BIFF Main Review – Pick of the Litter

A four-legged documentary that makes an impression.

A camera team follows the puppies Poppet, Topomac, Patriot, Primrose and Phil in two years from they are born till one of them, or more, can become a guide dog. Before this they are trained to make sure that they have that little extra that is needed. If this means they will become a guide dog isn’t assured. The documentary gives a nuanced look at the training of the dogs, but there are certain things that I would criticize.

In the documentary we are quickly introduced to the five puppies. Their cuteness are pointed out time and again. They are cute, nothing to say about that. But it looks like the intro to the documentary is framed so that the audience will say «aaaww». And believe me, they did from the first moments of the film. Yes, I was one of the people in the audience. In addition this scene is accompanied with a cute score to highlight the cuteness more.

I have always been a cat person, but the older I get I have to admit that dogs aren’t as bad after all. This documentary sold me on these furry creatures. Some of the dogs were a little rough for my taste though. Maybe this seems a little contradictory in relation to the criticism I am going to lay in on soon, but that’s okay.

The Transition
We get a pretty nuanced look at how the dogs are trained from they are tiny puppies to they are eventually ready to become a guide dog. The training is hard, and not every dog that can handle the transition. Those who don’t proceed to become guide dogs gets the title «career change». It says simply that they can become one of two things, breeders or they are transferred to the civilian life (nothing I made up, they say it in the movie) and become house pets. If they become a breeder, they are set to bear new puppies.

The breeder part of the whole «career change» is one of the things I have the most problems with. When the dogs are born their choice of profession, so to speak, are chosen by the people that work there. I agree that dogs as guide dogs for the blind is a good idea. We also don’t see the dogs in any way being mistreated. But at the same time I would think that dogs (or animals in general) in cages never will have a very good time. I also think that part of the problem is that they talk about the dogs as this is a profession they themselves have chosen. Especially when we are talking about «career change» and the transition to a civilian life. Which way they go, to become a guide dog or the «career change», is chosen from how they handle the training process, and what the trainers think should happen to them. I am not going to use more of my review to talk about this, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

The Relocation
When the dogs are old enough they are placed with trainers. Here they are supposed to learn to get used to one person or persons over a longer period of time. They are also going to train them. After a while the trainers are called in to evaluate how the dog is doing. Has the puppy taken the training in the right way? Can it go further in the process? At this point they can quickly see who fits to be a guide dog or not.

In this part of the documentary we get to know several families that has done this up to several times. For example we meet a war veteran that has PSTD, and for him it helps to have a dog in the house. He likes to have someone to wake up to, and a goal with his life. Other are bigger families that has the responsibility. There are several of them that has done it many times, and they point out that it never gets any easier to say good bye to them.

The goal with the training is that the dogs should become so competent that they can become great guide dogs. Make sure blind people can get around in the traffic, or most important, disobey orders if it can danger their master. Its a strict program, and not every dogs gets there.

I think it was a fine documentary that shows the different sides of the process from the dogs are tiny until they are ready for their «job». The documentary goes deep in the material. I only wish that there was a certain criticism baked into the whole thing. Where are the dogs voices? For example the documentary plays on the cuteness of the dogs, that I pointed out in the beginning of this review. There’s nothing really wrong with that. But when the dogs are talked about as this is a career for them, and if they don’t handle the training they get a career change. Here they are made similar to people. But in contrast to people they themselves don’t get to choose where they are going.

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