My dog Jack is a cattle dog mix who pees every time I attach his leash. I’ve tried (and continue to try) various heights and angles of approach, different tones of voice, varied times of day, but the net effect is the same. A semi-controlled, yellow stream shoots out as if from a dysfunctional Ghostbusters proton pack and canine urine hits the floor, the walls, me… His bladder works fine when my girlfriend hooks the leash to his collar, so his issue appears to be with me as the pack leader (thank you Cesar Millan!) or simply with the fact that I’m a male. I don’t know, but I still love the little shit. He’s a rescue dog with an unknown history. He’s part of our family.
I tell you that to tell you this… pets mean different things to different people. Some are simply accessories or property (which is the view shared by the legal system), but most are considered friends, loved ones, and family members. Losing a piece of property can be annoying or frustrating, but losing a member of your family? Devastating. And losing both? Your property, your belongings, your home, and part of your family? It happens several times a day throughout the world, but in 2005 it happened on a grand scale here in the United States. Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and left almost two thousand people dead, thousands of homes destroyed, $80 billion of damage, and hundreds of thousands of animals dead or missing. The hell of Katrina spawned multiple documentaries and calls to action, but one of the less heralded was the plight of those animals left behind.
MINE: Taken By Katrina is a story about those pets, but it’s also about the owners who chose (or were forced) to evacuate without them and the families who eventually adopted them into their homes. Director Geralyn Pezanoski traveled to New Orleans shortly after the hurricane to document the efforts being made to rescue the animals, but discovered during the process that there was a deeper and equally urgent story needing to be told. As animals were pulled from damaged and water-logged homes they were brought to shelters outside of the city. There they were cleaned, fed, and given medical aid while awaiting the return of their owners. The scope of Katrina’s devastation was so grand though that most of the residents were unable to return for months or even years after the storm. Quickly running out of space for the animals, the decision was made to begin shipping rescued pets throughout the country to shelters and eventually to new homes. 15,000 pets were sent to new families, bonds were formed, and life went on… until the original owners finally made their way back to New Orleans and began looking for the ones they lost.
While many people never found their animals, many more were happily reunited. Somewhere in the hazy middle of those two extremes is a group of people who may have a general idea of where their pets are but are unable to bring them home because of confusion in the system or because the new owners won’t let the pets go. One resident returns to New Orleans and immediately begins to look for his dog, Max, only to eventually discover the dog is now happily living with a young couple thousands of miles away. The new owner, Tiffany, refuses to return Max to a place filled with traumatic memories and claims the dog is just as important to her. Jessie sees his dog, JayJay, on “The Dog Whisperer” and watches as the show implores the dog’s owner to come forward. Jessie does so immediately and consistently, but makes very little headway through the red tape and lack of information before eventually finding JayJay with new owners. Gloria is a seventy-year old who refused to leave her lab behind until she was forced to by the National Guard. Her dog is lost in the system until hard work from her daughter and volunteers leads to a possible reunion.
These are only a few of the people profiled in MINE, but all of the stories presented are equally compelling. The most basic and obvious question raised in the film is the concept behind the title. Parties on both sides of the issue claim ownership of the animals, both legal and emotional, and both sides have legitimate arguments. Who is the owner when one walks away and another takes their place? And who’s watching out for the best interest of the animals? These questions are just a sampling of the issues raised in MINE, but as important as they are there even more relevant ones to be found. Why are Pezanoski and other rescuers allowed revolving door access to the city but the actual homeowners are turned away? Who decides what’s best for an animal? Do race and/or class have a place in this discussion? The most severely affected residents were lower class and black, but does that mean white, middle class folks looking for lost pets had an easier and more successful experience? The film puts the question out there, but does a pretty good job of remaining silent when it comes to an answer. Viewers will find themselves discussing (and arguing) the issues with each other, but whichever side you land on you can’t help but be affected by the film’s characters… some of whom are still waiting for their own answers.
MINE: Taken By Katrina won this year’s SXSW Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature.