Directed and Produced by: Dana Nachman and Don Hardy
Written by: Dana Nachman
Original Score: Helen Jane Long
Photographed and Edited by: Don Hardy
A documentary shot over two years, Pick of the Litter follows a litter of five puppies born into the Guide Dogs for the Blind program.
This is a straight-forward, linear doco that allows the dogs and those who come into contact with them, tell the story. And it’s very sweet getting to know each of the dogs as we follow them through their training from pups to adulthood: Patriot (mouthy and super-enthusiastic), Phil (the chiller), Potomac (a handful and full of curiosity), Poppet (a blessing who loves her work) and Primrose (well, she just wants to be loved).
Co-directors Dana Nachman and Don Hardy have teamed up for their forth feature doco, Pick of the Litter taking three times the number of shots trying to keep up with each of the dogs to capture each personality. And the extra time and care pays off as I found myself cheering along the dogs wanting them to succeed after all the effort not just from the dogs but from the volunteers who train them.
Especially Patriot who reminded me of a hyper-kelpie farm dog I once knew, Benji; jumping and straining against his chain, chocking himself with excitement. The trainers have to be able to re-direct this energy into obedience and skill.
We’ve all come across a guide dog and their human at some point, understanding the role of the dog’s guidance of a blind or visually impaired person. Pick of the Litter opens the door to the rigorous training process, only the select few making it to become someone’s guide into the world, to give back so much freedom.
It’s an education to watch. And sad to see when all the work doesn’t end in success.
Yet, it’s sweet and makes you feel good about those out there doing their best to help those in need showing that training these special canines isn’t for everyone with a 16 to 18 month commitment (dog asleep by 10pm; trainer asleep by 10pm!), with constant assessment by the program to see if the dog’s appropriate to continue training or be, ‘career changed’, meaning, a civilian dog. And it’s not unusual for a dog to be taken from one trainer and given to another if it means a better chance for the dog to succeed.
Lives are put into the hands of these dogs so it was reassuring to see the process, to see the dogs themselves show their will not to be a guide dog.
And l found myself nodding in agreement when difficult decisions had to be made: sometimes the dog’s life is meant for something or someone else.
The film just adds to the fascination and special relationship between human and dog. I swear my pet Aussie Terrier, Jim-Bob could sense when I was sad and would find me to cheer me up.
So, it’s a dog-lover’s movie with a special interest into the process of training these extra-special dogs to become guide dogs, shown from each perspective of those involved from: the breeders, the volunteers who train them, the trainers in the association who graduate them, to those who ultimately benefit. And the dogs. Who doesn’t like a dog movie!
In the order of appearance: Diane Meier, Terry Blosser, Janet Gearheart, Sharon Kret, Ronald Strother, Christine Benninger, Linda Owen, Rebecca Minelga, Eric Minelga, Oliver Minelga, Nick Ursano, Alice Ursano, Cathy Wassenberg, Bill Wassenberg, Lisa King, Chris King, Patti White, Al White, Louise Pay, Gail Horn, Tammy Shankle, Adam Vanderhoofven, Melissa Griffith, Kristin Sheppard, Kenny Sheppard, Deana Allen, Anne Tyson, Rick Wilcox, Maureen Balogh, Jenna Bullis, Meghan Fraser, Carol Simmons, Adam Silverman, Melanie Harris, Stacey Ellison, Todd Jurek, Rachel Chamness.
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