This documentary follows five puppies from birth as they train to become guide dogs to the blind. We literally do get to see Potomac, Patriot, Primrose, Poppet, and Phil be born; all shiny and new, and a little slimy, to the world. By the age of two months they’re already being placed in homes where raisers will abide by strict rules to bring up ideal candidates for the guide dog training program. As Pick of the Litter constantly reminds us, not everyone will make it.
In fact, of 800 puppies born to the centre every year, only about 300 turn out to be suitable. The standards are exacting because the job is important. Matched with a visually impaired companion, these dogs will be the seeing eyes for their loved one, keeping them safe, but also giving them a sense of freedom that a cane just can’t mimic.
The film is far-reaching, documenting and interviewing everyone involved in the process – the vets, the families, the future recipients. When a dog is deemed unsuitable for the program, there are a lot of broken hearts. “Career changed” is the euphemism employed, though I’m not sure the dogs care or notice as much as we may think. There are many dedicated volunteers who invest a lot of time into these dogs and getting cut from the program can seem like a failure; indeed, there are far more applicants for guide dogs than can be handled in any given year.
It is a testament to the filmmakers, Don Hardy Jr. and Dana Nachman, that I myself felt rather emotionally invested in the process. A lot of love and effort is poured into these dogs before they ever meet their partners. It’s interesting to see the ins and outs of the process, particularly as many of us have noticed little dogs in training vests out and about with their handlers during training. This documentary lets us into the family, right into the dog’s crate, over a period of two years. It’s uplifting, it’s adorable, it’s sometimes bittersweet. It’s got everything but the wet nose.