Anna Llewellyn, the series producer of HBO Max’s heartwarming new show “The Dog House: UK,” said she wanted to create a docuseries that used dogs as a lens through which to better understand people and their lives. stories.
“I started doing the rounds of rescue centers in England, trying to figure out what stories were there and how we could do a series,” Llewellyn told Salon. “And then I came to Wood Green, the animal charity in Huntingdon. They had put up this brand new building and it was completely dedicated to relocating and connecting members of the public with their dogs. safety.”
What appealed to Llewellyn about Wood Green is that they did things a little differently than your typical animal sanctuary; the staff does not allow visitors to walk around the available dog kennels.
“They found it to be taxing on the dogs,” Llewellyn said. “And they also found that people were very poor judges of which dogs would suit their lifestyle and their home.”
Instead, visitors describe their ideal furry companion to rescue center employees, who then compare those notes to their puppies on file. After people determine a match based on breed and personality preferences, they meet the strongest canine candidates in the “Meeting Pen,” a fenced-in grassy area with toys.
Sometimes there’s an instant connection, sometimes it takes the parties a little while to get along – and sometimes it becomes clear that it’s just not a match.
“And as soon as I saw that I was like, ‘Oh, it’s like matchmaking, it’s like going on a date,'” Llewellyn said. “I saw the apprehension. Oh my God, I remember seeing this father and this son who turned to each other, and they said, ‘I hope they love us. ‘ They were afraid the dog would take them.”
This concept – which Wood Green’s adoption practices almost mimic that of a dating show – is the basis of “The Dog House: UK”, which originally premiered on UK network Channel 4. It’s a visually brilliant series that takes the same format over eight episodes. In each, we’re introduced to three people (or couples and families) who hope their lives will be changed in some way by bringing a four-legged friend into their lives.
The most striking episodes are those where the loneliness of the participants is a motivating factor in wanting a dog; I am thinking of one scenario in particular when a woman arrives looking for a mate after her former live-in boyfriend has married someone else. She has the space in her life to take care of other things, she says, both physically and emotionally.
It’s an incredibly relatable sentiment in the midst of the pandemic where many Americans — especially the estimated 35.7 million Americans who live alone — found themselves coming to terms with what their social and love lives were like without the possibility of physical interaction. It’s hardly surprising, then, that when many shelters across the country began issuing calls in mid-March for foster families so they could scale down operations and limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, many people responded.
As NPR reported in Maythere were “thousands of new foster families and an initial surge in adoptions, so many that some shelters even posted feel-good videos of empty kennels for the first time ever”.
But it got me wondering: how do animal rescue professionals work to ensure that adopted pets will be suitable for their adoptive families, even after the pandemic finally passes and life settles down? normalize a bit?
According to Christa Chadwick, vice president of shelter services at the ASPCA, many shelters implement the same “matchmaking” practices seen in “The Dog House.”
“While every shelter is different, pets are generally assessed and then introduced to potential adopters based on likelihood of compatibility,” Chadwick said. “Every animal is an individual – even those of a specific species or breed – and the shelter staff are experts at making associations that work. If you ultimately determine that now is not the best time to adopt, fostering can allow you to change an animal’s life for the better and is a rewarding experience for those who choose to become caregivers.”
Kitty Block, CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, also stresses the importance for potential pet parents to go into the adoption process knowing how much time and attention they can give to their pet. new pet – what animal rescue professionals learn to learn about.
“We advocate for shelters and rescues to have inclusive adoption and fostering policies that are based more on a conversation rather than a list of requirements that this family must meet,” she said. “Conversational adoption processes are much more effective at preventing returns than lengthy applications because they ensure that adopters receive the information they need to find a solution that fits their lifestyle.”
Regarding animal returns, Block said the Humane Society has no data indicating an increase in the abandonment or surrender of pets to shelters and rescues as stay orders at home COVID-19 are increasing. Chadwick also said the ASPCA’s adoption center in New York hasn’t seen an increase in owner dropouts or stray intakes compared to the same time in 2019.
“Overall, return rates for adopted dogs and cats remain very low, confirming our prediction that people who have fostered or adopted animals will not return them when restrictions begin to be lifted,” Block said. .
However, Block has heard anecdotally of shelters reporting dog and cat abandonments due to owners who are sick with COVID-19 and that his organization predicts a significant increase in abandonments as protections against evictions and seizures expire. and that pet owners struggle to find affordable pet housing. .
That said, Block doesn’t think animal returns are always inherently negative.
“Sometimes the match doesn’t work out, and that’s okay,” she said. “The experience provides the shelter with valuable insight into how the animal behaves in a home environment and the adopter knows more about what type of animal would do best in their home.”
It may also expand the adopter’s definition of what constitutes an “adoptable pet,” which Chadwick says is important.
“We always encourage adopters to keep an open mind and heart when visiting a shelter or shelter,” she said. “You may date a pet you never thought of before, such as an older animal or an animal that looks nothing like what you originally had in mind.”
It’s a theme that runs deeply through HBO Max’s “The Dog House: UK.” According to series director Anna Llewellyn, many of the connections she observed between dogs and humans were much more subtle than she had anticipated.
“Rather than it’s ‘Oh, you like big dogs’ or ‘You like little dogs,’ it’s much more about the personality and characteristics of both parties,” she said. “There are a lot of dogs, for example, that come in, and they’re anxious around people. Sometimes it’s helpful for someone to come in and say, ‘I don’t mind taking a dog that doesn’t like socializing; I don’t like that much either.'”
“The Dog House: UK” is available to stream on HBO Max.