There are many people who refer to their pet dogs and cats as “the other children”, and with good reason. We give our pets names, we give them shelter, feed them, and as a result, the animals adore us as much as we adore them. They also give us responsibility, and for others, they keep us company. They are, in essence, a part of the family. When tragedy strikes, there are those who are separated from the family dog or cat, as human lives are more favored. However, during and after the events of Hurricane Katrina, the treatment of some of the left behind pets is called into question by filmmaker Tom McPhee in this heartbreaking documentary.
Heartbreaking in a sense because while the audience will hear more stories regarding Katrina surviviors, a controversial incident at St. Bernard’s Parish is also exposed, where dogs and cats were dropped off by thier owners during the flood. Once the owners were away on boats, some St. Bernard sheriff’s officers opened fire on the animals of which few survived. As the footage shows dried animal blood on the floors and walls, Tom McPhee and film editor Scott Lynch throw in ghost like images of dogs and cats. While one officer claims that what he and others under his authority did were ‘humane mercy killings’, we also see the video footage captured by David Leeson of the Dallas Morning News which shows officers in pickup trucks after he flood water had receded, and literally going out and killing dogs – even non aggresive ones -who had survived the hurricane and the flood. The footage is hard to watch at times, and because of the video, those officers involved in the shootings are facing charges of aggravated animal cruelty.
There is also light shed on the owners who, after losing thier homes, may have been homeless for a time and/or had to live in shelters before getting phones to use or returning to thier residences. Because of the animal shelter’s bureaucracy, several pets were put up for adoption before the owners could make a claim. When some pets were found, even though required by law, the new ‘adopted’ owners would not give the animals back to the original owners. Part of the reason, the documentary points out, is that the new owners may indeed have become attatched to the animals. The other reason is that the new owners might also believe that the former owners of the animals mistreated them- otherwise why leave the pets behind. The truth it seems, that they were told to, and no pets were allowed on the rescue boats.
Yet the documentary isn’t all doom and gloom. There’s also a section where slowly, New Orleans and the surrounding area picks up (although a few signs clearly show some distaste for the mayor’s then ‘chocolate’ comments) and one celebration is a dog show. There is even a long, but touching owner-pet reunion, where one could not really tell who was happier: the owner or his long lost dog. An American Opera is a moving, effective documentary which deserves some more attention.
An American Opera
Directed by: Tom McPhee
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