Dogs are better than humans. That’s just a fact. The upcoming documentary We Don’t Deserve Dogs, currently on the festival circuit, is cinematic proof. The film not only pays tribute to our furry friends, but ponders why on Earth they’re so good to us. In some cases, we’ve certainly earned canine companionship, but in others, we clearly do not deserve dogs. The movie leans into both elements, which makes it incredibly compelling to watch, both for animal lovers and those strange folk who are indifferent to four-legged friends. Making dogs into the focus of almost a character study is an interesting choice, but one that definitely pays off here.
We Don’t Deserve Dogs takes a global approach to studying the simple yet incredibly special ways that dogs have been able to influence our lives on a daily basis. Of course, not every country is like the United States, in terms of our near worship of pets. What’s interesting here, and what may come as a surprise to some viewers, is that it’s not a matter of other nations disregarding dogs. In many, and in particular, in some unexpected places, there are people and cultures that place an even higher value on them. It’ll come as a pleasant surprise to those audience members, though even if you’re already in the know about it, it’ll still be pleasurable to witness.
The documentary travels all over the world to depict not just why people need dogs, but to also question if we deserve their unconditional love. The people include former child soldiers in Uganda, a dog walker in Istanbul, the drinkers at a small pup in a Scottish town, and more. The dogs include the owner-less Chino in Chile, who wanders the streets, making friends everywhere. The rest almost all have owners, ones who care for and love these animals in a big way. Never going for any manipulation like narrative movies like Marley & Me (which, admittedly, I like a lot), the doc still pulls at your heartstrings with many a shot of a dog’s soulful eyes.
Each location reveals a different way that dogs and humans have a special relationship. There’s even a sequence set in Vietnam, where dogs are still sometimes consumed as food, though thankfully things also move on to Nepal, where a special festival has our relationship with dogs as downright sacred.
The dogs may come in various shapes and sizes, but they all leave an emotional impact. In particular, the dogs in Uganda are working as unconventional therapy pets, which can break your heart. The way the sit with their owners, listening while their horror stories are told, you can’t help but know that, somehow, they understand. The Scottish segment, on the other hand, is far more conventional, but leaves you with a lump in your throat, nonetheless.
Filmmaker Matthew Salleh certainly is an animal lover. We Don’t Deserve Dogs is his way of putting puppers on a pedestal, which many of us can easily identify with. This is more than just worship, as Salleh displays a keen sense of editing, allowing his points to be made subtlety, yet pointedly. Even the Vietnam segment, which is done without judgment, has a soft touch, leading into the final segments, which leave quite an impact as well.
We Don’t Deserve Dogs may well make you tear up. That’s not the main intent, however, as it’s more about reminding people how complex our relationship with dogs really is. To that end, it’s wildly successful, even if it turns out to be a different experience than you’d initially expect. This observational documentary is a wonderful look at man’s best friend.