(*homocinematically inclined)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Reverend's Reviews: Pets in the Eye of the Storm

While I was still serving as a priest in Phoenix, I had the privilege of ministering for a time to a large group of Hurricane Katrina refugees who had been re-located there. Among them was a man with his pet dog. The pair were fortunate to have gotten out of New Orleans together, before most residents being evacuated were told they had to leave their pets behind.

The award-winning documentary Mine debuts on DVD today, and serves as a gripping, revelatory account of the little-known pet crisis that resulted from the 2005 double-whammy of Katrina and Hurricane Rita. It is estimated that 150,000 pets died in the cities impacted, while 15,000 survivors were distributed to 500 animal shelters across the US but without good documentation. Some of those pets' owners are still searching for their beloved animals five years later, and those that have been located haven't always ended up back in their owners' arms due to claims of ownership and legal challenges from their more recent caretakers.

Mine follows the plight of five New Orleans residents desperately trying to get their dogs back. Since so many GLBT people own pets in the absence of children, it may be easier for us to sympathize with the pain and guilt these hurricane victims feel. It is shocking, then, to hear the animals' new families accuse their rightful owners of abandonment and abuse, and to make the claim that it is in the dogs' "best interest" to not be returned to their Louisiana homes. As one ignorant foster caretaker judgmentally states in the film, "Katrina was the best thing to happen to these pets."

Geralyn Pezanoski directs with an admirable restraint when it comes to what must have been a great temptation at times to make some of the people in the film look like villains. While Mine contains moments of sheer heartbreak, there are also joyous reunions of some of the owners with their pets (additional reunion footage is included on the DVD as a bonus). It also shows the truly heroic risks taken and lengths gone to by animal rescue workers who, rightly anticipating a neglected crisis situation, descended on New Orleans from throughout the US in the storms' aftermath. Their efforts, even if imperfect, to secure care for so many pets deserve immeasurable gratitude.

Pezanoski says in a statement inside the DVD case that it is the director's hope "that the film will promote much needed dialogue not just about how we treat our animals, but how we treat each other." Mine is an essential discussion-starter, as we surely haven't seen the last of disasters that will test the limits of love, compassion and human decency.

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.

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