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We Don’t Deserve Dogs

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Being gracious at your party even when all you want is the cake– not a flower collar.

Synopsis: Dogs with people, all around the world. (Streaming on Amazon Prime.)

In We Don’t Deserve Dogs, filmmakers Matthew Salleh and Rose Tucker travel the globe showing people and dogs together. The dogs do their thing while people talk about the canines. For both species the basics of a good life seem to boil down to: adequate food & shelter, good companionship and getting outside in good weather. The last of which is a bit of a challenge in Scotland.

The movie begins with charming Chino, a city-dwelling community dog in Chile. He’s a big boy who lumbers about, living what turns out to be a double or even triple life. We see him relaxing at a little shop while his adoptive mom, the shop’s proprietor, enthuses about him. Chino needs his naps because he has other places to go, like a hospital where  some workers have taken him under their wing. How clever to have multiple people and places to call home. Someone must have told him the adage of not putting all of your eggs in one basket. On further reflection, he’s smart; Chino figured it out on his own.

We see a few other stories of dogs in South American cities. While poverty finds some dogs abandoned to the streets, others land in the lap of luxury. Very nice, so long as these  invariably little dogs don’t mind indulging their guardians. There are parties in the park with prezzies on offer, but the people make the guest list. And walks will be delayed because mom needs to dress her fur baby. In between parties and dress-up the tiny pooches do a fair amount of emotional support just by being their wonderful selves.  One woman shares that her dog eases her anxiety. Speaking of anxiety…

There is a program in Uganda that matches street dogs (who all look a lot like dingoes) with former child soldiers, many of whom suffer from PTSD. While the survivors recount their harrowing stories and the stigmas they endure, their dogs are nearby. The people don’t cry or scream, but speak matter-of-factly of what they were made to endure while their dogs rest by their sides. Each person extols their dog for the acceptance and solace they bring, frequently reaching out to pet them. 

In Finland, therapy dogs help to build confidence in beginning readers, patiently sitting beside children as they read aloud to their furry friends. No word on the dogs’ favorite books. The dogs we see are not afflicted with ableist or ageist prejudices, making their visits very welcome to the humans they visit. It’s fair to say that they are treated like rock stars. Unlike real rock stars, the therapy doggoes remain humble.

Throughout the movie, the same somber music plays. I started to get tense that each story would be painful. But, no, there are many good stories. I think the score is supposed to make us reflective about their — and our– place on this planet. Maybe.

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Is it just me, or does it seem like this dog might have a drinking problem?

We Don’t Deserve Dogs also brings us stories of dogs happily working outside. Many of the dogs I know are kinda lazy and would rather work indoors as say, biscuit taste-testers or shop dogs at a mattress store. But these doggoes are active, outdoorsy types. In Italy, a man speaks appreciatively of his truffle hunting dogs who seem perfectly happy to spend the day searching around the forest for fungi. Unlike piggoes, they have no interest in eating the truffles they find, and instead trade a find for a non-vegan treat from the man.

In Romania, an aging shepherd and his wife talk about what is becoming a lost way of life. Their grown children chose city life. We hear some more about the hardships and joys of rural life from the shepherd and his wife. Yes, I get it,  now let’s hear about your dogs. Instead we see the big shaggy beasts leading the wooly shaggy beasts over hill and dale whilst the people wear tall, arcane hats and lament this dying way of life. The aged husband and wife heavily imply that it seems that at least one of their seven kids could come around and help out once in awhile.

The film make it crystal clear that people got the better deal when they domesticated dogs. While dogs have traditionally offered work in exchange for food, companionship is the bulk of their work nowadays. One senior citizen, living on his own in Scotland, talks about how the abused bull terrier he adopted from a rescue feels like a soulmate to him. He says when she first came to him, she was incredibly anxious, but, with his gentle encouragement, she now enjoys walks to the local pub where she is relaxed enough to take a snooze while her person socializes and has a drink. 

But some dogs don’t luck out. In Vietnam a young man speaks with affection about his French Bulldog, but brings up a cultural fact of life in his country: dogs butchered for meat. Thankfully, we are spared any scenes of violence. But we do see a tense dog in a basket, watching with vigilant eyes as a butcher, just yards away, prepares the tools of his trade. It made me feel heartsick to know the dog’s fate, but it does seem that demand for dogmeat is waning in Vietnam. Phew, onto a happier story…

Some of my favorite scenes in the film revolve around a religious dog celebration in Nepal. Well, the dogs aren’t religious, but the community is full of religious  Hindu people.  The festival involves dabbing colored-powder smudges on dogs’ foreheads (the dogs seemed fine with this) and  (less fine with the dogs) adorning them with flower garlands. Dogs are such uncomplaining friends, that it was a joy to see them fussed over by children and adults alike. 

So, are the filmmakers right– do we not deserve dogs?  I guess people have never domesticated animals in the animals’ interests. I suppose the abuse and neglect of dogs isn’t a surprise considering how a troubling number of people treat their own kind. But We Don’t Deserve Dogs also shows people around the world who love and care for dogs. For example,  a non-gender conforming  woman in Pakistan, where dogs are shunned,  who says that it is right to care for Allah’s creatures in spite of the hostility she encounters. (She explains that many Muslims cite a passage in the Koran which maintains that angels will not visit a household with a dog. Hmm… those angels’ loss, I guess.) Meanwhile, a dogwalker in Istanbul speaks sympathetically of his charges, remarking that he particularly loves the old dogs who he says are compassionate and adorable like babies.

I was particularly impressed with how accommodating the dogs were — they can probably make  cultural adjustments more easily than we can.  Now for the next question: do we deserve cats? I’m not sure about that, but I do know that while they would certainly approve of festivals celebrating them, no way would they allow humans to drape them with flowers. Felines don’t put up with that kind of sh**.

Movie Loon Movie Review Shortcut:

Grade:   A-

Cut to the Chase:  A good exploration of dog & human relationships in different cultures.

Humor Highlight:  The dog birthday party.

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