Film Reviews

Review: ‘Pick of the Litter’

Hot Docs 2018


Pick of the Litter
(USA, 79 min.)
Dir. Dana Nachman, Don Hardy
Programme: Special Presentations (International Premiere)

Call it puppy love. It’s impossible to resist the sheer volume of adorableness packed into Pick of the Litter. This crowd-pleasing and doggone adorable doc by Dana Nachman and Don Hardy introduces audiences to five extremely cute puppies as they endeavour to become guide dogs for the blind. One watches as a veterinarian delivers Phil, Poppet, Potomac, Primrose, and Patriot from their mother, and it’s love at first sight when these little puppies wiggle and roll in their first moments of life.

Then come their first steps as they stumble and tumble through the nursery, and soon they’re off to foster homes as the puppies begin their training. The doc, light and harmlessly fluffy, shows through these five beautiful dogs how many lives are touched by the animals as the puppies learn to aid the blind.

Nachman and Hardy follow the five dogs as they move into foster homes where volunteer caregivers teach them the groundwork to become guide dogs. Strict lessons in obedience dog the five puppies as they adjust to their roles with varying degrees of success. Phil, Poppet, and Primrose look to be on the right track with their docile behaviour, attentiveness, and obedience, while their brother Patriot is hilariously wound-up with excitement while Potomac’s low attention-span worries her devoted caregiver.

The volunteers form tight bonds with the dogs even though they know they’re staying only temporarily. Any tenure can be cut short if a dog is “career changed” (i.e.: deemed unfit to be a guide dog) and he or she is taken from the owner.

Guide Dogs for the Blind seems insensitive to the emotional bonds people make with animals as the organization strips the dogs in training from their masters. One furious trainer, for example, describes being blindsided when the organization called out of the blue to say that the dog was going to somebody else—and that shuffling him from one home to another was part of the plan all along.

More significant than the incredibly high cuteness factor is the sense of duty these dogs and trainers carry in their work. The doc features the stories of two visually impaired humans, Ron and Janet, as they go about their routines with the aid of a cane rather than a dog. Their experiences lets viewers appreciate the extra mobility and freedom a guide dog provides, as opposed to an impersonal cane that can’t anticipate the movement of an oncoming vehicle or avoid tricky cracks in the sidewalks. There’s a great deal of human drama for each dog as several parties are invested in his or her future.

It’s easy to see how one can become attached to the dogs. All five of them have distinct personalities and temperaments that make for highly entertaining viewing. Their giddy playfulness is infectious and the film has audiences cheering the dogs on as they complete difficult exercises and exams to test their viability.

It would be impossible to watch Pick of the Litter and fail to find an affinity with one of the dogs. Each pup is an underdog in its own right, and they all strive to perfect their training to fulfill their destinies. As some of the puppies fail to make the cut and transition to “civilian life” and others advance in their training, Pick of the Litter leaves audiences rooting for these little dogs—and the humanity that links man and beast in their quests.

Hot Docs runs April 26 to May 6. Please visit hotdocs.ca for more info.

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