Hugh Dorigo

Filmmaker Hugh Dorigo

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Hugh Dorigo

Hugh Dorigo began researching the subject of farmed animal welfare in 2005. The decision to become a documentary filmmaker seemed like a forgone conclusion – it provided a format to address issues in a more substantive manner. The synthesis of that research became his first documentary, Beyond Closed Doors. The film went on to receive a number of accolades, including Best Animal Advocacy film at the 2007 Artivist Film Festival. His recent documentary Dogs, Cats and Scapegoats, explored the often-ignored root causes of companion animal homelessness. Over the years he has interviewed dozens of preeminent experts from the fields of animal welfare and ethics, animal science and veterinary behavioral medicine.

Hugh Dorigo’s Film

Dogs, Cats and Scapegoats

Dogs, Cats and Scapegoats takes a closer look at the multifactorial causes of companion animal homelessness, many of which have become obscured amid the race to adopt and shelter these animals. From shelters to pets in homes, the sociological underpinnings of welfare issues present a unique challenge to the public. Beyond the statistics of euthanasia and adoption, society’s complex and sometimes conflicted relationship with animals is explored to better understand why the cycle of breeding to relinquishment remains entrenched in American society.

“Dogs, Cats and Scapegoats” is an encyclopedic coverage of the state of companion animals (aka pets) in the United States and contains interviews with numerous people, ranging from academics (a veritable who’s who) to incredibly dedicated and passionate people working on the ground with dogs, cats, and other companion animals (some of these dedicated people also are academics), along with detailed data about the dismal state of these sentient beings. The use of the word “scapegoat”—someone who is punished for the misdeeds of others—is entirely fitting. Let me say upfront that while there are many “good” things happening, there also are some very sad stories about far too many of these individuals that need to be told, and the root causes for much of this plight might surprise you. “Dogs, Cats and Scapegoats” does this eloquently and touches on numerous issues and topics that need to be seriously addressed, difficult as they may be.

It turns out that the risk of a pet being relinquished is well above 50%, few people admit to getting rid of a companion animal, surveys tend to represent more responsible owners in their data, there is a whole host of reasons people give up their so-called family members, and 31% of people between the ages of 18-35 don’t go to shelters and 46% of this cohort saw shelter pets as second-rate citizens. There also are valuable discussions of how research into human-companion animal relationships is conducted and how “the science” becomes oversimplified and the results highly questionable. In one case, the question at hand was whether or not pets should be given as gifts. It became clear that there are many problems with the study so the conclusion that this is a good idea is highly debatable. We’re also told that the organization that supported this study stopped responding when Mr. Dorigo expressed interest in the work of their research division in general (for further reading on giving animals as gifts please see “Giving Puppies as Gifts: What if They’re “‘The Wrong Dog?'” and  “Giving Pets as Gifts” and links therein).