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Member PageMember Page January 27 at 18:56
HBO - Shelter Dogs (long)

Off my Westie List:

From the Animal Ark Web site comes this chilling but provocative review of the Cynthia Wade - Sue Sternberg collaboration "Shelter Dogs". As we approach the HBO showing of Wade's docudrama that depicts the killing fields of Rondout Valley, one would wonder how animal overpopulation even remotely fits into Wade's rendition filmed in the scenic Catskill Mountains.

In December 1999, filmmaker Cynthia Wade, interested in making a film about ethics,
approached shelter owner Sue Sternberg and asked if she could document the events at Sue's facility. Sternberg not only offered unrestricted access to everything that happened at the shelter, but she also entrusted Wade with complete editorial control over the project.

What is equally disappointing is the dishonesty of film director/producer Cynthia Wade. While Wade has claimed she was interested in an honest appraisal of a "typical animal shelter" with it's daily dilemma's faced in trying to rehome the community's surplus dogs.

But not only is the message of killing dogs as a solution for animal control dishonest but so are the reasons captured in the films gruesome scenes. Sternberg claims that her killing is humane - that somehow she is doing all these dogs a favor rather than allowing them to spend their lives spinning endlessly in kennel runs but the real question spins around Sternberg's obsession with killing and ignorance of the role of rescue in helping to rehome rather than murder shelter dogs.

One thing you won't see in the film "Shelter Dogs" is the role of the rescue community in helping solve animal overpopulation in our community.

Equally dishonest is film producer Cynthia wade who claims to have a lifelong love affair with shelter dogs - but that love affair didn't prevent Wade from dumping her family pet at Rondout Valley when she was expecting the birth of her first child. Nor did the film explain how senseless owner surrenders often times fuel animal overpopulation with a majority of these animals being killed NOT adopted when new homes can't be found.

One would only wonder how the ratings might have improved if Wade had filmed HER participation in the difficult moral dilemma's of deciding if HER pet were to live or die.

But unfortunately this film has little to do with ethical honesty in raising the issues of animal overpopulation that many community's face. Instead, it is a love affair of Sternberg's career as self proclaimed "doggie Hitler" bent on ridding society of MILLIONS of innocent shelter dogs in her self-indulgent twisted dream of creating the perfect family shelter dog.

Had Wade demonstrated any artistic honesty she would have more accurately titled this made for HBO drama "The Life of Sue Sternberg - Self Professed Doggie Murderer Gone Wild" the public could have been prepared for the slick rendition of rehearsed murder scenario's attempting to spin Sternberg's role in the killing of innocent dogs into the of a heroine rather than the cowardice act of an empty soul.

Hero's don't murder innocent animals - cowards do.

"Shelter Dogs" A Disappointment - But Still Worth Watching
HBO Documentary Calls Attention to Pet Overpopulation, but with Dangerously Narrow Perspective

On January 27, 2004 a much-awaited documentary film will premiere on HBO. Directed by Cynthia Wade, "Shelter Dogs" is advertised as a film about pet overpopulation.

On the HBO web site the description of the film reads, "What happens to the approximately five million abandoned and unwanted dogs who end up in shelters across the U.S. each year? Only a quarter of America's shelter dogs ever find new homes, presenting a murky moral debate for those who care for the leftovers." Unfortunately, as a film about pet overpopulation in the United States, the film falls short.

"Shelter Dogs" is more about Rondout Valley Animals for Adoption that is run by Sue Sternberg in upstate New York than it is about pet overpopulation. In fairness to HBO, the company does include a line in the marketing about the film that reads, "Through a unique window into an upstate New York shelter, this documentary takes a hard, bold look at a tough dilemma."

Unfortunately, presenting such a narrow perspective on an issue as large and complex as pet overpopulation risks missing a major part of the story, which is exactly what happened in this case. Sue Sternberg and Rondout Kennels appear to have but one solution to the problem - kill pets. There is virtually no talk in the film of the kennels spay/neuter policies. There is no talk of microchipping or other pet identification programs. There is no talk of possible legislative changes that could help. The film, in fact, leaves the viewer with the impression that there is only one choice shelters have, to take animals in and kill them.

The film clearly suggests that this is the point of view of Sternberg, which is probably one of the reasons she comes off as an emotional shell of a human being who is, perhaps, all too ready to end the life of a pet.

In one particularly insightful scene, a small, black and frightened Cocker Spaniel is brought to her shelter. The poor dog is, clearly, suffering from neglect. He has ear infections. He is badly matted and in need of grooming. Without temperament testing the dog, Sternberg recommends ending the dog's life. Her staff objects, suggesting that until the ear infections are healed, and the grooming issues are addressed, they cannot effectively temperament test the dog to determine its adoptability. Sternberg tells the staff that she does not "feel" the dog will test well. However, after some argument with the staff, she agrees to hold off killing the dog until after it is stabilized and tested.

An even more telling scene comes when the dog is temperament tested by Sternberg for resource guarding behavior. Initially, Sternberg gives the dog a large bowl of very tempting food, a mix of kibble and canned food to ensure that it is eager to eat the meal. She then takes an artificial hand and begins to remove food from the dish while the dog is eating. Initially, there is no reaction from the dog. So she increases the stimulation on the dog. She begins pulling the dish away and poking the dog with the artificial hand, and continues to do this for quite some time, until the dog begins to display some mild resource guarding behavior. At that time, she removes the food and gives the dog a pig's ear and continues the poking and prodding in a more aggressive manner, which, to me, appeared to border on abuse.

Not surprisingly, the dog eventually becomes aggressive, at which time, Sternberg pulls out her own video camera and films the aggressive behavior. She then shows the tape to her staff to explain to them why she had to put the dog to sleep. No discussion about resource guarding behavior in dogs, or how dogs that exhibit this behavior can be trained. It appears she approached the temperament test expecting a specific outcome, and that she did whatever she could to achieve that outcome.

On the subject of no-kill shelters the film makes only one statement, that dogs that are "unadoptable" are either killed, or they live the rest of their lives in a cage, which, of course, is not true.

All-in-all, I think the film is interesting from the perspective of showing the emotional intensity involved in working at an animal shelter. It will also raise some awareness of pet overpopulation. Unfortunately, the film also makes a lot of assumptions and repeats misconceptions that could do more harm to the humane community than good.

Another documentary on the subject of pet overpopulation, titled "Best Friends Forgotten" that is hosted by David Duchovny will be showing soon on Animal Planet Canada and PBS in the USA. This film is likely to present a more complete and balanced story, including interviews with humane organizations in different communities.
Shelter Dog Links

HBO's Web Site

Schedule & Show Times


Sadly, the film "Shelter Dogs" could have documented the work of the many wonderful rescue/shelter groups like Animal ARK located in St Paul MN. In stark contrast to the killing of Rondout Valley comes Animal Ark - a NO KILL shelter located in St Paul MN.

From Animal Ark's Web site we learn the truth about animal overpopulation in our community's and how groups like Animal Ark seek out solutions that DON'T include mass murder like the message delivered by Sternberg's Rondout Valley Kennels.

From the Animal Ark Web site we learn -

"Every year in the United States millions of dogs and cats are abandoned by their owners. Many of these pets are destroyed by the animal shelters that were founded to save them. An estimated 20,000 dogs and cats are killed in shelters and pounds in the Twin Cities area each year. Unlike other shelters, Animal Ark maintains a "no-kill" philosophy to animal rescue and adoption. Animal Ark will not put a pet to sleep unless it is terminally ill and suffering, or unless it poses a risk to human safety. Pets in our care receive medical attention, training and socialization. The largest no-kill shelter in the Twin Cities, Animal Ark serves more than a thousand pets each year."

"While sheltering homeless pets is vitally important, Animal Ark also understands that pet shelters are not a solution to the nation's pet overpopulation problem. Solving the pet overpopulation problem will require social transformation. Teaching respect for living things; reinforcing the bond between humans and animals; advocating large-scale sterilization and identification programs; teaching and modeling responsible pet ownership - these are the things we believe will help to end the needless killing of dogs and cats in our shelters and pounds. Animal Ark has been a leader in the Twin Cities concerning these kinds of programs. We pride ourselves in teaching responsible pet guardianship by serving as a model to our community."

"We ask people to understand that although we pamper and care for our pets, each of our animals is still missing the most important thing in their lives. . . a home and family of their own."


To learn more on temperament testing -

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Pam and pups
January 27 at 21:29
Re: HBO - Shelter Dogs (long) Reply to this Message

I watched this show, either crying or trying to keep from doing so the whole time. My Harley was beside me--visibly upset--sucking on his hip the entire time--. He could hear the howling of the dogs. Molly watched too. She was visibly trying to change the subject.

In testing that cocker--she DID push the envelope beyond anything reasonable. She was attempting to groom that pup with its ear infections and all and not once did he move to harm her and the darned clippers kept breaking and she was PULLING out his hair. Then when she is testing the dog with the pig's ear---she just kept at him and kept at him until he did something. He did not respond at first!

I really tried to keep an open mind on this film.

Of the four dogs in this house at this moment, I think only two MIGHT pass the tests she gave and NONE of them would make it past that pig's ear test. We, however, are smart enough to know that we just do not have rawhides or pig's ears in the house. If it inhumane to do so, then we are inhumane but the dogs get along great without them.

I am totally dumbfounded here and am sitting here shaking my head in disbelief.

I am not even sure there was no hanky panky involved with the 12 year old dog that was obviously in bad shape at the end---just a few days after entering the shelter.

It was a heartbreaking look at the topic. I taped some of it and will make myself watch it again to try to get some sense out of it.

I realize that people in the shelters sometimes have to make awful decisions---and do not envy them their job; indeed I could not do it.

I can still remember holding my sweet Maggie Mae when letting them put her to sleep was the best I could do for her--I will never forget that nor the other animals we have had that we had to help die. But for these animals there was a reason. I am certainly not convinced there was reason for the dogs I saw euthanized in this program.
Washington Gang
Member PageMember Page January 27 at 23:32
Re: HBO - Shelter Dogs (long) Reply to this Message

I don't think I could watch this program. I wouldn't be able to sleep for days if I did. Until we stop being a "throw away" society, the problem of unwanted dogs is going to continue. I think the people that really, really care about their animals, this movie would hit them hard and the ones that don't still won't care much.
Lynda and the Minkies
Member PageMember Page January 28 at 03:19
Re: HBO - Shelter Dogs (long) Reply to this Message

This sounds a horrible place and she is a bloody cow. That's awful to read of the temperament testing. Plus the film-maker sounds no better....hope she's proud of herself.
January 28 at 05:34
Re: HBO - Shelter Dogs (long) Reply to this Message

So did the poor Cocker Spaniel get PTS.

Pam and pups
January 28 at 07:50
Re: HBO - Shelter Dogs (long) Reply to this Message

Yes--at 3 years old--a beautiful little black cocker. We had a cocker---he would have done the same thing--we were just careful and he lived happily to 14 years old!
Member PageMember Page January 28 at 10:09
Re: HBO - Shelter Dogs (long) Reply to this Message

I don't know if I could wathch this show. I grieved every time we had to help end the lives of our dogs. They were family and I don't envy those who have this type of job. It is such a shame. It is very upsetting how people can be so irresponsible with their pets. I see it every day with people I work with buying dogs for their little kids only to "ditch" them when "little johnny" or "little susie" doesn't like them anymore. And this is how they end up? Thank God for our rescue people. They work hard to care for these little ones and find them good homes. I will hold my two babies a little closer after reading this post. So glad my Mandie didn't end up dumped and disposed of. What a loss that would have been.
Petey and the Wigglebutts
Member PageMember Page January 28 at 10:14
Re: HBO - Shelter Dogs (long) Reply to this Message

We don't subscribe to HBO. Mom would have loved to watch just to see what was said...but sounds like it was a big sad mess. Glad we didn't see it...don't know if we could have handled it...especially Princess.

Pam an dpups
January 28 at 10:47
Re: HBO - Shelter Dogs (long) Reply to this Message

It was very sad and depressing--with little mention of any rescue organizations. The mention that was made showed them not getting much cooperation and the shelter doing the calling.

I HATE that I saw it but I just have to see things for myself--I cannot take other's word for it most of the time---. It was a sad and pathetic look at the topic. As I said, I was either crying or fighting back tears the entire time--Harley was in distress and even Molly too. The other two did not watch.
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