Last night was the premiere showing of "An American Opera - The Greatest Pet Rescue Ever" at the Bloor Cinema. The film documents the Katrina experience from the vantage point of dog rescuer/film maker Tom McPhee who was himself there at the showing.
When Katrina hit back in 2005, my time at Toronto Animal Services hadn't started yet and I wasn't really tuned into the dog rescue community so the whole episode with what was going on with the abandoned pets down there almost totally escaped me. It was only a couple of years later that I began to hear, in dribs and drabs, just how enormous a rescue operation it was.
Tens of thousands of pets, with some estimates going up to a quarter million, were left homeless and had to fend for themselves after their owners were evacuated after the storm. In many of the cases, pet owners were forced to leave their pets behind by the rescuing authorities with promises that someone would be by later to pick them up. That didn't happen, at least not in any cohesive organized way, and thousands of animals who survived the initial flooding, later died from starvation or disease or were randomly shot by people.
The movie sheds some light on the whole thing with inciteful interviews which reveal the personalities and politics which drove the events. The most moving segment, which caused several people in the audience to start audibly sobbing, showed the reunion of a grizzly looking middle aged man and his dog. At first they just meet and it's obvious the man is happy but then he slowly loses his composure and emotion washes over his face and he sheds a tear and then just starts crying with happiness at being reunited with his dog.
This sequence followed a much darker segment on the St. Bernard Parish dog massacres allegedly carried out by members of the police force. It includes video shot by journalist David Leeson:
The original video, fully shown in the movie, is much more graphic. After the car window is rolled down, the video shows the dog which has just been shot, crying and tremoring as it dies.
Gasps and sobs from the audience.
It's pretty obvious given the admission on camera by one of the alleged killers just who was guilty but apparently the good ol' boys who run Louisianna's law enforcement agencies don't reckon it's such a big deal to go around using dogs for target practice as all charges against the deputies have been dropped due to there being "not a lick of evidence".
I liked the movie well enough but I think it could have had a greater impact and a much wider audience if it had better editing and writing (yes, even documentaries need writing) and higher production values. As it is, it's an informative piece for the dog rescue community but I'm not sure how much general appeal it will have.
The show "Nature" on PBS produced an episode a while ago about the Katrina dog rescue work and I haven't seen it but the segments posted online look promising.
Animal Rescue New Orleans (ARNO), an organization created for and dedicated to the rescue and aid of abandoned and homeless animals in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina continues to work for animals in New Orleans.