This morning, Dogster published my review of “The Dog Lover,” a new film based on the true story of a hunting-dog breeder in South Dakota whose dogs were seized in a puppy mill raid aided by the Humane Society of the United States. The film has received mixed reviews, including from The Hollywood Reporter (“this propaganda piece seems bound to infuriate the very animal lovers to which it’s attempting to appeal”) and RogerEbert.com (“shamelessly manipulative on several levels”).
Everything those reviewers wrote is true—this movie is a one-sided take on an issue that is bound to infuriate many dog lovers—but the reviewers don’t understand the context in which this film was made, or its deep importance to anyone trying to understand both sides of the “puppy mill” issue that is raging all across America today.
As I wrote in my Dogster review of the film, I believe everyone who cares about dogs needs to watch it: “The breeders need to see that their voice is being amplified within the current media climate, while the rescuers need to see how they often come across to those they believe should change their ways.”
I also believe anyone who can’t understand why the film exists needs to read the following Q&A with its executive producer, Forrest Lucas. He spoke with me for more than an hour before I wrote my review.
Here are some excerpts from our conversation—which, fair warning to you, contains movie spoilers. While I do not agree with everything Lucas says, I agree completely with his underlying notion that only one side of the debate usually gets fair media coverage. That’s why I’m publishing this Q&A as a companion piece to my review of “The Dog Lover” movie on Dogster, which I also hope you’ll read.
You also may want to visit the official website of “The Dog Lover” film.
Q: Was the original name of the movie changed?
A: When we were making it, we called it “The Wrong Side of Right,” but it didn’t tell anything about the story, so they came up with a list of names about dogs.
Q: How did “The Dog Lover” come to be?
A: This started in 2000, when the HSUS came to the state of Missouri. They came in with this term “puppy mill,” which meant “the bad guys.” I have a 16,000-acre cattle ranch here in Missouri. I found out about it only a few days ahead of time, because one of my cowboys called. He saw a sign on a highway.
What the voters saw on the ballot wasn’t the same as the actual law. They used the word “pet,” way down deep, and in Missouri, legally, a pet is anything that can live within 15 feet of your house. When we opened this thing up and started looking at it, it would have taken over all animals.
They had spent around $7 million, and they had 67 percent approval at the time. It was high because nobody was fighting against them. All the small agriculture groups in the state, the one big guy came along and told them don’t fight because you can’t beat ’em. All you’ll do is make ’em mad. That’s how they fight. They’re terrorists.
I got involved six days before the vote. We took them down to 51 percent. If we’d had one more day, we would’ve won. We just told people who they really were and what they were going to do: “These are terrorists and they’re lying to you.”
What happened is, since it was a proposition, the House and Senate could take it apart and fix it. HSUS spent a lot of time down there spending on these politicians. HSUS was giving them money to vote their way, and telling them that if they didn’t vote their way, they’d use the money against them.
Q: So your opposition to Proposition B had nothing to do with dogs, even though it was called the “Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act” on the Missouri ballot?
A: This was going to take in everything, not just dogs. They weren’t just after the big dog breeders. They were after all the dog breeders. They had rules in there that nobody could live by. Your house wouldn’t probably be big enough for one animal.
I was living in California when they destroyed—and they still brag about it today—this big slaughterhouse. They had a mole in there for months and months. This old cow got down, and that happens, and they couldn’t move her, so they took a forklift and picked her up. They ran that video, and it destroyed that organization. They had to bring back millions of pounds of beef. Every school in the country was getting hamburger from them. The video was totally out of context, and it made this horrible, horrible story, oh these poor animals, and all the crazy people in the news went off on it, and it was the biggest thing ever.
Q: So that’s why in “The Dog Lover” film, the false accusations against the breeder involve a doctored video that the rescuers give to the media. That video leads to a raid of the kennel, and to a big campaign ad asking for dog lovers to send donations.
Q: It all goes back to what you thought was an unfair campaign against a slaughterhouse, because you’re a cattle rancher.
A: I saw that happen with that video, and then they turned around and ran Proposition 2 right behind it. That was in California, and it said all the chickens would have to be taken from these real tight cages where they’re so unhappy, these poor chickens, and go into bigger cages. Well, the poultry industry just started falling apart.
Q: So you made “The Dog Lover” film in part because you’re also upset about the cage-free egg movement?
It’s crazy to us who know better, but to them, it’s a way of stopping egg production. Now they want cage-free, and that’s even worse. The chickens could be inside or outside, but they have to run them to get them outside. The chickens do not want to go outside. And once they get out there, you can’t run the belts underneath them to haul away the manure. They are standing in the manure, and every once in a while a girl’s going to lay an egg, and 20 percent of those eggs get laid outside. You have to go out there and pick up those eggs out of the poop.
Q: That sounds gross.
A: It is gross, but that’s what’s happening with these nuts trying to get laws passed to deny eggs to people who want them.
Q: So all of this was in your mind when the “Puppy Mill” Proposition B got on the ballot in Missouri, where you have your cattle ranch.
A: Right. HSUS and all the other groups have been lying without people trying to get them, and it’s had a horrible effect on this country. The three months I spent out there fighting Prop B, that’s where I really learned that nobody else is fighting. A lot of people wanted to do something, but they couldn’t. HSUS is too big and powerful, and they have so many people terrorized.
By the time I got done fighting that, we decided, we’re going to go on the offense. We created Protect the Harvest. Then we started actually working with politicians.
Q: HSUS alone took in nearly $160 million for the last reported tax year. I noticed that was the same number you used in “The Dog Lover” as the budget for the fictional animal-rights organization. Do you have that kind of lobbying cash for your side?
A: No, I don’t, but I think I’m a whole lot of a better businessman than they are, and we can tell the truth. Everything they say has to be a lie, so it’s a lot harder for them.
Q: This movie is called “The Dog Lover.” Do you have a dog?
A: I had mutts when the kids were little, but I don’t have time to have a dog now.
Q: So you didn’t make this movie because you want to protect purebred dog breeders?
A: The only people that had purebred dogs when I was a kid, they would’ve maybe been a hunting dog. There was a lot of ’coon hunting back then. That was one big effect that the fur laws had on America. Raccoon hunting was a big thing of fur. If you could catch them at the right time of year, the fur was valuable, and you had the fun of hunting them with your father or your uncle. That all stopped because you couldn’t wear furs. They terrorized those people.
Q: “The Dog Lover” is about a fictional group called the United Animal Protection Agency. Since the movie is based on a true story, why didn’t you call the group HSUS?
A: We didn’t say HSUS because it would’ve been just HSUS that way. We used a name that is not being used, so it could be applied to any of the organizations—PETA, HSUS, ASPCA, Fund for Animals, Greenpeace, that’s a horrible organization out there causing all the people to starve to death in Indonesia.
Q: In “The Dog Lover,” the top people at the fictional UAPA are portrayed as being interested only in money and political power.
A: Wayne Pacelle at HSUS got into it, and he started making the big money.
Q: The last tax documents that I saw, he was earning about $425,000 a year.
A: Did you say $4 million?
Q: No, about $425,000.
A: Well, whatever they say, he’s taking plenty more on the side. They lie. These guys have to lie. If they told the truth, nobody would give them a dime.
That television scroll? That big ol’ minute-long commercial? Send the $20 a month and we’ll take care of them? It’s a lie. They don’t have any shelters. All they want is the money. The actual dog pounds around the country aren’t getting funded because the money is going to these guys.
Q: Why did you decide to tell the story of this particular South Dakota breeder in “The Dog Lover?”
A: Because I’d seen exactly the same thing happen to a lady in Southern Indiana. I didn’t know her personally, but the attorney general of the state of Indiana, he went down and led his raid against this lady, who was doing nothing but raising dogs and making money. She had a dairy farm also.
That guy in South Dakota, his story was very similar to the lady in Indiana. She was not convicted either, but she was ruined. That’s what happens. They come in and hit you, and the news is in there telling things their way, and people don’t have time to react. That’s the way they work.
Q: At the heart of “The Dog Lover” is the question of what it means to breed and sell dogs responsibly. Tell me your thoughts about that.
A: Breeding dogs is, I think, a lot like breeding anything else. The more comfortable you keep the animals, the more productive they’re going to be.
But these guys have tried to say they’re not just dogs. They’re not just pets, even. What’s the thing they call them? I can’t remember…
Q: Do you mean “companion animals”?
A: Right. They’re com-pan-ion animals. HSUS has, supposedly, a university of their own in D.C. where they’re teaching people to sue you, or me, or anybody with the dog being the plaintiff. Of course, the dog is property to you and me, but they’re doing it, and they’re giving a whole lot of money to people in other colleges to teach the classes.
One of these days, they’re going to get that passed, that animals will have rights. That’s why it’s called animal rights. Now, when that happens, it’s going to be, “Katie, bar the door!” That’s their long-term goal right there.
Q: So in making a film about a dog breeder, you’re not actually interested in the details of how dog breeders operate?
A: I’m not fighting for the dogs, necessarily. I’m fighting against HSUS.
And they’re trying to spay and neuter every animal they can, so that you can’t be breeding yourself. In their perfect world, if you bought a puppy, you’d have to get it neutered.
Q: I’ve never seen a spay/neuter requirement in any HSUS-backed “puppy mill” bill. Spay/neuter laws usually involve shelters, and trying to stop strays and dogs in everyday people’s backyards from producing more puppies.
A: I’ve not personally seen a stray dog. It’s been so long, I can’t remember. When I was a kid, you saw them all over the place.
Q: Are you receiving hate mail about “The Dog Lover”?
A: We had one hate mail yesterday, which kind of shocked our director. He wasn’t expecting it to be as bad as it was. The words they were using…
Q: What words did they use?
A: I can’t even tell you, but it was bad. They picked me out and said horrible things about me, so it had to come from somebody paid to do it.
Q: This hate mail came from a rescuer?
A: Yes. But other than that, it’s been a really, really good response from people who came to the screening and saw it. The ratings were very good. They were very surprised at the quality of it.
They loved the fact that we were doing it, the fact that somebody is doing it, that we are taking it back against these people. A lot of people don’t like these guys.
Q: Have you ever tried to talk to HSUS or other people on the rescue side about your concerns?
A: I have personally not met anybody from the other side, on the dog side of it. They don’t talk to me.
But they can’t scare me. They can’t hurt me or anybody around me. We’re not afraid of them. That’s what everybody has to understand. They don’t have to be afraid of these guys. Some of these big businesspeople who have stepped over for them, I just don’t understand it.
Q: I think if you did talk to them, they would tell you that most people who care about dogs just want them to be treated well, all across the board. My new book The Dog Merchants talks about how there are good and bad breeders, and good and bad rescuers, and that we should all stop fighting with each other and have the good people on both sides start working together.
A: You know, I agree with everything you said there. That sounds right to me too.
Read my full review of “The Dog Lover” film on Dogster.