, real life subscription streaming service. discovery+ features a landmark partnership with Verizon that gives their customers with select plans up to 12 months of discovery+ on Verizon. discovery+ has the largest-ever content offering of any new streaming service at launch, featuring a wide range of exclusive, original series across popular, passion verticals in which Discovery brands have a strong leadership position, including lifestyle and relationships; home and food; true crime; paranormal; adventure and natural history; as well as science, tech and the environment, and a slate of high-quality documentaries. For more, visit discoveryplus.com or find it on a variety of platforms and devices, including ones from Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Roku and Samsung.
The following is a press release from National Geogrpahic:
Today, National Geographic announced the highly anticipated return of dog behavior expert Cesar Millan with “Cesar Millan: Better Human, Better Dog,” premiering on July 30, 2021, at 9/8c on National Geographic and simulcast on Nat Geo WILD. The all-new 10-part series brings Cesar back when pet owners need him the most, as the world has changed significantly since Cesar made his television debut 16 years ago. Airing globally in 172 countries and 43 languages, new episodes will air back-to-back on Fridays at 9/8c and 10/9c on National Geographic and encore Sundays at 8/7c and 9/8c on Nat Geo WILD. Episodes will also be available to stream on Disney+ each Wednesday, starting Aug. 4, 2021.
As humans face a world never seen before, they have turned to four-legged friends as a way to console, bringing harmony and peace to their homes. In fact, dog adoptions are hitting record highs over the past year, with some cities reporting a 90% rise in adoption rates. However, with great power comes great responsibility, and sometimes more pooches can cause more problems. Many rescue dogs can come from a troubled past resulting in unknown trust issues, which can be difficult for new owners. “Cesar Millan: Better Human, Better Dog” showcases Cesar Millan as he takes on the most challenging cases yet, treating a host of new canine behavioral issues impacted by well-intentioned but impulsive owners.
In the new series, Cesar opens the gates to the famed Dog Psychology Center, his California ranch retreat for dogs. Here he transforms canines – and families – one case at a time, working to make the world a better place. With updated philosophies, new techniques and family support, Cesar tackles some of the most demanding cases of his career.
Transformations include cases like Goliath, a dog that was once so unpredictably aggressive he blocked paramedics from entering his home during a family emergency. He is now a medical companion animal, able to seek assistance when his owner suffers a seizure. Also, follow Insta-famous Ducky the Yorkie as he em’barks’ on a journey with Cesar to gain comfort and composure with his second owner so that the newlyweds can finally pursue their dreams of starting a family. A rottweiler named Kuma is also transformed from an unstable liability to a calm, confident member of a family with five young children. To complement his efforts, Cesar’s own exotic animal ‘paw’sonal assistants pitch in to assist in the rehabilitation process – including llamas, a parrot and a miniature horse – all full-time residents of the Dog Psychology Center.
Episode descriptions and premiere dates are as follows:
“Fit For Service”
Premieres Friday, July 30, at 9/8c; Streaming on Disney+ Wednesday, Aug. 4
Cesar welcomes a broken pack to the ranch and helps the pet parents overcome past trauma so they can move forward united. Getting a little help from DPC trainers, Cesar turns a dangerous pit bull into a well-balanced dog who can provide help in an emergency. The pet parents of a famous Yorkie seek help from Cesar to get his frantic behavior under control before they start a family.
“One Brick at a Time”
Premieres Friday, July 30, at 10/9c; Streaming on Disney+ Wednesday, Aug. 4
Cesar comes to the aid of a 68-year-old recently retired woman, Judy, whose over-excited Australian kelpie, Shadow, has ruined her retirement and has developed a strange fixation with bricks. After several attempts to train and correct both the dog and Judy’s behavior, Cesar is able to transform them both, making for one of the most rewarding transformations in Cesar’s career.
Premieres Friday, Aug. 6, at 9/8c; Streaming on Disney+ Wednesday, Aug. 11
Cesar aids a family of first responders with three large and out-of-control dogs, including an aggressive pit bull. With help from his own pack, Cesar teaches the family new techniques to prevent dangerous behavior and get this pack back on track. First-time dog owners of an over-excited bernedoodle with separation anxiety look to Cesar for guidance to bring order to their home.
“Front of the Pack”
Premieres Friday, Aug. 6, at 10/9c; Streaming on Disney+ Wednesday, Aug. 11
Cesar helps a military veteran and his pack get back in order when his German shepherd mix, who helped him through his PTSD, has developed an unhealthy bond with him. And later, a young woman looks to Cesar for help when her dachshund puppy’s dangerous habit of eating trash off the ground has put her in a life-threatening situation.
Premieres Friday, Aug. 13, at 9/8c; Streaming on Disney+ Wednesday, Aug. 18
The Thompson pack is recovering from past trauma at the hands of an abusive ex-husband. Now, the women have suffered another tragedy: coonhound Nyla has become explosively aggressive, accidentally killing one family dog and viciously attacking another. Cesar needs to help the entire Thompson pack heal from past wounds and rehabilitate Nyla before the family is faced with a heartbreaking decision.
Premieres Friday, Aug. 13, at 10/9c; Streaming on Disney+ Wednesday, Aug. 18
Cesar sets out to help a young couple’s cantankerous Chihuahua, whose recent blindness makes him increasingly hostile to be around. And later, a family makes a desperate plea to Cesar to help them rein in their fast-growing and overexcited Belgian Malinois before he becomes too tough to tame.
Premieres Friday, Aug. 20, at 9/8c; Streaming on Disney+ Wednesday, Aug. 25
Cesar works with a Mexican breed close to his heart when he rehabilitates twin dogs whose over-excited behavior has put their owner at risk of eviction from her apartment building. Later, an actress turns to Cesar for help with an overprotective pint-sized pooch that’s creating too much drama of her own.
“Dogs v. Cats”
Premieres Friday, Aug. 20, at 10/9c; Streaming on Disney+ Wednesday, Aug. 25
Cesar helps a family of seven with their young Rottweiler, who’s grown aggressive and territorial after a burglary at the family home. With help from his own pack, Cesar instructs the pet parents on techniques to exert leadership behavior and reestablish themselves atop the pack. Parents of a young pitsky with an overactive prey drive toward their cats look to Cesar for guidance to bring order and harmony into their home.
“Tail End of Trauma”
Premieres Friday, Aug. 27, at 9/8c; Streaming on Disney+ Wednesday, Sept. 1
Cesar helps a fearful family, which is still holding on to the pain of losing their first dog in a tragic accident, deal with their two-year-old black lab’s similarly aggressive personality. And later, a young 10-year-old girl looks to Cesar for help when her emotional support puppy is causing more chaos than comfort.
Premieres Friday, Aug. 27, at 10/9c; Streaming on Disney+ Wednesday, Sept. 1
Cesar sets out to help a young couple’s sensitive Australian cattle dog, whose severe separation anxiety has held hostage the lives of his pet parents for nearly a year. And later, Cesar attempts to calm a blinding Lhasa apso, who lacks basic hygiene and has almost become too hostile for his exhausted owners to provide his needed eye care.
CESAR MILLAN: BETTER HUMAN BETTER DOG is the perfect series for pet owners across America – new and old! Even through troubled times, Cesar constantly overcomes obstacles, instilling faith in disgruntled pet owners. Humans are clearly not the only ones feeling restless with the onset of the dog days of summer. Dogs need help adjusting to the dynamic world we are living in too!
CESAR MILLAN: BETTER HUMAN BETTER DOG is produced by Leepson Bounds Entertainment for National Geographic. Cesar Millan serves as host and executive producer, with special consideration to Cesar’s Way Inc. and support from the Cesar Millan Foundation. For Leepson Bounds, executive producers are David Leepson, Jane Mun, Roger Roddy and Aaron Rice. For National Geographic, executive producer is Breanna Hoepner; senior vice president of unscripted development and production is Janet Han Vissering.
About National Geographic Partners LLC:
National Geographic Partners LLC (NGP), a joint venture between The Walt Disney Company and the National Geographic Society, is committed to bringing the world premium science, adventure and exploration content across an unrivaled portfolio of media assets. NGP combines the global National Geographic television channels (National Geographic Channel, Nat Geo WILD, Nat Geo MUNDO, Nat Geo PEOPLE) with National Geographic’s media and consumer-oriented assets, including National Geographic magazines; National Geographic studios; related digital and social media platforms; books; maps; children’s media; and ancillary activities that include travel, global experiences and events, archival sales, licensing and e-commerce businesses. Furthering knowledge and understanding of our world has been the core purpose of National Geographic for 133 years, and now we are committed to going deeper, pushing boundaries, going further for our consumers … and reaching millions of people around the world in 172 countries and 43 languages every month as we do it. NGP returns 27 percent of our proceeds to the nonprofit National Geographic Society to fund work in the areas of science, exploration, conservation and education. For more information visit natgeotv.com or nationalgeographic.com, or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest.
Our beloved best friends are back! Dogs returns to explore the powerful bond between humanity and dogs in four new intimate, heartwarming episodes. Whether it’s the story of an astronaut, a priest, a military contractor, or the handler of a legendary university mascot, Dogs shows us how these beautiful animals occupy the same place in all of our hearts — one reserved not just for pets, but for family.
Season 2 of “Dogs” premieres on Netflix on July 7, 2021.
The 145th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show took place at Lyndhurst Mansion in Tarrytown, New York, on June 12 and June 13, 2021. In the U.S., portions of the event were televised on Fox, FS1 and FS2. The show could also be livestreamed on the Fox Sports app and FoxSports.com. GCHG CH Pequest Wasabi, a 3-year-old male Pekinese, was named Best in Show.
It was the first time that the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show took place Lyndhurst Mansion in Tarrytown, New York. The show’s usual location at New York City’s Madison Square Garden was not available due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The event also makred the first time in more than 30 years that the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show named its Best in Show winner live on broadcast TV. The show has been on
Anchoring the weekend’s primetime coverage were MLB, NFL and NASCAR host Chris Myers, Westminster Kennel Club announcer Gail Miller Bisher and judge Don Sturz in the booth. Jenny Taft, moderator of FS1 studio show “Undisputed” and the network’s lead college football reporter, returned as the event’s host. NFL and soccer reporter Sara Walsh interviewed judges and handlers.
FS1 televised group judging on June 12 and June 13, with Fox televising more group judging and the crowining of the Best in Show winner live.
Westminster Weekend began June 12 with the Masters Agility Championship on Fox. Fox Soccer lead play-by-play announcer John Strong called the action, joining analyst and dog trainer Terry Simons and reporter Jennifer Hale.
Strong and Hale also contributed to Fox’s breed judging June 12 on FS2 and June 13 on FS1. Veteran judges Kimberly Meredith and Jason Hoke joined Strong, while Hale spoke with some of the event’s participants.
The Fox Sports app and WestminsterKennelClub.org provided more coverage of the weekend’s events with original content and bonus cameras. Charlotte Wilder, Fox Sports columnist and co-host of The People’s Sports Podcast, was on location with regular updates across Fox Sports digital and social platforms.
Here are the results of the event:
2021 Best in Show was awarded to GCHG CH Pequest Wasabi.
Breeder: David Fitzpatrick
Owner: Sandra Middlebrooks & Peggy Steinman & Iris Love & D Fitzpatrick
Sire: GCHG CH Pequest Pickwick
Dam: CH Pequest Sushi GrandAKCTS 38696002
2021 Reserve Best In Show was awarded to GCHP CH Pinnacle Kentucky Bourbon
Breeder: Justin Smithey & Yvonne Sovereign
Owner: Justin Smithey & Dr Ken Latimer & Judy Descutner & Nancy Shaw & Cheslie Smithey
Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed Canadian city in Ontario, the family drama “Hero Dog: The Journey Home” features a nearly all-white cast (with one African American) representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: A blind man who’s stranded on a boat with his sister’s dog decides the best way to get rescued is to walk through the woods with the hope that the dog will lead the way back home.
Culture Audience: “Hero Dog: The Journey Home” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching a silly rescue film with terrible acting and a very predictable plot.
Let’s say you’re a blind person with an Alaskan Malamute dog on a boat that’s crashed near a wooded area because the boat’s captain had a heart attack. You, the dog and the unconscious captain are the only living beings on the boat. The crashed boat can be seen by a rescue helicopter that’s sure to be on its way when you’ve been reported missing on the boat. Instead of waiting for the rescue helicopter, you decide to take the dog and walk through the dense woods (where you won’t be seen by the rescue helicopter) because you think the dog will lead you back to your home.
That’s the plot of the mind-numblingly awful “Hero Dog: The Journey Home,” written and directed by Richard Boddington. The movie is so bad that the only heroic thing that the dog does is show some common sense when the humans in the movie make very dumb decisions. Meanwhile, viewers who sit through this junkpile film will either laugh or groan as one absurd thing after another keeps happening. This pseudo-adventure movie really is as corny and stupid and you might think it is.
In “Hero Dog: The Journey Home,” Royce Davis (played by Steve Byers) is the protagonist who makes blind people look bad because the filmmakers want viewers to think that someone who doesn’t have eyesight also doesn’t have common sense. In the beginning of the film, Royce gets on a small boat captained by Fred Boggs (played by Colin Fox), who will be taking widower Royce back to Royce’s family home in the woods, in an unnamed rural part of Ontario, Canada.
Royce has an Alaskan Malamute seeing-eye male dog named Chinook with him on this boat trip. For reasons that aren’t clearly explained in the movie, the dog doesn’t belong to Royce. Instead, the dog belongs to his married sister Susan Wade (played by Natasha Henstridge), who has been taking care of Royce’s two kids while Royce was away on a trip. Apparently, the best way to get to the Davis family’s isolated home is by boat and then by taking a long trek through the woods.
The movie doesn’t say when Royce’s wife died, but his two children are 13-year-old Max Davis (played by Zackary Arthur) and Erin Davis (played by Morgan DiPietrantonio), who’s about 11 or 12 years old. During his conversation with Captain Boggs, Royce mentions that he got a job offer in the city, so the family will be moving there soon. However, Max isn’t too happy about this impending move because he’s an outdoorsy boy who loves the rural area where they currently live. Royce also tells Captain Boggs that he lost his eyesight at age 19, when he was blinded by a roadside bomb when he served in the Afghanistan War.
Not long after the boat sets sail, Captain Boggs has a heart attack, and the boat crashes near an embankment. The boat’s radio can only get static. Royce fumbles for his cell phone and can’t get a signal. Captain Boggs is still alive but unconscious, and Royce doesn’t know how much longer Captain Boggs has to live. Not knowing what to do, Royce waits in the boat until help can arrive. Food and bottled water are in the boat, so he and the dog have enough to survive for at least two days.
Meanwhile, Susan knows something is wrong when Royce doesn’t show up as scheduled, so she contacts the local authorites. Since it’s already night when she reports Royce missing, the police officer in charge, named Captain Walker (played by John Tench), tells Susan and the kids that the rescue operation can’t begin until the morning. Everyone in the family is naturally upset and panic-stricken.
Luckily for Royce, his boat is at an embankment that’s visible from the air. But the next morning, instead of waiting to be rescued, Royce says out loud that he needs to find his way back home so that Captain Boggs can get a chance to get medical help. Royce tells Chinook that they’re going to leave Captain Boggs in the boat and walk through the woods until they find their way back home. It’s at this point in the movie, viewers might be yelling at the screen at how moronic this decision is, but there would be no “Hero Dog: The Journey Home” if Royce acted sensibly in this story.
Before Royce leaves the safety of the boat, he leaves a note to say that he’s going back home. Instead of waiting to be rescued from a boat that can be seen by helicopter, Royce goes into the dense woods with Chinook where they can’t be seen by helicopter and where Royce could possibly fall down and hurt himself. And yes, that fall does happen in the movie. Viewers won’t have much sympathy for this dimwit when it happens.
Meanwhile, Max and Erin think they can do a better job than the adult professionals in finding Royce. And so, they both sneak off to go into the woods to find their father. At first, Erin is reluctant and thinks it’s a bad idea. But when she sees that Max is determined to go with or without her, she huffs, “I can’t let you get all the credit!” And so, off they go with just a backpack filled with the bare minumim of food and supplies.
When Susan finds out that Max and Erin have gone missing, she immediately knows that they’ve gone in the woods to look for their father. Susan wants to go in the woods too, so she can look for Max, Erin and Royce. But then, Captain Walker says the most sensible thing that anyone says in this asinine movie: “Mrs. Wade, I already have three members of your family lost in the wildnerness. I don’t need a fourth.”
Of course, because this movie has to pile on the drama, people who go in the woods encounter wild animals who attack. A mountain lion makes an appearance. In another scene, there’s a wolf. The kids encounter a skunk. This movie is so heavy-handed and unrealistic with the large wild animal encounters, why not bring out a whole managerie of wild animals at this point? Bears need representation too.
Royce and Chinook inevitably get lost. So much for a “hero dog.” One of the worst things about this movie is that during his foolish walk in the woods, Royce brings out a flare gun, which he could’ve easily used when he was on the boat. And then there’s the idiotic scene with Royce trying to start a fire, without any thought of what a disaster it would be to accidentally start a forest fire that Royce can’t put out quickly because he can’t see. It’s not as if Royce has access to any fire hoses or buckets of water.
The scenes with Max and Erin aren’t much better. Erin is a whiny brat, while Max is an insufferable know-it-all. And, of course, it starts to rain and something happens to their backpack of food and supplies. And what is the “hero dog” doing during all of this drama? Just trying to stay alive, while Royce makes one stupid decision after another.
One of these nonsensical decisions is to destroy his cell phone so he can use the mirror interior as some kind of glare signal in the woods, where a glare signal wouldn’t be seen anyway because there are too many trees. Royce is supposed to be someone with military training, but he seems to have no survival skills. The absurdity goes on and on. And so does the bad acting by most of the cast.
Henstridge and Tench are the only cast members whose acting approaches anything close to believable. Everyone else overacts and they sound like they’re reciting lines, not having natural-looking conversations. Everything about this film is done with such unrelenting, self-important ridiculousness, with no humor whatsoever. There isn’t much to like about this movie except the dog. And it’s too bad this innocent dog was forced to be in this embarrassing mess.
Lionsgate released “Hero Dog: The Journey Home” on digital, VOD and DVD on March 23, 2021.
Culture Representation: Taking place from 2017 to 2019, in Istanbul, Turkey, the documentary “Stray” follows the lives of a select number of stray dogs in the city.
Culture Clash: Syrian refugee teens who are homeless take care of some of the dogs, but their vagrant and unstable lifestyles make their ability to care for the pets very dubious.
Culture Audience: “Stray” will appeal primarily to people interested in watching a documentary about dogs that live on the streets and how the city of Istanbul handles these homeless pets.
People who’ve seen director Ceyda Torun’s 2017 documentary “Kedi” (about stray cats in Istanbul) can view director Elizabeth Lo’s documentary “Stray” (about stray dogs in Istanbul) as a great companion piece. You don’t have to see one documentary to enjoy the other, but it’s worth comparing and contrasting the two films. “Stray” is a more heart-wrenching movie than “Kedi” because homeless dogs in Istanbul seem to have it much harder than homeless cats.
Whereas “Kedi” focused on seven cats (male and female) and gave each about the same amount of screen time, “Stray” features three dogs (all female) in the spotlight, but one dog in particular gets the majority of the screen time. Her name is Zeytin, a tan Labrador Retriever mix with a personality that’s utterly endearing. She is friendly, smart and independent. And even in harsh circumstances, she maintains her dignity. A lot of humans could learn from a dog like Zeytin.
“Stray” begins with a prologue stating: “Turkish authorities have tried to annihilate stray dogs since 1909, leading to mass killings of Istanbul’s street dogs for the last century … Widespread protests against the killings transformed Turkey into one of the only countries where it is now illegal to euthanize or hold captive any stray dog.”
What does that mean for stray dogs like Zeytin? They are allowed to roam free on the streets, but there doesn’t seem to be the type of organized system for animal adoptions that other countries have. Stray dogs in Istanbul wear government tags on their ears to indicate if they have been spayed or neutered. The documentary (which was filmed from 2017 to 2019) is cinéma vérité style, from the point of view of the dogs, with no interviews and no background information on Istanbul’s animal shelters.
Zeytin has a close female companion named Nazar, a beige Labrador Retriever mix with a darker-toned face than Zeytin. Nazar also has blue pen markings all over her fur. By comparison, Zeytin looks remarkably well-kept for a stray dog.
Zeytin’s fur looks clean and doesn’t show any signs of mange or flea infestations. And she doesn’t look injured. The ages of Zeytin and Nazar are unclear, but an unknown person in the movie mentions that Zeytin looks young.
There’s a scene in the movie that shows the dogs near the beach. And although there’s no scene in the movie of the dogs swimming in the water, you get the feeling that Zeytin knows a place where she can wash herself on a regular basis. She’s smart and resourceful. If you believe that dogs have souls, then she has a good one.
Zeytin and Nazar begin following a group of Syrian refugee teenage boys (who look to be about 13 to 16 years old) who are also homeless. The dogs end up staying with the boys in an abandoned building. A few of the boys’ names are heard here and there. One is named Jamil. Another one is named Halil. They make money by asking for handouts or selling random items.
There’s a core group of about four or five of these refugee teens who hang out together and take care of Zeytin and Nazar. In the abandoned building, one of the boys talks about how he went to an immigration office with his family to apply for a refugee work permit, but the government only had a record of his family members, not him.
The personal stories of the other boys are not told in the documentary. But they all habitually sniff glue in plastic bags to get high, which is an indication of their emotional pain. The teens are eventually kicked out of the building by the apparent owner, who threatens to have them arrested for trespassing and loitering. The kids beg him to let them stay there and say they won’t make any trouble, but he refuses. He also scolds them about sniffing glue.
One of the things that people might dread in watching a documentary like this is the sight of any dogs being abused. Fortunately, there is no animal abuse in the movie, but it doesn’t sugarcoat how rough life on the streets can be for these dogs. The teen refugees often talk about how hungry they are, so it’s probably the same for the dogs. When a charity food truck comes by during its scheduled stop, the refugees run to it and get enough food for themselves and the dogs.
Zeytin and other stray dogs also get food by rummaging through garbage or by hanging out near restaurants and street food vendors. There’s a scene of Zeytin sleeping outside near tables at a café. And like clockwork, Zeytin is shooed away by an employee about the same time every day until she finds somewhere else for her daytime nap.
Food vendors will usually chase the dogs away, but a few will give the dogs their scraps. And on rare occasions, a random stranger will stop to give the dog some store-bought food. But most people on the street ignore the strays.
Some people with their own pet dogs are afraid to let their pets near the strays. One woman who’s walking her Jack Russell Terrier named Bella reacts to seeing Zeytin by nervously scooping up Bella and saying about Zeytin, “She might kill you,” even though Zeytin is harmless and shows no signs of aggression.
Zeytin and Nazar have an overall congenial relationship, but they show their contrasting temperaments in two different scenes. Nazar is more ill-tempered and has a tendency to be greedy and possessive, compared to Zeytin who tends to be calmer and more generous. However, Zeytin is not afraid to defend herself if necessary.
In one scene, some meaty bones are discarded on the street. Nazar growls and snaps at Zeytin to prevent Zeytin from getting near the bones, because Nazar wants all the bones to herself. Zeytin is able to sneak off with one of the bones though. In another scene, Nazar playfully greets another dog named Zilli, but Nazar (who is nearby) seems to get jealous and starts a vicious fight with Zeytin. The teenagers have to separate the two dogs, and one of the boys comforts Zeytin, who looks sad that her friend turned on her for no good reason.
Zeytin’s demeanor with other dogs is so approachable and friendly that the documentary shows that she can win over dogs who look mean and tough. She encounters a pack of about 10 to 12 dogs, and some of them try to bully her. But when she defends herself, she earns their respect, and they let her hang out with their pack for a while. Zeytin is never seen instigating a fight.
She also has an independent streak because she doesn’t seem to want to stay with one pack for too long. In the production notes for “Stray,” director Lo commented: “Zeytin quickly emerged as the focus of our production because she was one of the rare dogs we followed who did not inadvertently end up following us back. To the very last day of shooting, she remained radically independent.”
When strangers approach Zeytin on the street, she is curious and amiable. A man with a daughter who looks about 3 years old encourages his daughter to pet Zeytin. In another scene, a passerby remarks that Zeytin is a beautiful dog.
And in one of the film’s scenes that can be considered laugh-out-loud funny, Zeytin and some other dogs are wandering in the streets while a feminist protest is happening, with women holding signs and shouting about their rights. In the middle of this protest, a male dog mounts Zeytin and starts having sex with her. One of the women in the crowd shouts jokingly to the dogs, “Not now, guys! Please!” Another woman says to the male dog about his sexual intercourse with Zeytin, “Do it only if she wants to! Ask her first!”
Another dog that’s featured in the documentary, but not as prominently as Zeytin and Nazar, is a black and white pitbull mix puppy named Kartal, who’s about four or five months old. Zeytin first meets Kartal when Zeytin and some other dogs walk near a family home where Kartal is outside with another puppy from the litter and Kartal’s mother. Zeytin approaches as if to greet the other dogs, but Kartal’s mother growls protectively and doesn’t let the other dogs get too close.
Later in the movie, some of the teenage refugees go back to the house and beg the dog’s owner to let them take one of the puppies. The owner refuses but hints that they can come back at night and steal the puppy they want. The boys end up stealing Kartal, whom they rename Sari. The puppy often looks confused, but the boys make sure that she’s kept safe, and there’s a moment when Kartal/Sari finds another puppy as a temporary play companion.
Zeytin seems to have mixed feelings toward Kartal/Sari as a new arrival to this pack. Zeytin is not hostile to Kartal/Sari, but she’s not overly welcoming either. When Kartal/Sari tries to snuggle up to Zeytin or try to play with her, Zeytin moves away, as if she’s uncomfortable being a babysitter. Kartal/Sari’s time with this group of homeless teens doesn’t last long though. (Don’t worry, she didn’t get hurt.)
You don’t have to be an animal enthusiast to enjoy “Stray,” although it certainly makes a difference in how you might look at and remember this film. Even though the dogs in the movie do not have an ideal life, they are protected under Istanbul law. And that probably gives them a better chance not to be openly abused and murdered by people on the streets.
There’s a resilience to these dogs but also a constant sense of worry about where and how they are going to get their next meal, as well as how they are going to stay safe. Life on the streets means these strays can belong to anyone and no one at the same time. Unlike homeless humans, homeless dogs can’t sign up for emergency shelters or apply for government aid. But the last five minutes of “Stray” (which has the best scene in the movie) is a clear indication that dogs can have feelings and reactions just like a lot of humans do. And they also deserve to be seen, heard and treated with kindness.
Magnolia Pictures released “Stray” in U.S. virtual cinemas on March 5, 2021.