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CBC's Doc Zone Goes to the Dogs

Some 84 million dogs live in North America, 10 million more than were digging bones and playing fetch a decade ago. Truly, we've all gone to the dogs - but why? What's the science behind falling for a pair of big, brown puppy-dog eyes? And what's the fall-out when more North American families are paper-training puppies than bringing up baby?


Dog Dazed, a light-hearted new film debuting on CBC's Doc Zone this Thursday (March 21), explores our canine cultural shift. Dog Dazed's Vancouver-based Director, Helen Slinger, spoke to CBC Live about the making of the film - fresh from a run with her Husky mix. 




CBC Live: Tell me how you got the idea for this project. How did it start?


Helen Slinger: Well it started because I'm a dog owner, actually. I went to a meeting - and this is kind of an embarrassing story to tell you the truth - I went to a meeting in Regional Park near me in North Vancouver. It was supposed to be an information meeting for dog people in the community to talk about enforcing leash regulations through this area.

I went with a number of well-educated people to howl 'How dare they, in this wonderful wilderness area, ask us to leash our dogs! They're not bothering anyone!'


And I literally woke up the next morning shocked - almost startled awake - by the fact I had forgotten this was kind of counter to a lot of other values that I hold dear, like the environment, et cetera.


So that's kind of what started it. If I can be so self-centred, if I can be so into my dog's freedom and my pleasure with her, I'm undoubtedly not the only one, so there could be a documentary here.


CBC Live: The film really highlights stats about a boom in the dog population - like the fact there are 10 million more dogs in North America than there were a decade ago. How did you react to that information?


HS: I guess I was surprised at how steep the curve was and I was also surprised that dog families had overtaken families with kids. There really are more 'fur children' than there are real children.


CBC Live: I love that term.


HS: Yeah, I do too. I don't use it for my own dog, though. I know there's a difference between my dog and the children, but it's amusing. 


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Ring-bearer dog Ozzie with his people, Dustin and Julie Fielder, in a scene from Dog Dazed. --John Collins/Bountiful Films


CBC Live: The doc explores a whole spectrum of issues that arise when you consider the dog population boom, but what issue was most surprising to you? What was one problem you never would have considered?


HS: Yes, it is a spectrum, isn't it? But the thing that was most shocking was just how much poop adds up when you do the numbers. It's shocking. You know it's going to be a lot because you know there's a lot of dogs, you pick up after your own dog, so you're aware that there must be a lot of it, but 30,000 tonnes of waste daily? In North America? Yeah, that was fairly shocking to me.


CBC Live: I'm going to be a bit corny with you, but you know the old saying, 'Never work with children or animals?'


HS: Yes.


CBC Live: Does that apply to documentary filmmaking?


HS: Of course it does, but less than I had thought, actually. Sometimes when you're looking to get a particular shot - like of dogs playing - they can take a long time, and they can go in the opposite direction and all of that, but in fact it was a pleasure. If you like animals, then you get to wake up every day knowing you can wake up and spend your day doing that.

The last documentary that I did was on the gang situation in British Columbia (The Gangster Next Door), so this was such a change of pace. 


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A member of the Dog Dazed crew, Vancouver Border Collie Holly. -- Steve Rendall/Bountiful Films

CBC Live: The documentary explains how well dogs are able to bond with humans, how we get an actual rush of hormones when we look into their eyes. Were there any dogs in the film you wound up falling in love with?


HS: Oh yeah. I'm just kind of crazy about dogs generally, and there were several. Little Nigel, who's Bill Berloni's dog, the trainer's dog, who plays Toto in the Wizard of Oz. A real, REAL, little cutie.  And Bill's such a nice guy, we were running out of time and we wanted to do a sequence with him at Times Square and he ended up taking us in his personal car down to Times Square with a crew in the back, me in the front with Bill and little Nigel on my lap and he was just such a cute, cute dog and of course the most perfectly behaved dog, too. 


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Trainer Bill Berloni hangs out in New York City with one of Dog Dazed's most adorable stars, Nigel. -- Steve Rendall/Bountiful Films


CBC Live: What do you hope dog owners take away from watching Dog Dazed?


HS: Well, I hope they take away what I have from working on it. I'm much more careful now. I was pretty responsible about watching whether anyone's afraid of my dog, but I'm much more likely to just have my dog on the leash if there's likely to be anybody around. I obey the off-leash laws as opposed to just making them up as I go along thinking 'oh, this area looks good' which I think an awful lot of dog owners do.


And the poop is the biggest thing. I haven't done the one thing that I still want to do, which is build a compost in the backyard. I think all us dog owners have to think about how much poop that is.


CBC Live: 30,000 tonnes is a lot! I don't want to think about that much poop!


HS: It is a lot! 153 great blue whales. Every day.


What I think we succeeded in doing [with Dog Dazed] is it's a gentle poke at dog owners to pay a little more attention to how dogs do blind us, and that's what I intended it to be. 


(This interview was edited and condensed.)


Dog Dazed airs on Doc Zone Thursday March 21, 2013 at 9 p.m. on CBC-TV  and Saturday, March 23 at 11 p.m. on CBC News Network.