Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 

Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

Everyone knows about the tragedy and loss caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2004. One aspect of the horror, though, has not been deeply mined – over 150000 pets died because of Katrina. Others, saved, were sent across the country to foster homes. But what about their owners who were forced to abandon their furry friends? Some have spent years searching for their beloved pets and documentary filmmaker Geralyn Pezanoski follows their quests in the DVD release of “Mine.”

Some may be Katrina-tragedied out after the many documentaries about terrible toll the hurricane, the worst natural disaster in US history, inflicted on a massive area of the South. Spike Lee’s epic HBO documentary, “When the Levees Broke,” the lower budget “Trouble the Water” and other documentaries focus on the human suffering caused by the disaster. However, animal lovers will be well informed with “Mine,” a heartfelt document that directs its attention to the plight of hundreds of thousands of pets abandoned, unwillingly, by their owners. Attention shifts to the rescue efforts by thousands of animal rescue workers who descended on the region and staged the huge relief effort.

The film then moves to its crux: the plight of the pet owners who return home to restart their lives and find their pets. Several of the disaster victims are at the center of the film as they work with government agencies, online services and volunteer groups in their searches that span the country. Some are successful and human and dog/cat is reunited. Others are more heart rending as the distraught owners spend years in their searches. Even when they finally find their missing pet, the new owners, also having grown to love the animal, fight the custody, leading to legal battles.

“Mine” is supplemented with a bevy of extras on the DVD. The theatrical trailer and the post-doc reunion of one of the film’s subjects, Jessie, with his beloved JJ are there, as are a number PSAs. “Be a Guardian,” “Disaster Preparedness,” “The Truth About Puppy Mills & Pet Stores” and other companion pieces make the DVD release a total package on animal welfare. I give “Mine” and the DVD a B.

Many Hurricane Katrina evacuees were forced to leave their pets behind.  Once the storm subsided and people began to figure out their lives again, the first thing on most agendas was to locate their dogs.  Director Geralyn Pezanoski follows five survivors who cannot figure out why people have been allowed to adopt their pets and keep them when they are "Mine."

There have been many very good documentaries on Katrina and her aftermath, but Pezanoski takes a different approach by looking at the tragedy's impact on man's best friend.  The astonishing thing is that even at this level, we see racial and economic biases impacting decisions and agencies working for the public good using questionable methods.  And, as all good documentaries should, just when Pezanoski's established a point of view favoring her subjects, she calls some of the points she has made well into question.

As the storm approaches, we see that area motels will not accept pets and shelters are overflowing.  Rescuers refuse to take dogs and cats.  People are heartbroken.  With echoes of 9/11, walls are covered with missing pet flyers.  We meet Malvin, who cannot believe he would be separated from his beloved Bandit like this. The aging gentleman builds a doghouse, hoping for his return.  Victor looks for Max through petfinder.com, the website which tried to help surviving animals reconnect, but we see Max has already been adopted by a woman so attached she cannot empathize with Victor's plight.  Senior citizen Gloria was one of those who just about refused to leave her dog, Murphy, and whose family spends countless hours trying to find him. James returned to New Orleans without his family and would love to get his dog JJ back.  Linda had to evacuate many family members, including her wheelchair bound mother and had to leave Precious behind.  Only Gloria is white.

It is distressing to watch some of the rescues.  Animals were being found a full four weeks after the storm and some have dire injuries.  A volunteer notes that 'cats can't bark.'  Packs of former family pets now roam the streets.  150,000 pets lost their lives in Hurricane Katrina.  But many of the rescuers believe that Katrina was the best thing that's ever happened to the survivors.  Poor black owners did not properly care for their animals, many of whom have heartworm.  They're better off in wealthy, white homes.  We watch James calmly but insistently tell a woman on the phone why he should get his dog back only to hear her scream defensively that she saved the dog's life but no longer has jurisdiction over it, even though she knows where it has gone.  One of these adopted dogs had an ID tag on it that was ignored.

The dogs do look happy in their new homes.  Are they better off?  An animal adoption volunteer addresses the conundrum they are in regarding these ownership issues and makes us rethink the issue.

There are several happy endings that give this often heartbreaking film uplift and we learn that legislation has passed that addresses the rights of pets during government mandated evacuation.

The DVD is packed with a lot of great extra material including a mini-doc in its own right that follows up on the resolution of James's story.  There are bits on pets' legal definition as property and the plight of pit bulls.  The film's trailer is included and there is a PSA feature 'The Bachelor.'  The DVD's menu is easy to navigate and includes scene selection and various language and subtitling options.

Perhaps most potent is the short film which Film Movement always includes with their features.  Stylistically modelled on "La Jette," 2005's "La Vie d'un Chien" ("A Dog's Life") is a subversive and fun look at a scientist who creates a K9 serum which turns humans into dogs circa 1962 Paris. It's quite the tonic after the Katrina doc.

The film - B+.  The DVD - A-.
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