Pick of the Litter
by Brandon Thomas
Whether it’s true or not, dogs make us feel like their sole purpose in life is to fill us full of happiness. Dancing at the front door when you come home from work… a sneak attack of kisses that always ends with you in a fit of giggles…nice long naps together on the couch. More than just making us feel good, dogs can serve a greater purpose in the lives of people with visual impairments. That journey to find this purpose is where Pick of the Litter takes us.
The documentary opens with the birth of Labrador pups Patriot, Potomac, Phil, Primrose and Poppet. They are the newest arrivals on the campus of Guide Dogs for the Blind, and their training will start on only their second day of life. The training to become a guide dog isn’t easy; out of the 800 dogs born there each year, only 300 become actual guides. The process is time-consuming, strict and unemotional… but it’s never, ever boring.
Directors Don Hardy, Jr. and Dana Nachman give us plenty of cute puppy footage, but never shy away from the seriousness of what a guide dog will end up doing. Bonds immediately form between the puppies and their “raisers,” who will work to socialize them. They can be quickly pulled away from those same raisers if it’s felt that the dogs can benefit more from being in another home. It’s that pull between emotion and dedication that gives Pick of the Litter its ultimate strength.
The urge to root for these pups is there from the beginning. Pick of the Litter doesn’t get too clinical in its approach to the dogs. We’re allowed to get to know them and pick out those distinct personalities. It also stings when one of them isn’t able to make the cut.
The stories of the people involved are just as important. The frustration felt by the trainers when the dogs don’t pass is palpable. Of course, the end game is for these dogs to end up with someone who will rely on them as their guides. Those stories are thankfully not lost, and give the audience that light at the end of the tunnel for our pup stars.
It’s easy to forget that dogs can do more than fetch, roll over and shake. They can give some people their independence back.
Man’s best friend, indeed.