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Review: 'One Nation Under Dog' A Heartbreaking Look At America's Relationship With Canines

Television
by Kevin Jagernauth
June 18, 2012 11:58 AM
30 Comments
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One Nation Under Dog

In the realm of relationships between humans and animals, there are few as rewarding or profound as that between man and dog. It's difficult to describe to those who've never had a pet, but a dog will give its loyalty and love wholly and without question. They see us at our best and worst, often remaining by our sides through moves, break-ups, marriages, deaths and more -- ever faithful, ever loving. Once a dog takes root in your life, that presence is one that benefits both and when it ends, that void can be as deep as losing a friend or family member, simply because, they are your friend and family. But unfortunately, America's relationship with canines is a troubled one, with overfilled shelters, puppy mills and abuse still rampant, leading to something of a crisis with millions of dogs put down each year. "One Nation Under Dog: Stories Of Fear, Loss & Betrayal" presents a triptych of stories, looking at these issues from various angles and coming to the conclusion that we need to do more to the animals that give us so much.

The opening section, "Fear," begins the doc on a rather curoius note. Coming off more like a "20/20" segment, we're not sure how this piece exactly fits in with what follows, except to show that one can be overly devoted to their pets to the point of being ignorant of the danger they may pose. As we tend to often forget, dogs are animals, and will revert to their instincts in unfamiliar situations or those in which they feel they are afraid of threatened, leading to bites...or worse. Enter Dr. Robert Taffet. The proud owner of a family of Rhodesian Ridgebacks, he earned the enmity of his neighbors in suburban New Jersey following a string of biting incidents -- were his dogs vicious or were these just random, unlucky occurences? The truth lay somewhere in the middle, but Taffet refused to give up his dogs, spending money on expensive lawyers to fight the mounting lawsuits he faced, until one particulary harrowing event wakes him up to the reality of the situation, and with a heavy heart, he puts down one of his four beloved Rhodesians.

One Nation Under Dog

The entire story is a bit sensationalist -- we're not even sure "Fear" is accurate title for the segment, perhaps "Devotion" might be more fitting -- but in its way, it does get the point across of how strong those bonds of attachment can be. And leading into "Loss," it's not hard to understand how far that well of sorrow goes when that connection is broken. This section of the film focuses on just what the title implies, moving from a support group at the San Francisco SPCA, a burial at a pet cemetary and then in an obvious play at a lighter moment, the story of a wealthy, elderly couple who successfully clone their departed dog. The latter feels a bit too goofy and out of place within the context of the rest of the film, but perhaps it's needed because "Betrayal" is the wake-up call 'One Nation Under Dog' builds to, giving an unflinching look at just how much more we need to do as a nation in protecting and caring for our dogs.

The centerpiece of this section -- if you can even call it that -- is an absolutely stomach churning, unedited, three minute video that shows dogs at a shelter being placed in a metal bin and gassed to death. And just when you think that's enough, more dogs are placed inside -- live ones on top of the dead ones -- the lid closed, and more gas pumped in. Hearing the dogs inside before they're about to die will haunt your memory, but it's arguably more sickening that a few moments later, a garbage truck arrives and the bin is casually forklifted, with the bodies unceremoniously dumped in the back. Bob Barker didn't insist every weekday on "The Price Is Right" to spay and neuter your pets without good reason -- there is an overpopulation problem that is exacerbated by an unwillingness to address it with any sense of responsibility.

Another difficult to watch sequence follows an animal rescue group as they raid a puppy mill, which one of the volunteers describes as one of the worst they've ever seen. Multiple wood crates and cages stood wrapped in plastic -- essentially suffocating the dogs -- as they lived crammed in together with each other so for long that some had to be cut out. Dead bodies were left inside to rot, with some dogs using them for warmth, and it wouldn't be hard to argue that some were already beyond rescue or facing serious health issues that the would deal with for the rest of their lives. And yet, pet stores are the biggest customers of puppy mill dogs and animal cruelty laws do little to punish or dissuade those from continuing the practice (and it's this latter subject that is perhaps the biggest missing topic of the documentary). So where do many of these dogs wind up? In a shelter, where for many, their lives will come to end living on a concrete floor, behind a gate, under flourescent lights.

One Nation Under Dog

But thankfully, there are heroes out there making a difference. Best illustrating how little it takes rehabilitate a shelter dog, and how much all they want is basic love, care and attention, is John Gagnon of New England PAWS. In one of the film's most touching moments, we see him lasso a gorgeous dog in a shelter -- who is labelled as a "biter" and stands aggressively snarling any time her cage is opened -- and lead her outside, into a field. With patience and a strong, but calm attitude he begins talking and petting the dog, whose tail initially goes flying between her legs in fear....but within moments of continued affection, the dog flops to her side, licking his hand, completely at ease. She's a totally different dog, and one that John has no problem finding a home for after just a month of training.

There's also Julie Adams, who on her immense farm property, cares for over 100 stray or abandoned dogs. As she notes, many of them that come her way have never been cared for, fed, or even given a kind touch, and she allows them to flourish. She also works to find homes for the ones who show the most promise. An interesting subtext to both John and Julie's stories are their own personal backgrounds that undoubtedly shaped them into the people they are now. For John, teenage rage issues he believes allows him to recognize the problems a dog might have rooted in their psyche, allowing him the opportunity to identify and fix it. Meanwhile Julie came from an era where dogs simply weren't considered with the same compassion, and her tales of loss -- which still sting to this day -- are the driving force behind her commitment now.

"He wasn't my child, he wasn't my parent, he wasn't my partner -- he was my dog. We just don't have words for that," a young woman shares in the film. "One Nation Under Dog" does an admirable job of capturing that indescribable spirit that is forged between our dogs and ourselves. By turns heartbreaking and moving, the film at times made this writer want to head down to the local shelter, scoop up all the dogs and go live in the country. What they give and how they enrich our lives is immeasurable, and 'One Nation Under Dog' simply asks that we give back to them, as much as they have given us. [B]

"One Nation Under Dog: Stories Of Fear, Loss & Betrayal" airs on HBO tonight at 9 PM.

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30 Comments

  • Chris | October 3, 2012 3:54 AMReply

    I can say from my gut I am a changed person from watching this documentary. The third short labeled "Betrayal" was so shocking I literally screamed "NO!" So many times and so loudly the front office of my high rise called to make sure I was ok and someone wasn't trying to gas me in a metal box!! I have never had a reactionlike that to something on TV before. You couldn't possibly offer an amount for me to do that job. I think you have to have no sole to do it,especially the way he was. . They deserved more respect than that. I had never seen this "tactic" of putting them down. I have volunteered for years and still was ignorant about how they took care of "Death row" . I honestly Had no idea. No creature deserves that kind of ending. Their little faces as he continually loaded them into that metal container was traumatizing and cut me to the bone. . My heart hurts as I am typing about it now. After I forced myself through the entire thing I must have stared in silence at the wall for a good 20 minutes. Asking myself why I hadn't educated myself?What can I do? Do I try to collect & throw money at it until it stops? Maybe I should start with my state? I know some states are outlawing it. Will mon ey change a damn thing? I know we have to attack the issue at the root cause. How can I make a difference and where in the f$&ck do I start? i encouraged people I know to watch it. Not to hurt them obviously, but to raise awareness. I warned them first of course before I got any nasty phone calls or emails. What can I do for them??? This has to stop.

  • Sam | November 5, 2012 1:58 AM

    It's not fair to blame the shelter workers or call them soulless for how they have to euthanize the animals. They don't want to do it, they don't like doing it, but they have to, and many have no better options than overcrowded gas chambers. They can't turn away animals, but more are brought in daily, week after week and it wears you down because there's no room, no money, and too many dogs. Always. This is the story of thousands of shelter workers around the country. Whether or not we hate coming face to face with the truth, *somebody* is always stuck with this most difficult of jobs -- this is what people and dogs have been forced into for as long as animals are failed to be spayed or neutered.

  • carla | September 27, 2012 1:15 PMReply

    You can follow one of the stars of the film, Julie Adams here:
    http://www.facebook.com/JulieAdamsDogRescuer?ref=hl

  • Kaitlin Holzapfel | July 25, 2012 9:17 PMReply

    I volunteer with three rescues/shelters in my area (near Chicago), so when I came across this film, ai thought, hey...Why not watch this. And beginning from the euthanization of Duke and on...I was a sobbing mess. I have never cried so hard during a movie in my life. The gas chamber is maybe the worst thing I have ever witnessed. I do think everyone should see this movie. It did inspire me to continue to help, but also to think of ways to SOLVE this problem once and for all. My husband tells me we will always have homeless dogs, just like homeless people. Overpopulation is a tough ordeal to solve...but we have to keep trying. These poor dogs break my heart and this movie will stick with me forever.

  • Simone | July 2, 2012 6:47 PMReply

    Watching this immediately made me think of the HOLOCAUST. Putting dogs/cats down the way they showed is one of the most horrifying things I've ever seen. I never cried so hard! We need to convert to an ALL NO KILL SOCIETY!! This documentary is a big wake-up call! I just hope it reaches the people that will learn from it as opposed to the people who already know!

  • Kathy | June 25, 2012 10:27 AMReply

    very powerful statement about how we treat dogs in this country.Watch this - its an eye-opener. I sobbed and cried for 1 hour and 14 minutes. Dogs are my favorite beings on this planet. Hard to watch.....

  • Ali | June 24, 2012 11:42 PMReply

    This is sooo sad!! I cant stand people like that, have a heart!! Man the punishment I would give for those who do this and I would have every puppy mill shut down!!! And every shelter a no kill!! So dam stupid... Politicians complain they have no money yet they spend billions of dollars on stupid shit. Especially the mayor in NYC. Like changing st sign from all caps to lower caps so people can see better, or the st in time square. Use that money for more shelters for animals and people. I will make a difference one day!! Sorry for these animals.

  • Ron | June 23, 2012 8:18 PMReply

    VERY disturbing documentary. But I agree, the story needs to be told. I've always been meaning to join the ASPCA and after watching this show, joined immediately while the credits will rolling. I've always purchased dogs from breeders but my next pooch will definitely be a rescue. My wife was never a dog person but once we got married she converted. I think she loves our Doberman more than me sometimes but thats ok. :)

  • Ricardo | September 4, 2012 6:16 PM

    Spaying and neutering have to be encouraged much much more energetically to put a stop to these horrifying killings. The so-called puppy mills have to be outlawed. So much suffering inflicted on these beautiful and intelligent creatures must not be tolerated. The gassing scene will haunt me for the rest of my life, but it was absolutely necessary to make those of us that thought "euthanasia" by gassing was a nice thing and showing us exactly how our best friends are "put to sleep". Disgusting. My God!

  • Diana | June 23, 2012 5:22 PMReply

    I haven't cried that much in a long time, although the dogs that were "humanely" euthanized got the better end of the stick than those that had to, and still have to, live in the deplorable conditions the puppy mill dogs do. I do not understand how people can be so disgusting as to do that to beautiful little creatures. It hurts my heart to know that there is that much suffering out there, not to mention the other pets like cats, rabbits, etc.

  • Mars | June 23, 2012 12:59 AMReply

    I came across this doc while flipping tonight and as a animal lover, it immediately resonated with me. I wish I had read an advance of it's subject matter though, for it might have prepared me for the "betrayal" segment. I had never seen animals euthanized like this, and naively, I wasn't sure what was going to happen to them once placed in the box. I burst into tears as soon as I saw them turn the gas. The sounds of those beautiful, unwanted, innocent dogs will haunt me forever. However, if I can spin a positive, it was a wake-up call to learn that this type of abuse is being perpetuated by "shelters" entrusted to care for the animals, and worse still, that more are euthanized inhumanely than not. I've heard the numbers before, the Bob Barker msgs, the ASPCA commercials. I don't dispute their sadness, but for the average person, they're easy enough to put the numbers or images out of their heads, and go about their day, maybe with a promise to themselves to send funds next pay day. By contrast, this heartbreaking footage doesn't allow the viewer the luxury of post-dating a response. Should be mandatory viewing for everyone. This front row view of the horrifying consequences of irresponsibility and apathy should be mandatory viewing. It might inspire more people to fight for the dignity and rights of animals. I couldn't watch the film after hearing the cries of those dogs. Does anyone know if the people responsible for gassing the dogs were named? Love to drop them a line in prison, but more than likely, they're still getting away with murder.

  • Denise | June 22, 2012 11:25 PMReply

    I had to turn down the volume during the gas chamber scene and turn away. I've known for years that they do this so once they were bringing them out I knew what was going to happen :-(...unfortunately, people really need to see what is going on and maybe take a stand. Even at this very moment they are trying to ban gas chambers in Utah and a petition is going around. Many have no clue this is even going on so government officials don't get much pressure to close them down. Now I'm praying that many will be outraged and do something about.

    I also see many want to help animals and contribute any way they can. After watch this, I found Julie Adams and New England Paws on Facebook. Julie is the woman with over 100 rescue dogs on her farm. I really would love to see her get more help for all she does. She has an amazon wish list so trying to spread the word about it, her story really touched me. Items are in all price ranges, many inexpensive items for those who would love to do more but just can't at the moment. I'm sure anything she received is greatly appreciated.

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/wishlist/3PTSSXS31ITLB/ref=cm_sw_su_w

  • lisa | June 22, 2012 6:45 PMReply

    As long as man is on this earth...the animal suffering will continue..FOREVER....

  • Phelicia Traver | June 21, 2012 11:13 AMReply

    This was one of the most compelling and heart wrenching documentaries I have ever seen. Being a mom to two rescued male Chihhuhuas were were both abused as puppies, I can only imagine the horrors they endured before they came to me. If I had it in my power I would be like the women with the farm and save all the dogs. Big or small. The best relationship in life is the one you have with your dog! You cannot ask for a more loyal or loving friend!! God bless all of the dogs.

  • Kevin | June 20, 2012 11:57 PMReply

    I have saved over 600 dogs from pounds and puppy mills. This show doesn't show have the horror that goes on. For the most part people turn there head and pretend that things like this don't happen. Please people make a difference and do something.. It's murder!!!

  • The Playlist | June 19, 2012 11:29 PMReply

    The dogs being euthanized scene -- iIn that horrific gas chamber with their human-like screaming and near-pleas: utterly haunting.

  • Tim | June 19, 2012 8:08 PMReply

    Absolutely disturbing documentary. Some of the things that were shown during this show, should have not been told/seen. I understand that "puppy-mills" are over run with dogs, but the show did not have to actually show/be heard the crying and then not crying of the dogs. This show was over the top.

  • Christina | June 28, 2012 1:46 AM

    @Tim: Grow up.

  • SheilaB | June 19, 2012 8:36 PM

    The horror of this SHOULD be seen by anyone who questions whether they should spay or neuter their dogs. By anyone who even CONSIDERS buying a dog from a store. Hiding from the truth does absolutely nothing to change the horrible reality and prevent these atrocities from continuing indefinitely. All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.

  • flor | June 19, 2012 5:40 PMReply

    I support as many organizations as I can and its not enough. I love my dogs, and cats. But you can't change stupid people and corrupt states at support the evil puppy mills. They should be banned and the people arrested.

  • Wendy | June 19, 2012 3:46 PMReply

    My husband and I watched this last night and it made us sad and angry. However, it is the hard truth. Although many of us love and care for our dogs deeply, still others do not. Both of our dogs were rescues- one neglected from a puppy mill and the other neglected from an Amish Farm. We have been so blessed and would love to have a hundred more if we could.

  • Cheyenne | June 19, 2012 3:42 PMReply

    I stumbled on this documentary last night and it was a tough one. I love dogs so much, I have a tatoo of my dog who passed away in 2009, I am a faithful contributer to many dog organizations every paycheck. I was horrified about the gas chamber scene. That is one of those things I wish I never seen, because that image and awful sounds will haunt me for the rest of my life. I really had no idea that we were allowing that awful treatment to unwanted pets. I assumed that unwanted pets were each given shots and put to sleep. Which in itself was awful (I lost my Tyson to old age, 14 and spinal cord rupture, which we decided to put him down) but peaceful. I want to do more to save those dogs being gassed. Those puppies could have been saved! They looked so scared and had no idea that was their last minute of life. Awful, Awful. I wish I could find out where they did this because I would drive there and try to help save these loving dogs. There were a few great stories as well, but the horror outweighed the good. I just feel like I need to do more. I have 3 pound puppies now that I love so much, I just held them and told them this was their forever family, we will have these great dogs until their natural end.

  • ANGIE | June 19, 2012 3:10 PMReply

    I watched this last night and I wept. It was a true eye opener on what is going on in our country with our shelters, etc. It made me want to hold all of my dogs a little bit tighter. I think everyone should watch it!

  • DanL | June 19, 2012 12:49 PMReply

    Watched this show last night. Truly heartbreaking. We adopted a "lost cause" dog just about a year ago. She has flourished and has become the sweetest, most affectionate and obedient dog you could ask for. Everyone that meets her loves her instantly. All she needed was a chance. So many great dogs out there just hoping for the same...

  • LynneNJ | June 19, 2012 10:24 AMReply

    Please don't look away at the horror. Cry. Get sick. Get pissed and DO SOMETHING.

  • joni, Georgia | June 19, 2012 10:04 AMReply

    It may be hard to watch, but unfortunately, especially in the southern states of this GREAT country.. its a cold hard truth. Heart Sticking is another terrible way of euthanasia. This is one of the dirty little secrets in America that no one wants to see, discuss... its time to take the head out of the sand and do something to initiate a change. This is something you could imagine in 3rd world countries... We need spay and neuter laws and breeders should be licensed much like RESCUERS have to be!

  • Mel | June 19, 2012 8:22 AMReply

    This was a great look at the dichotomy between how some American pets are pampered while others are abused, neglected or abandoned to be dealt with by overrun shelters. Please don't buy, adopt! And spay & neuter!

  • Steve | June 18, 2012 8:57 PMReply

    Dogs being put to death with gas? I just cannot watch this.

  • Ricardo | September 4, 2012 6:10 PM

    I translated the documentary into Spanish yesterday for HBO, and I could not sleep all night long remembering the horrifying screams of the dogs in that bin being gassed to death.
    What unspeakable cruelty is being done to these incredibly intelligent creatures in the world's richest country. This simply cannot continue. It has to be stopped. America is not a place where this horror should be allowed to continue. It's so horrifying and disgusting. I will never be the same person again after seeing those three long long long minutes of utter horror. Thanks to the producers and director and HBO for a documentary which will haunt me for the rest of my life but which is absolutely necessary to wake us all up and put a stop to these so-called puppy mills.

  • Rhonda | July 2, 2012 9:06 PM

    Heart Sticking is another terrible way of euthanasia

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