senior dog

An interview with filmmaker Gorman Bechard about “Seniors a Dogumentary.”

Senior dogs are “in,” as they should be.

Your face may hurt from smiling throughout the majority of this film and, although there are a few instances that may bring a few tears, it is well worth it to experience the dedication and tribute given to these sweet and magnificent creatures that have been historically cast aside or overlooked.” —Karen PonziThe New Haven Independent

Senior dogs and other nonhuman animals (animals) are wonderful beings from whom we can learn a lot about them and ourselves.  A few years ago I interviewed award-winning filmmaker Gorman Bechard about his landmark film, A Dog Named Gucci, and now I’m pleased to present another interview with Gorman about his new and outstanding film, Seniors a Dogumentary that will be released on most viewing platforms on Tuesday, September 29th.1

The trailer can be seen here. I’ve watched Seniors a number of times and have thought a lot about an interview I did with award-winning photographer Isa Leshko about her book called Allowed to Grow Old: Portraits of Elderly Animals from Farm Sanctuaries that is packed with moving images that portray heart, dignity, and an array of unique and fascinating personalities.

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Source: Gorman Bechard, with permission

Here’s what Gorman had to say about his newest work — a film I’ve watched over and over again because it is that good.

Why did you make Seniors?

With my first animal welfare film A Dog Named Gucci, I would hear time and again how people wanted to watch the film, but couldn’t. They were frightened off by the potential images of violence, despite me saying there were very few in the film. That the film was more about what we can all do to give a voice to animals.

In approaching my second animal welfare film I knew immediately that I wanted it to be a “happy” film, one that I would bill as such. It started when I heard about Chaser, and reached out to Dr. Pilley to ask if I could interview him and film his amazing dog in action. But I knew that wasn’t the whole of my story. Once my wife and co-producer Kristine introduced me to the Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary, the film began to take shape. 

It would be a documentary about the vitality of senior dogs. How much life and love they have to give. My hope was to create a film that would make people think twice about taking home the puppy from the shelter and choosing that senior instead. Adding Jane Sobel Klonsky and her amazing photography to the film helped me tell the story in a fun and beautiful way. I never had to show a senior dog suffering in a shelter cage. Instead, I show you what a senior dog can add to your life.2  [For an interview with Ms. Klonsky, see “Older Dogs: Giving Elder Canines Lots of Love and Good Lives.”]

How does your new film relate to your background and general areas of interest?

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I have three passions in my life: music, New Haven pizza, and dogs. I’ve made films about all of them. That passion about the greatest animal on the planet is all I have in the way of background. But I’ve always believed that when creating something artistic, whether it be a painting, book, song, or film, that passion was the single greatest ingredient. It’s using what I know I do best to help educate the public and save dogs

Source: Gorman Bechard, with permission

Who is your intended audience?

It’s wide open here. Anyone who has ever owned and loved a dog will find something in this film that will either educate, entertain, or simply bring a smile to their face. And in this world right now, I can’t think of anything better than making people smile and saving dogs with the same film. 

What are some of the topics you weave into your film and what are some of your major messages?  

Aside from the major message that senior dogs are still so full of life, I wanted to drive home the point that dogs are a lot smarter than most of us believe. That grew out of something Doug James said in A Dog Named Gucci when people would ask why he was working so hard to change animal laws when it was “just a dumb dog.” Like Doug, I truly believe there is no such thing as a dumb dog. There are plenty of dumb owners, but don’t ever blame the dog. Chaser is proof of that. That their ability to learn is only limited by the amount of time we spend teaching.

And also that dogs are family. And they should be treated as such, with the same respect we give people, especially in their senior years. Dogs have given us their lifetime of unconditional love, play, walks, and even sympathy, and we owe it to them to be with them and to take care of them until their final breath. I truly believe only a horrible person could ever dump a senior dog at a shelter because they weren’t worth taking care of anymore. I would gladly turn that around and hope the same thing happens to that person when they are older and can’t fend for themselves. Such a complete lack of compassion for a dog is inconceivable and horrifying to me.

How does your film differ from others that are concerned with some of the same general topics? 

It’s unlike virtually every animal welfare film ever made because you will never have to turn away from an image of abuse in this film. You won’t even see a dog in a cage. There’s nothing even remotely horrific. It’s a happy film that celebrates life, intelligence, compassion, and commitment. It literally will have you smiling from ear to ear. Even kids will love it.

Are you hopeful things will change for the better as people learn about the cognitive and emotional lives of senior canine citizensremarkable eldersand what they want and need from us?

My hope is that we never see another senior dog dumped at a shelter, or left to die in the woods. There’s a great Kurt Vonnegut quote from Breakfast of Champions: “We are healthy only to the extent that our ideas are humane.” I’ll take it one step further, our ideas and our actions. We need to treat other life on this planet the way we ourselves would like to be treated. And if we can’t start with dogs, who give more to us than our fellow humans, then we’re lost as a culture.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers?

Treat your dog as you would a most beloved family member because that is how your dog treats you.

References

Note

1) Gorman Bechard has directed 18 feature films including rock documentaries on The Replacements, Grant Hart, Archers of Loaf, Lydia Loveless, Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, and soon Wilco’s Jay Bennett.  He has also directed the animal-rights film A Dog Named Gucci, which won the prestigious and rarely awarded ASPCA Media Excellence Award in 2015.  He is the author of 5 novels, including the religious satire, The Second Greatest Story Ever Told.  He is the executive director/programmer of NHdocs: the New Haven Documentary Film Festival.  He lives in New Haven, CT with his wife Kristine and their two dogs, Springsteen and Dylan.

2) SENIORS is a feature-length documentary full of love, hope, and second chances.  It focuses on three interwoven stories about senior dogs.  There’s Chaser, the smartest dog in the world.  Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary, a retirement home for dogs in Tennessee.  And famed photographer, Jane Sobel Klonsky, who has devoted much of her talents towards capturing the bond between elderly dogs and their owners.  Unlike most animal documentaries, our goal is to highlight the positive.  No abuse will be shown in SENIORS.  This film will celebrate senior dogs and many of the seniors who love them.  It will show how vibrant they are, and how much they can offer to the world.  This will be the animal welfare film everyone can watch, leaving viewers grinning from ear-to-ear, and showing how old dogs really can teach us new tricks.

Bekoff, Marc. Dog Dementia: What it Looks Like and What Can Done About it.

_____. Allowed to Grow Old: Radiant Portraits of Elderly Animals. (A collection of moving images portrays heart, dignity, and unique personalities.)

_____.  Special Needs and Senior Dogs Rock: They, Too, Need Love. (Aging, disabled, and injured dogs deserve to live happy and healthy lives.)

_____.  Hospice For Dogs: Let Them Have Whatever They Want and Love. (When deciding how to give an ailing dog the best life possible, consult them.)

_____. My Old Dog: Rescued Seniors Show that Old Dogs Rock.

_____. Older Dogs: Giving Elder Canines Lots of Love and Good Lives

_____.   What’s a Good Life for an Old Dog? (At the end of life is a tasty treat better than pills with major side effects?)

Chapel, Gurpal. Dog Dementia: What is Canine Cognitive Dysfunction? Companion Animal Psychology. 

Marty’s Place, Senior Dog Sanctuary 

Originally published on Psychology Today and republished here with the kind permission of the author, Marc Bekoff, Ph.D.

Author’s Books on Amazon

A Dog’s World: Imagining the Lives of Dogs in a World without Humans

Canine Confidential: Why Dogs Do What They Do

Unleashing Your Dog: A Field Guide to Giving Your Canine Companion the Best Life Possible

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Marc Bekoff is professor emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He has published 31 books, won many awards for his research on animal behavior, animal emotions, compassionate conservation, and animal protection, has worked closely with Jane Goodall, and is a former Guggenheim Fellow. Marc's latest books are Canine Confidential: Why Dogs Do What They Do and Unleashing Your Dog: A Field Guide to Giving Your Canine Companion the Best Life Possible (with Jessica Pierce) and he also publishes regularly for Psychology Today. Currently, Marc and Jessica are writing a book about what the world will be like for dogs as and when humans disappear (Dogs Gone Wild: Imagining the Lives of Dogs in a World Without Humans, Princeton University Press, 202?). In 1986 Marc won the Master's age-graded Tour de France. His homepage is marcbekoff.com.