A film about dog abuse with many happy endings

Last week I learned of a film called "A Dog Named Gucci," went to the web to read about it, and immediately purchased it. I watched it once, found myself going back to it again, and all told, I've seen the whole film or parts many times in the past few days. It is that inspirational and so full of hope. "A Dog Named Gucci" is about dog abuse with many happy endings. I was astounded to learn that it's been estimated that around one million companion animals are abused each year in the United States alone. 

Gucci; Courtesy of Gorman Bechard
Source: Gucci; Courtesy of Gorman Bechard

I don't know where to begin telling you about it, so here's a brief description. And, below is an interview with Gorman Bechard who directed it. The synopsis reads:

He was hung by his neck, punched repeatedly, doused with lighter fluid, and set afire. That should have been the last thing a ten-week old puppy named Gucci would ever experience. His last contact with humans. His final moments of life.

But Doug James, standing on his porch nearby, heard the puppy’s cries and ran to help. He scared away the cowardly thugs who had perpetrated this heinous crime, and at the request of Gucci’s 15-year-old runaway owner, took the dog in for the night.

Thus began a 16-year odyssey of devotion and perseverance

When Gucci was rescued by Doug, it seemed impossible that the badly burned pup would make it through the night. But Gucci, a Chow-Husky-mix, would live for sixteen years as Doug’s companion. As Gucci recovered, Doug did everything in his power to see that the dog’s three assailants were punished. However, the laws in Alabama were not on Gucci’s side. At worst the guilty would receive slaps on the wrists. That was not enough in the eyes of Doug James.

Together with local legislators, and with Gucci always faithfully by his side, Doug would see the “Gucci Bill” passed, changing the laws in Alabama and making domestic animal abuse a felony. He would witness Gucci go from being a survivor . . . to a rock star.

An interview with director, screenwriter, and novelist Gorman Bechard and how Gucci became the face of animal abuse in the south

I just had to know more about Gucci and the other dogs and most amazing humans who were featured in "A Dog Named Gucci" so I reached out to Mr. Bechard and he agreed to answer a few questions about the film and his own work. Here's what he said, 

Can you please tell us about yourself and how you got interested in Gucci's story?

I've been telling stories in one way or another since 1983.  I began my career making horror films, switching to almost exclusively writing novels and scripts in the 1990s, then back to narrative films in 2002. But I didn't make my first documentary until "Color Me Obsessed," a film about The Replacements in 2011, when the film about my favorite band literally fell into my lap. That led to two other rock documentaries. But then my wife Kristine and I started thinking about the power of the medium, and how we could perhaps use it to make change in the world.  We turned towards one passion we both share: dogs. Kristine, who co-produced "A Dog Named Gucci," had been following the many online rescue groups and was passionate about finding a way to help dogs in distress. She would send me many of these stories. Most made me angry, but there wasn't a captivating story.  It was a horribly abused dog, with no resolution. And then the day before we were about to leave on a 20th anniversary vacation (September 2012) she sends me an email. I ask her why she's sending me another abuse story right before vacation. She tells me: "read this one. It has a happy ending." Of course it was the Gucci story, and not only did it have a happy ending, it had a hero, it had conflict, it had a three act structure. It was a complete story that perfectly illustrated how each one of us has the power to effect change in the world.  I immediately reached out to Doug James via email.  And by the time we landed in Key West the next day, he had written back. We were filming a few months later.

Courtesy of Gorman Bechard
Source: Courtesy of Gorman Bechard

What is your film all about?

"A Dog Named Gucci" is about how we have a responsibility to be the voice for the voiceless and the power that we as individuals have to make change in the world. It follows not only Doug and Gucci's amazing story, but also the stories of three other dogs, also horribly abused, and the passion their owners brought to changing the law and making sure it wouldn't happen again. I hope the film is inspiring. That it shows us that even something as simple as sharing a Facebook post can make a difference. And I hope it opens eyes to the vast amount of abuse that is out there, and how it's up to us to stop it. Doug James and Gucci were a remarkable duo. Gucci became the face of animal abuse in the south, with Doug always by his side. So in that respect the film is also a story of one of the most beautiful friendships of all time. (You can also purchase Doug James' book called .) 

How has it been received?

It's been really well received. We've received emails and messages from people near and far telling us how the film inspired them to take action for animals. We've had a director of a shelter for at-risk people tell us of the policy changes she was working on to help those who arrive with their animals. We've had people tell us of stepping up to volunteer with their local rescue groups. We've had people reach out from activist groups, student organizations, and rescues to organize screenings to benefit their local shelters. Though we do run into the people who are afraid of having to turn away.  To them I say, watch the film. There is very little actual abuse shown. Instead the film focuses on Gucci the survivor, how he thrived under the watchful eye of Doug James and how together they galvanized a community to speak up for animals. The film will inspire you. It's available on DVD, and many streaming platforms like iTunes and Amazon Prime, and on some cable pay-per-view systems.  

Did making this film make you more aware of, or more sensitive to, the plight of domestic and other animals?

We recently adopted a puppy from the shelter in Mobile, Alabama where the Gucci memorial is located. Dylan was ten weeks old the first time I held her, the same age as Gucci when he was abused. She was so small and helpless, and I connected her to Gucci, and actually felt rage that anyone could harm such an innocent creature. When you look at the eye-opening statistics at the end of my film, not only how many animals are abused in the U.S. each year, but how so few of the abusers are ever arrested or prosecuted, it's truly shocking. But that is the power of a good documentary. Think of how "Blackfish" opened eyes to what was going on at Sea World. I'm hoping Gucci can do the same.  

What are you current projects?

 Most relevant is a film we've just started work on called "Seniors." It's a look at senior dogs in our often disposable society. The film will focus on how loving, vibrant, and intelligent they are. We've spent time with Chaser, the smartest dog in the world.  We will be working with the Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary in Tennessee.  And also spending time with Jane Sobel Klonsky, a brilliant photographer who specializes in senior dogs. We will of course be covering the plight of senior dogs in shelters with a focus on why no senior dog should be without a loving home. It's the animal documentary that focuses on the positive. I think the world is ready for one. (Please see my interview with Jane Klonksy called "Older Dogs: Giving Elder Canines Lots of Love and Good Lives." Jane told me about the film and kindly put me in touch with Gorman.)

Is there anything else you'd like to tell readers?

"A Dog Named Gucci" grew out of the love for our own rescue dogs, Springsteen and Phoebe, who has since passed. It's a bond that is almost beyond words, a truly unconditional love. I would ask everyone to watch Gucci, and fall in love with him as Doug did, as I did. And realize we can be the voice for animals. And to speak up, step up, do something when we see an animal in danger for it might be the most important way we repay that love.

Every individual can make a difference: Those who can do something must do something 

Gucci died at age 16 on March 24, 2010. He was inducted into the Alabama Animal Hall of Fame.

Gucci's story and that of many -- far too many -- other dogs shows just how much work needs to be done to change cruelty laws. Thank you so much Gorman for this interview and for your work on behalf of other animals. And, of course, many thanks to all those who have gotten on board after seeing your outstanding film.

Gorman's interview says it all. Every individual can make a difference and those who can do something must do something. I hope "A Dog Named Gucci" will enjoy global success and everyone who sees it will be motivated to do what Doug James and many others have done -- go out and change animal abuse laws. It'll take a lot of hard work and passion and patience, but it's well worth it.

We are dogs' oxygen and lifelines and they depend on us for their very existence. It's the least we can do for these amazing beings who deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and to be protected from rampant and brutal abuse by enforceable laws all over the world. 

Marc Bekoff's latest books are Jasper's Story: Saving Moon Bears (with Jill Robinson), Ignoring Nature No More: The Case for Compassionate Conservation, Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The Fascinating Science of Animal Intelligence, Emotions, Friendship, and Conservation, Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence, and The Jane Effect: Celebrating Jane Goodall (edited with Dale Peterson). The Animals' Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age (with Jessica Pierce) will be published in April 2017 and Canine Confidential: An Insider’s Guide to the Best Lives For Dogs and Us will be published in early 2018.

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