FREE PUPPIES Review–The Trials of Animal Rescue

Footage is shown of two women–Monda Wooten and Ruth Smith–responding to a potential hoarding situation in the backwoods of Georgia. Amidst the barking of dogs and shots of the animals running around, Monda explains to the trailer owners that they need to stop the overpopulation problem before they keep having the same situation with different litters–in essence, they cannot save the dogs as quickly as they can breed with each other. Monda’s voice is gentle but firm as she explains this fact to the two men, offering to take a mother and her puppies away for spaying and veterinary treatment to help curb the problem, yet it is clear through her tone and the interspersing footage of stray dogs residing on the property that the concern of the situation turning too dire to be salvaged is very real. 

Such conflicts–notably the growing problem of overpopulation among stray animals in the South–is at the heart of Free Puppies. Serving to deeply involve us in the lives of several women dog rescuers from the southern United States, the documentary intercuts the lives of these individuals with footage of the dogs they have rescued or testimony from other rescue personnel. The juxtaposition helps to drive home the point of overpopulation being an issue that plagues all animal shelters throughout America–but most of all in the South, where resources are not as freely given. 

This problem of resources is one stressed during the narrative of Free Puppies. At one point during the documentary, the history of animal rescue in the United States is covered, with an infographic shown of the states–helpful shading shown to show the euthansia rate around the country–over narration explaining that the euthansia rate has decreased by 90% everywhere but in the southern states. This is often due to undesirable locations for shelters, worries about the local climate serving to damage shelter buildings, or more. Monda Wooten, herself a commissioner for roads in her county, explains that their local shelter is next to the water treatment plant, a location undesirable for both her fellow rescuers and the dogs the shelter takes in. While she is hoping to lobby for a new shelter to be built, she explains that the issue was put on the backburner by the commission, and she was forced to concentrate on spay/neuter efforts for the county instead. This point is driven further home by testimony from Diane Franklin, a director of an animal shelter in Whitfield County in Georgia. She states that while emphasis is put on transporting animals out of the South to help with the population crisis, there must also be a focus on making southern shelters able to self-sustain. In essence, she stresses, “smaller shelters need more resources''. 

FREE PUPPIES Tackles Issues Facing Southern Rescues

Free Puppies is a documentary that is never afraid to shy away from the conflicts facing both these women and rescues as a whole. Monda, at several points throughout the documentary, talks about both the struggles facing the local rescues and southern rescues as a whole–mainly that there are no spay/neuter laws in their county of Georgia, something which would help to keep the population problem to a low. At another point, Leslie Ledbetter, a director of an animal shelter in Dekalb County, Alabama, explains that shelters can take in as many as 400 animals a month during the peak of spring and summer–animals which then face challenges in getting adopted out, especially in shelters where euthansia is used. Annette Lafuze, an animal shelter volunteer, speaks during playtime with one of the dogs she supervises, saying that she tries her hardest to get the dogs under her care adopted. “Doesn’t always work, but you do what you can,” she says quietly, her voice choking up as the stakes that these animals face in shelters seem to hit both her and the viewer simultaneously. 

The documentary never tries to downplay the struggles that face independent rescues, or the very real danger that animals can still face upon not getting adopted in kill shelters. But through it all, there is a hopeful light. Monda talks about how her rescue endeavors have helped to inspire other people to take up the cause as well, in amongst footage of her rescuing and interacting with a large and friendly redbone hound–who later goes to a family of absolutely ecstatic young children. At the end of Free Puppies, an adoption event is shown over jaunty music playing, showing that while not every animal can be saved from a shelter, there is still hope for those who can be–and hope for small shelters and independent rescuers to get the help and resources that they need from their local communities.

Free Puppies, while not having a strict narrative structure the way other documentaries might, is still able to have an emotional impact upon its viewers. The personal tales of the women rescuers help to drive home the potential impact of the population crisis in the South, and help the viewer to sympathize with the difficulties they face. It is a documentary that is not afraid to tackle the more emotional aspects of animal rescue, yet is still careful to end on a positive note–something which other documentaries covering the same subject may fall short at. 

Anyone interested in learning more about the multi-faceted world of animal rescue–or, for that matter, anyone who wishes to involve themselves in understanding and assisting with the problems that may plague their local rescues–will get enjoyment out of Free Puppies. While discussion of the topics is brief, a viewer who may be sensitive to topics of animal euthansia may wish to avoid this film. 


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Run time: 70 minutes

Cast and Crew:

Samantha Wishman- Director, Producer, Editor
Christina Thomas- Director, Co-Producer, Editor
Muffie Meyer- Story Editor
Carter McCormick- Director of Photography
Eliot Popko- Director of Photography
Joey McCormick and Willard Hamilton- Original Music

For more information please visit Free Puppies website.

Images courtesy of Free Puppies

Aliza Brylinsky

About the Author: Aliza Brylinsky

Aliza Brylinsky is an aspiring writer based in Ithaca, New York. Originally from a small town in Pennsylvania, Aliza spent much of her life surrounded by pieces of literature, which fostered a deep love for the written word and the effect that it can have on a wider audience. Often writing short fantasy stories for fun and imagining the intricate plotlines that the characters would be involved in as a child, this eventually led her to pursue a path to writing professionally. When not focusing on both creative and professional writing, Aliza can be found enjoying the bounties of nature around her home, reading works of fantasy and sci-fi, and smothering her various pets with all the love she can give them. She has a deep interest in the history and culture of any area she happens to find herself in.

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