Only the most unfeeling, insensitive person could fail to be moved by Tom Simon and Sarah Teale's heartbreaking and revolting expose, Dealing Dogs — an, at times, excruciating document of a six-month undercover investigation of one of America's most notorious "class B" dog dealers, it's a film, originally broadcast on HBO as part of the channel's ongoing "America Undercover" series, that manages to show how both good and evil can dwell in startlingly close proximity to one another.
As explained in an opening crawl, an estimated 65,000 dogs are bought by research labs and veterinary schools in the United States each year — purchased from institutions like Martin Creek Kennels in Williford, Arkansas. In 2002, Last Chance For Animals, a national animal rights organization headquartered in Los Angeles, succeeded in getting one of its field investigators — billed simply as "Pete" — employed at the Martin Creek Kennels, owned by the unctuous C.C. Baird. "Pete" was charged with the task of documenting, in painstaking fashion, any instances of inhumane treatment, stolen pets or other abuses in an effort to compile enough evidence to compel federal authorities to shut the kennels down. It's a thankless, dangerous task — Baird and his staff are highly suspicious of possible covert activists — and one which would likely destroy more sensitive individuals.
Over the course of six gut-wrenching months, "Pete," whose no-nonsense demeanor and matter of fact approach to this emotionally taxing assignment ground the film and lend it a quirky pathos, methodically details the deplorable conditions endured by hundreds of dogs at the Martin Creek Kennels; everything from brutal dog fights that leave animals wounded and bleeding to disgusting living quarters, smeared with blood, feces and fur. Wisely, Simon and Teale keep the most disturbing visuals to a minimum, but aren't afraid to show the true horrors of Baird's kennels — some of these images will sear themselves into your mind, a horrifying vision of man's indifference to nature.
Dealing Dogs is a discomfiting experience, not due to Simon and Teale's ability as filmmakers (although the soundtrack is laid on a bit thick at times), but merely the overpowering subject matter; as someone who owns and loves a dog, it's nigh impossible to fathom how anyone could inflict pain or treat any animal cruelly — in several chilling instances, employees of Baird's kennels seem almost to delight in shooting, maiming or poisoning helpless, impounded canines. I won't reveal how the film ends, other than to say it does end on a somewhat hopeful note, one that is tempered by the knowledge that this godforsaken operation is likely one of hundreds operating in the United States, many of them thriving because of a flawed, faulty system that cannot effectively police all of the kennels in the country.
"A little piece of hell on earth" is how "Pete" sums up Martin Creek Kennels at the film's conclusion — a grim sound bite reinforcing the notion that for most (and especially pet lovers), Dealing Dogs will an experience perhaps on par with viewing a no-holds-barred horror film — grueling, emotionally devastating and wholly shocking. It's a difficult work, but one with a message that needs to be heard.
Dealing Dogs is presented as originally broadcast in 1.33:1 fullscreen and as a documentary shot largely clandestinely on video, the visual quality is understandably sub-par, with plenty of grain, softness, video noise and blown-out scenes of high contrast. There isn't much that HBO could've done to clean up this documentary, so what's offered is as good as we're likely to get.
Again, as originally broadcast, Dealing Dogs is presented with an adequate Dolby 2.0 stereo soundtrack that, for the most part, conveys the dialogue clearly and without distortion. On the few occasions when the undercover agent's mic doesn't pick up what's said, onscreen subtitles fill in the blanks. An optional Spanish 2.0 stereo track is also on board.
No bonus material is included — not even so much as some follow-up information about the work Last Chance For Animals continues to do.
"A little piece of hell on earth" is how Martin Creek Kennels are summed up at the conclusion of Dealing Dogs— a grim sound bite reinforcing the notion that for most (and especially pet lovers), Dealing Dogs will an experience perhaps on par with viewing a no-holds-barred horror film — grueling, emotionally devastating and wholly shocking. It's a difficult work, but one with a message that needs to be heard. Recommended.