“The Dog Lover” is a clumsily wrought piece of propaganda that has money behind it,but not enough to buy artistic vision. Dog lovers look elsewhere to entertainment.

The movie begins with unrelated feel-good videos of dogs. If you’re really a dog lover, you’ve probably seen some of these in your Facebook feed or shared them via email. Then we become the eyes behind the a hidden camera on an undercover mission to a puppy mill. The camera looks at the puppies, but also notices the corpse of a dog not far away. One of the puppy mill owners realizes what’s happening and the two pretend customers make a dash for their car.

One of the two people on this mission is the attractive Sara Gold (Allison Paige), Gold still lives with her parents who aren’t happy that she’s interning at the fictional United Animal Protection Society. From the clean and expensive interiors and the polished CEO, one understands this is an organization that spares no expense on itself.

Gold’s next undercover assignment is working as a kennel person at a family breeding facility. Run by the conservative Daniel Holloway (James Remar), the kennel requires help that must live on the farm. Gold is picked up by Daniel’s good-looking son, Will (Jayson Blair) who warns her that she’s dress inappropriately for her father’s more conservative tastes, but in reality, Gold would not be properly dressed for most kennels.

Daniel is married to the sensible Liz (Lea Thompson) and the family also includes a little sister Abigail (Annabelle Kavanagh) The family members are not fully developed characters as much as plot devices. That’s not commentary on the acting abilities of the cast, but the lack of subtleness of the script. Gold’s loyalty to her organization will be tested by her attraction to this very available hunk in addition to the guilt she’ll feel over betraying the trust of the cute little sister. Abigail will be threatened by a dangerous dog and Gold’s video of Daniel saving his daughter will be manipulated by the evil animal organization to trump up charges of animal cruelty against Daniel.

Ali Afshar and Alex Ranarivelo wrote this clunky script with Ranarivelo providing direction. Last year, Ali Afshar and Forest Lucas launched ESX Entertainment for the purpose of developing, packaging and financing and producing “inspirational movies with commercial appeal.” According to Variety, “ESX began as an automotive performance and racing team founded by Afshar, who raced for Subaru of America for more than seven years.”

The movie might seem like sour grapes, billionaire version. The film’s executive producers were Ali Afshar and Forrest Lucas. Some guessed that the movie was to protest PETA, yet the more likely target is the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Forrest Lucas of Lucas Oil Products has proclaimed a mission against animal rights extremists in a 2014 article in Today’s Farmer magazine. Lucas owns a 16,000-acre ranch at Cross Timbers, Mo., and is known for breeding Black Simmental breeding stock. According to the article, his first tangle with the HSUS was over Proposition B in Missouri during which HSUS ran a $5 million ad campaign. Prop B passed, but Lucas considered it a win because “we lost 51 percent to 49 percent, but since it was so close, and we made the legislators aware of what it was about, the legislators stripped everything out of it, which ultimately gave us a win. Prop B was called the Puppy Cruelty Prevention Act. The fight didn’t end there.  According to the St. Louise Post-Dispatch, along with the HSUS, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals spent millions on the Prop B campaign. Neither is to be confused with the American Humane Association which provides the only officially sanctioned animal monitoring program for the film and television industry.

As a result of the loss, Lucas formed Protect the Harvest, explaining, ”Protect the Harvest is taking the approach that we are going to protect everyone. Those other guys are connected at the hip—the Sierra Club, HSUS, PETA. We need to protect our food producers. The technology that is coming along is needed for food and for energy.”

The gala for this movie at the Gillioz Theatre in Springfield, Mo. sparked a minor protest. A dog was being auctioned off at the premiere party. That’s  not the best way to get or give a dog.

The movie itself advises at the end, “Learn the truth. Investigate before you donate.” That’s good advice. Charity Navigator and Charity Watch do not rate HSUS highly. Only about 1 percent of the HSUS budget goes toward shelters according to Humane Watch. Last year the Midwestern Legislative Conference of the Council of State Governments at its 70th annual meeting called for an investigation of the HSUS because “HSUS promotional materials are full of dogs and cats, giving the impression that this is the primary focus of HSUS; however, only 1 percent of the money raised by HSUS is given to pet shelters (according to its tax returns), and HSUS runs no pet shelters and according to the HSUS President, only 20 percent of the organization’s budget goes to companion animal issues.”

The conflict between responsible dog breeders and backyard breeders and the twilight zone in between is a complicated issue that needs to be addressed with greater care and nuance than this script can muster. Your time and money would be better spent reading the free reports provided by Charity Navigator. While the HSUS ads are deceptive, “The Dog Lover” is artlessly transparent.

 

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