If you’re searching for even more evidence that dogs are the greatest animals on the planet, look no further than Pick of the Litter. This adorable new “dogumentary” (yep) from Dana Nachman and Don Hardy Jr. brings the nonprofit Guide Dogs for the Blind into the limelight and endears us forever to five young pups on a mission to become service dogs.
The movie opens with testimonials from people whose lives have been bettered by these amazing canines, not only highlighting the immense importance of these hounds but priming the tear ducts for an emotional story to come. Is Pick of the Litter a bit schmaltzy? It definitely can be (and the score doesn’t help). But mostly, the filmmakers present their furry subjects with dispassion that mirrors the GDB organization’s mindset. We’re told early and often: Out of 800 dogs born each year, only 300 will make the cut.
And yet, it’s impossible for us not to get attached.
We enter the story right at our litter’s birth. Five newborn dogs come into this world, and Guide Dogs for the Blind immediately sets them on their path. Naming is done for consistency through training; this group falls on letter P in the system. Rambunctious Patriot, sweet Primrose, bitey Phil, distracted Potomac, and chill Poppet—over the next two years these primo pooches will undergo a meticulous education and hopefully pass their final tests to become guide dogs. However, Pick of the Litter makes it very clear: These dogs can fail out, or be “career changed” as GDB puts it, at any time.
While it’s not necessarily a cutthroat undertaking, it is, out of necessity, pretty strict. After all, GDB needs to be 100 percent confident in its animals’ abilities, as they will have a person’s life in their paws. One pup has issues with his teenage handler and is promptly moved; another is brought back to the facility with almost zero explanation. In a lot of ways, the movie becomes more about the different human reactions to the process. For dogs and humans alike, it can be as tough as it is rewarding.
As a whole, Pick of the Litter provides a straightforward look at the world of guide dogs, but with an 81-minute runtime, we’re not really doing a deep dive into a subject that is undoubtedly much more complex. It’s somewhat surprising that the movie is so short given the amount of footage the filmmakers likely have. There’s enough touched on to give us a basic understanding, and the trials and tribulations combined with the P litter’s lovable faces keep us engaged—it’s just that, as documentaries go, this isn’t the most informative nor the most compelling thing out there.
With that said, anybody who loves dogs will enjoy watching Pick of the Litter. It’s heartwarming enough to stir even the coldest of cat people—and for a movie like this, that’s an undoubted mark of success.
Pick of the Litter
Directors: Dana Nachman and Don Hardy Jr.
Theater: Starts Friday, Uptown Theatre