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Monday, February 21, 2011

Lights, Camera, Action!

I can no longer watch animal movies, not even the animated ones. 

I can remember as a child getting very upset when Bambi's mother was killed.  I can remember being upset by the teasing that Rudolph endured just for being different.  I don't think I need to bring up my feelings about Cruella Deville!

The effects of these movies were evident in my youth.  In grade school, on rainy days, during recess I would pick up worms that were squirming in the puddles on the play yard and move them over to the moist but safe grassed area. 

I can remember trying to raise a few orphaned fledgling robins and baby squirrels. 

I remember bringing home a friend's hamster that he could no longer keep, without the permission of my mother.  The little stinker escaped the cage on the first day!  I looked and looked but could not find him.  I finally decided I had to fess up to my mother.  After all, scraping my mother off the ceiling after she sees a hamster in her bed would NOT end well.  I told her the truth, and boy did she yell!  "Find that thing!"  I sulked back to my room, and shut the door.  As I turn around, there is Remington the hamster sitting in front of his cage, wiggling and washing his whiskers as if asking, "Hey, where have you been?  This room is great!" 

I have already discussed my "Zoo Unlike Any Other" , a fabulous tale about my unique pets.

Walking by a neighbor's house in high school, I blurted out to my friend, Valerie, "I can't believe they have not neutered their dog!"  Her response, "What is your obsession with dog's testicles!"  Apparently it was not the first time I had made such a remark.

Now that I have my own children, I watch those "cute animal" movies with them, and I cry.  I don't cry because of the story line.  Okay, I do cry because of the story line, but not JUST because of the story line.

I cry because the bad guy in the fictional movie is so damn real to me.  In the movie, the bad guy is often the evil animal catcher, or the guy who wants the reward money, or the rich guy whose son wants that particular animal regardless of the costs.  In the movie, we laugh at his stupidity, and he usually gets his just desserts in the end. 

But in my world, this movie never ends.  Charges are rarely pressed, perhaps due to flawed investigative techniques, lack of evidence, ill defined laws with weak punishments, or apathetic prosecutors.  If an animal is removed from a person's care due to abuse or neglect, they easily go and find another animal to treat the same way... tied to a tree, left out in the snow, locked in a cage, left behind in an empty house... 

But sometimes it's the good guy who, for me, is the bad guy. 

Tonight, we watched a movie about a family that was moving.  The father was starting an exciting new job.  In order to move, the family had to get rid of their dog.  Apparently Hollywood believes that dogs cannot cross state lines, and this theory has spread rampantly to pet owners throughout the US.  Their young son was devastated by leaving the dog behind.  In an attempt to make it up to the boy, the father bought him season tickets to a major league baseball team.

This story line is appalling!  Couldn't the father have found a place to live where the animal was welcome?  He was not unemployed.  He had enough money to purchase these tickets.  Perhaps a little extra time, or perhaps the money he invested in those tickets would have been enough to keep the boy and his dog together.  Those tickets do not give unconditional love, nor do they teach a child about responsibility.  But no, the father teaches the kid, and the world, that the dog is disposable, and easily replaced by America's favorite pastime.

I don't mean to imply that movies like this should be taken so seriously.  But when you are the one who suddenly has this hypothetical family's dog in your care, while he waits for a new family to find him and make him theirs, you get a tad resentful of the people who make this type of decision so lightly.  To see it portrayed in an acceptable way in a movie can be quite infuriating!

Movies like this have conditioned us to believe that this behavior is acceptable.  I acknowledge that there are situations in life that may not facilitate people keeping their animals, especially in today's economy.  People are being forced to relinquish their houses, their pets, marriages are ending, and it is for these people and their pets that I do what I do.  My services should be a last ditch effort for a family and their pet, not a convenience.  But it is now so customary to dispose of a pet when moving that even those with the means to keep their pet are leaving them behind. 
I would like to see a film that will express the dire state in which this country resides with respect to animal welfare.   I believe the majority of us want to be a more responsible, humane nation, but it is only a minority of us who choose to actively pursue it. 

Discontinuing the on screen disposable nature of our pets would be a start.  Let's get back to Rin Tin Tin, Lassie, and Benji.  Let's show how animals help us, and present ways that we can help them. 

Me with Benji from "Benji of the Leash" 

In many ways, Animal Planet is doing just that.  I appreciate them presenting the horrible cruelty and neglect cases to the general public.  I like them showing that pets in shelters are deserving of good homes and loving families.  I appreciate them teaching people the proper way to train their dogs.  A well trained dog is less likely to become a homeless dog.  I am not a fan of every show they air, but for the most part, I believe many of their shows are educational to the general public and beneficial to the animal welfare world.

I wish Animal Planet would show that most communities are not blessed with the lavish, well staffed animal shelters and financially armed animal task forces seen on these shows.   I wish they could show small shelters who do so much for their communities, but get turned down for food programs and large grants, because they serve too small of a community.

The movie's happy ending usually involves the abusers getting their just desserts. The dog is reunited with the family. The puppies all find loving homes with wonderful new families.

But I know too well that these happy endings are all too rare in the real world.  While I cannot believe in these Hollywood fairy tales, I can believe in the tails of my homeless huggables. 

Their movies are rolling, their stories are just beginning.  Perhaps tomorrow will be the day that my homeless pets may find their new home.  Now, there is a happy ending.  If tomorrow is not that day, then it may be the next.  And if it is tomorrow, that empty cage will be filled with another unfortunate soul with an unknown past, whose future just took a turn for the better. 

How would that be for a happy ending...

Now, where is my video camera...

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Anonymous said...

I never thought of the movies in that way before , I do see and agree with the point of view, but another movie where the animals face incredible odds to be with their people is Homeward Bound , and the people are the better for it , I too can't watch most of the movies these days only because of the incredible cruelty in them , even though it's not real on the movie , but it is in real life . Cindy

Anonymous said...

Your blog is wonderful; you're a great writer and a true defender of the animals. You should consider writing a book! Does your shelter need volunteers?

Immydog said...

Cindy, I guess for me the animals shouldn't have to face incredible odds to find their family. It's the family that should face incredible odds to keep the pet.

Yes, we need foster homes, transporters, dog walkers, fundraisers, and more.
What would you like to participate in?

Thanks to you both for reading and taking the time to comment!

Jennifer said...

Awesome blog and so true! My daughter and I have watched Benji Off the Leash at least 15 times! With and without the commentary. We love that movie. I was so mad when I saw the commercial for the Chihuahua 2 movie where they'd had babies!! Did the first chi movie cause enough chi's to end up in shelters or worse?? Now they have a whole litter of teeny cute puppy chi's. Makes me so angry. My teenaged daughter spent much of her time in PEI on the beach rescueing jellyfish from sandcastle moats that kids had built and then felt the need to fill with live creatures. :(

Jalene Schroeder said...

Loved this story...I can relate to lots of it. I have been known to be too sensitive to the well-being of animals, but can that even be a possibility, I think NOT? Do God's animals deserve what they get out of life? Just a thought...

Anonymous said...

Extremely well written and moving. I completely agree with your statements regarding the current public view of pets as "disposable". It is quite disappointing and sad to think that people can view another living being in such a way.
In addition, I also agree that television stations, such as Animal Planet, should step out of the glamor of the well funded rescue operations and vet hospitals, and create a show showing the day to day struggle of small practices and small rescue operations, which are notoriously underfunded. I believe that putting a spotlight onto those organizations and the extremely dedicated and selfless people running them (such as yourself) would make a huge impact on the public, and would go quite a ways towards changing the public view.
Thank you again for all that you do and all of the love and care that you give to the animals. Though they cannot speak, every tail wag, every purr, and every smile is their thank you for being a hero.