Are We Their Best Friends?
I was asked by a newspaper to write a review for the film One Nation Under Dog which will be showing at a local film festival. Here it is.
One Nation Under Dog is a documentary divided into three segments exploring the complicated and often eccentric relationships people have with dogs. Though some of the scenes are not appropriate for young children, whether you are an avowed dog lover or have merely found yourself smiling at the antics of a puppy, it’s a film worth seeing. It attempts to address the consequences of our actions and those of our lack of action in regard to the treatment of animals along with what the implications of thousands of years of co-evolution have meant for us and dogs.
The first segment titled “Fear” could have just as easily been labeled “Failure”. Focusing on a dog bite case in Connecticut, it’s apparent that both the bite victims and the dogs were failed, the former by a legal system that should have done more to protect them, and the latter by owners who didn’t do enough to manage and train them. Of note, and something which is not discussed in the film, is that research has shown that there is a correlation between the methods used to train dogs and their level of aggressiveness. The more force and pain used to train, the more aggression displayed. That the dogs with bite histories in the film are seen wearing both shock and choke collars is likely no mere coincidence.
The second segment “Loss” looks at the intense emotional responses owners have to their pets. The extremes of a culture which produces people who can, without a second thought, spend $155,000 to clone a beloved pet and at the same time allows conditions to exist which lead to the killing of millions of a dogs a year will provide fodder for anthropologists and psychologists for decades to come.
“Betrayal” the final segment of the film, confronts with brutal honesty, the realities of dog overpopulation. This, as a public service announcement, should be required watching before anyone steps into a pet shop or goes online, to buy a puppy.
The film highlights the contradiction of dogs being the recipients of our best intentions and also the victims of our worst inclinations. How we think about the animals lauded as our best friends may be best described in this quote by Henry Beston-
“We patronize the animals for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they are more finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other Nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time.”
It is up to us to determine the shape and quality of the nets we are entwined in together. Animals’ lives and of our humanity may very well be defined by how we choose to do this.