Directed by: Stacey Stone
Written by: Diane Mellen, Stacey Stone
Genre: Short, Documentary
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GANDER: AMERICA'S HERO DOG
So what exactly does a service dog do? You may be surprised to learn that unless the owner is physically disabled, a blind person for example, many people have no idea. As was touched on in "Gander: America's Hero Dog" from director Stacey Stone, walking around with a service dog, with no physical ailments can be frustrating at times. Some people just don't get it. They don't understand that not all illness is physical. Yet having a companion to help, in this case Gander himself, is just as beneficial as a service dog and his blind owner. This is not a "great movie" in the sense that it's groundbreaking in any way. It's a documentary that's made well enough, but not world shattering. It is a "great" movie in it's choice of who, and what it represents. The information it passes, of the true nature of a dog such as Gander. It nicely frames the importance of these companions and their contributions to society. Especially for those that if nothing else, really need a true loyal friend. Not only for physical, but also mental help and stability. After watching "Gander: America's Hero Dog" I have put to rest any doubts I may have had on the importance of these animals, these friends. Clearly more than just a furry companion, these dogs, especially Gander himself, have made me look past the "just a pet" status most of us label these animals with.
Alongside this seemingly pro-dog film is the story of Lon Hodge, and the benefits having Gander have granted him. Throughout the film, it is Lon we get to know, and through him we meet Gander. Lon's day to day routines have been recorded, even if only for a brief time, showing us just what it's like to need a companion such as Gander. Lon is a veteran who has long suffered with PTSD and we, the viewers not only get to hear his story, but see firsthand how Gander has changed his life. There are some touching moments, and some scary ones as well. At no time however, does this film feel forced or overly dramatic. What you see is what you get, further cementing the sad truths about soldiers and PTSD. I'll also freely admit that actually seeing and hearing first hand, through this movie, has changed my perceptions on a great many things. Gander really is a hero dog, as are the thousands of dogs just like him; maybe not quite just like him, but you get the idea. You really have to ask yourself why not? Should the heroes of your country get any less? I think not. And what do the dogs get out of it? The answer to that is simple: The dogs get what every one of us wishes for ourselves. Love, respect and of course, a true friend.
Another interesting aspect of this short film was regarding the actual training of these lovable beasts. Did you know that many service dogs are trained by inmates? It's true, and what an amazing concept it is. There are many people who consider jail as a school of sorts for criminals. Rehabilitation seems like just a word to make things seem better than they actually are. However, the people who conceived this idea should be given an award. Inmates training dogs to help people in the communities they have wronged. A full circle if you will. Some may argue that it simply passes the time but I personally, after seeing this film, do not believe that. It's not hard to imagine a real love developing for these animals, and a real responsibility in training. Giving back is the name of the game and learning, growing and caring feel like a built in feature of this program. It's a funny thought, but some veterans, and other people from the community that need this form of help, have prisoners to thank for their companions. A perfect ending for this film would have been the meeting between a veteran and the inmate, now reintegrated into society who trained his friend. What a pleasant thought that is.
We all search for human touches in our lives and sometimes, it takes something more than a human to get them. If nothing else, I've learned that the most human of ideals can at times, come from a friend with a wagging tail. We could all learn from Gander, and the many dogs like him. True loyalty, friendship and love. "Gander: America's Hero Dog" presents us a great story of sadness, friendship and two souls that have found each other. It also educates and enlightens as it passes through our lives. This may not be a brand new concept; but it's one that works, and that's all that counts.