Film: Dogs on the Inside (2014)

February 2, 2015 | By


DogsOnTheInside_poster_sFilm: Very Good

Transfer:  n/a

Extras:  n/a

Label:  n/a

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Released:   n/a

Genre:  Documentary

Synopsis: Tender portrait of a program in which inmates at a Massachusetts prison train rescued dogs prior to adoption by families.

Special Features:   n/a




Directors Brean Cunningham and Douglas Seirup manage to maintain a very careful balance in this poignant portrait of a special program in which stray dogs from the American South are rescued, physically rehabilitated, and trucked up to a Massachusetts prison where minimum security inmates train the dogs over an 8 week period before they’re adopted by (primarily) families.

Running a taut 67 mins., Dogs on the Inside could easily have had larger sections detailing the plight of the dogs prior to being rescued, footage of additional inmates discussing their own personal histories, and lengthy follow-up material showing the dogs with their new families, but the film’s focus is on the program Don’t Throw Us Away, and the unique bond between two creatures whose lives have been filled with complex emotional, psychological, and sometimes physical challenges.

The dogs spend time in the inmates’ rooms, training in the front yard, and playing with other dogs in a large fenced area, but it’s the private moments where inmates find common ground with their dogs, talking to them, comforting them, and recognizing the impact of a prolonged trauma caused by owner neglect, abandonment, or outright cruelty.

There are three narrative streams in Dogs: the rescuers who patrol local streets in search of lost canine souls, the inmates (of which about five are central figures in the doc), and the prison staff who use the program as a means to break down the inmates’ masks and tough skins. The second chance given to the dogs also offers similar hope to the program’s selected inmates who find even greater reason to resolve their past events, and ultimately reunite with their own families, and rebuild their lives with the same care and attention given to the dogs.

The most poignant figures are Candido, an inmate who poetically articulates the need for second chances and loving something and someone; and a dog named Sadie, found in a dump with puppies, and wearing a perpetual expression of deep-rooted psychological pain. As the dog rescuers often restate, many dogs come from homes where they were once loved, making their progress from traumatized minds to beloved creatures deeply affecting.

The directors’ cinematography and editing is first rate, and Sam Gray’s instrumental and vocal songs that make up the score perfectly capture the locations and the emerging bond between inmate and dog.  Dogs on the Inside screens this week, starting Friday Feb. 6, at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.



© 2015 Mark R. Hasan



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