AIN'T IT COOL NEWS
Published on Sunday, May 6, 2007 - 3:37pm
Dorothy Parker found us a flick called COMPANIONS TO NONE!
Sometimes you find a gem in the oddest places... Here is my review of a dynamite doc I just saw at the Humane Conference. I tried to look up director Bill Buchanan on IMDB, but got no matches. He's awesome and oughta be on IMDB. Anyway, here's the latest:
If any of you have any doubt about the lengths AICN's eyes and ears will go to check out a new film, here's proof for you. Sure, snooping around Sundance or SXSW and pick-pocketing drink tickets and gift bags is a good way to get stories, but this reviewer did not brave such dire circumstances to bring you the skinny. Nope. This movie review is being brought to you hot off the heels of the film's US Premiere Monday night at the Texas Federation of Humane Societies Conference.
Companions to None, directed and produced by Bill Buchanan, examines the tragic pet overpopulation problem in Mexico, the cruelty and suffering involved in the government's insufficient or non-existent funding for programs to solve the problem. Working in a shelter, this was not an easy film for me to watch. I enjoy a good zombie film or a nice cannibal picture with a disembowelment, but show me some real horror and I'm the first to the Kleenex. This film gives a thorough picture of the problem, including the cultural, political and economic factors creating the climate where this is possible and it doesn't shy away from showing the graphic nature of the treatment of the animals or sugar coat the hands-on nature of what is needed to begin to solve the problem. In other words you see animals being put to death and animals being spayed or neutered.
In all areas in Mexico, there are an astronomical number of stray animals roaming the streets. Residents' pets are allowed outside loose adding to these numbers. Lack of resources plus cultural attitudes towards sterilization have led the majority of these animals not being spayed or neutered, exponentially increasing the number of dogs and cats every year. There are an estimated 33,000 homeless dogs wandering the streets of Monterrey alone. Primarily ignored, these animals can suffer starvation, disease and injury. Through feces, parasites and infections such as rabies, these animals pose a significant health threat spreading disease. There is also a large number of dog bites to humans. According to the Ministry of Health in Mexico, 90,000 people are bitten by dogs each year, however the film points out that many more may go unreported if the family cannot afford medical care.
Government funded animal control centers Antirrabicos have no resources such as food, vet care or even a humane method of euthanasia for the animals there. Animals housed together may fight with or eat each other. When they are put down, adults are crudely electrocuted with a method not unlike jump-starting a car while juveniles like kittens and puppies are placed in cages and submerged in water to drown.
Many cultural factors in Mexico contribute to the problem. Vet hospitals focus on livestock care more than companion animals. Puppies and kittens are sold regularly as toys for children and are thrown away when they reach adulthood. Male virility or Machismo is so valued, that many people may spay a female dog, but do not want to neuter a male. Catholic religious institutions do not promote contraception and many claim the lines in Genesis about man's dominion over animals exonerates any treatment of them, even cruelty. Much of the population could not afford sterilization for their pet should they want it.
In response to this situation and recognizing that what occurs in Mexico more and more directly impacts the southwest and the United States--the border is vanishing--non profit groups have begun to try to implement programs to assist Mexico and make changes that will benefit their animals with better living conditions. Among several others, the film follows Saving Animals Across Borders, a group that provides education on sterilization, runs spay and neuter camps providing free surgeries and helps provide training and supplies to convert the Antirrabicos to humane euthanasia methods. It also shows an outreach program that has helped adopt out some animals that represented a mere handful from a ranch-style sanctuary of 1,900 unwanted dogs. There is a discussion of the Neutersol medication as a work around for men who don't want to neuter their dogs. This medication can sterilize a male when injected into the testicles and does not require costly surgery.
While this is a message movie obviously, it is not condemnatory or afraid to show counter arguments. The Mexican antirrabico workers are not demonized, but shown as folks who took a job and are doing what they were trained to do, many of them paying a deep psychological price. Among the workers at the spay and neuter camp, the film examines a disagreement of philosophy: should the surgeries be done as many as fast as possible with corners cut because of the enormous need, or should they be done exactly with the same care as the vet would do their own pet because they are there to set an example to the owners? Will they lose some of their audience if a pet dies of complications?
Overall, this is an important rip you up movie. Regardless of sentimentality to animals, the bottom line is that suffering is suffering. Apathy and lack of empathy to an animal is a short trip to insensitivity to fellow humans. In the Q and A with director Bill Buchanan following the film, I was shocked to hear it had not been accepted at any festivals, including SXSW or Sundance, because in content and production it is an excellent, gripping and informative documentary--worlds and galaxies better than most docs I've seen at SXSW. I would hope that with HBO airing Shelter Dogs they would grab this too so it can be seen, but with the quality of the work and importance of the content, it truly deserves to have theatrical release.