Shelter Dog Month
PBS is featuring a one-hour documentary from filmmaker Steven Latham, Shelter Me: Partners For Life, fifth in a series that celebrates shelter dogs. Jon Hamm hosts this poignant film, which will be shown during the month of October on PBS to promote National Shelter Dog Month. Viewers can check ShelterMe.TV for days and times in October PBS will air this film in their communities. This documentary was so captivating and emotionally charged that I watched an unedited version twice and plan to watch it again when it airs in San Francisco.
Two Powerful Stories
The first story is about the incredible and frankly surprising results local police departments across America are having training rescue dogs for police work. Nikita, a small, unassuming looking, street-smart rescue dog quickly became every drug smuggler's worst nightmare. The second story is about music icon and animal rescue activist Emmylou Harris, 68, whose reverence for dogs and devotion to their rescue is laser focused around ending euthanasia.
My eyes filled with tears watching families joyfully embrace their newly adopted dogs. And my heartstrings got seriously pulled listening to Emmy, as she prefers to be called, sing Big Black Dog With A Little Too Much Gray Around The Muzzle, a song she wrote about Bella, a dog she'd intended to foster but adopted four days later. Bella traveled with Emmy on her tour bus for more than a decade. There won't be a dry eye in any dog-lover's house listening to Emmy's sweet tribute, and while it's dedicated to Bella, it's also about the love every owner has ever felt for a beloved dog.
Good Dog Genes
Emmy's father had been studying veterinary medicine before Pearl Harbor, but he joined the Marine Corp and suspended his veterinary education. Emmy's mother felt every dog was beautiful, especially rescued dogs. Emmy learned compassion for animals from both her parents as a child. She had a dream about rescuing dogs when she was a girl and considered becoming a veterinarian.
I've been a fan of this 12-time Grammy winner's music for decades, and after our interview I also admire Emmy for her unstinting efforts to rescue homeless dogs. When I asked if the frequently quoted 5-6 million dogs euthanized each year is accurate, she confirmed this staggering number. Emmy started Bonaparte's Retreat, a Nashville-based organization named after the first dog that toured with her. Bonaparte's Retreat has succeeded in literally cutting the percentage of euthanized dogs in Nashville's Metro Animal Control in half, but Emmy insists that zero is the only acceptable percentage.
Emmy's Eureka moment came when she purchased her property in Nashville eleven years ago. She rejected the notion of building a pool or a tennis court, opting instead to build Bonaparte's Retreat to serve as a dog shelter that would interface with local government agencies. In addition, Emmy sits on the board of the Crossroads Pets Program, a nonprofit retail pet store that pairs at-risk youths with shelter pets to give both a second chance at life. Seeing the faces of these young men and women and listening to their stories clarifies the importance of the opportunity they're being given.
An Authentic Hero
Charles Strobel, a former Catholic priest, was the genesis for Crossroads. He envisioned pairing homeless dogs and homeless people to benefit both. He located a 56-acre vacant property, previously a reform school, and changed the historic outcome that resulted from cutting children loose with a stipend and no place to go. He devoted himself to eliminating the stubborn statistic that is one in four children in foster care becoming homeless. Crossroads gives these at risk youths a job opportunity to work with dogs, but more importantly, it gives young people who were being thrown away like abandoned dogs, a sense of purpose.
No Quick Fix
The solution for ending euthanasia, which Emmy considers genocide, is simple enough, but unfortunately implementing it isn't. Spaying and neutering would virtually eliminate millions of needless animal deaths, but convincing a sufficient number of entrenched dog owners remains a monumental obstacle. Emmy is passionate that the kill shelter issue can best be resolved on a local level in the same manner as Bonaparte's Retreat, which she jokingly refers to as Match.com for dogs.
Generosity Of Spirit
Bonaparte's Retreat depends on volunteers to foster dogs until they can be adopted. This commitment lasts for a few days or a few months, and I can't imagine a more selfless act than caring for a homeless dog until it can find a home. Emmy's hope is that this film will inspire similar efforts all across America. Her belief is that community is the best opportunity for reducing the homeless dog population.
Too Good To Miss
I urge everyone to watch this cogent film whether you're a dog lover or someone who just appreciates a heartfelt, slice of life story. Police departments are discovering the intrinsic value rescue dogs have to benefit the public. And Emmylou Harris is donating significant time and energy to end the wholesale slaughter of adoptable dogs. A visit to a local shelter is all that's necessary to bring home a sweet new friend whose unconditional love will fill every family member's heart for years to come. Emmy can't imagine why everyone's next dog wouldn't be an adoption from a shelter. Frankly, after watching Shelter Me: Partners For Life neither can I. You'd not only be saving a grateful, loving being's life, you'd be enriching your own.
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