Hot Take: I’m not a dog lover but even I couldn’t help but adore the story of 5 puppies groomed to potentially be service dogs for the blind. An adorable, inspiring story.
2018 has been an amazing year for documentaries. While Won’t You Be My Neighbor? gave us some insight on one of the icons of child edutainment and Three Identical Strangers told the remarkable, shocking story of triplets separated at birth, there was something about Pick of the Litter, the story of 5 puppies — Patriot, Primrose, Poppet, Potomac and Phil — born and bred to be guide dogs for the blind, that elevated the documentary just above those impressive documentaries. Maybe it was the adorable, fluffy pups but it was more the remarkable effort put in by everyone involved to get these puppies to the point where they can help their blind beneficiary enjoy a more fulfilled life as the fully trained and certified pups take away some of their blind owner’s walking limitations. Pick of the Litter starts at birth and shows the rigorous and unforgiving process which eliminates the dogs who can’t make the cut (relegating them to civilian life) and leaves only the best to help their human counterparts.
The documentary methodically follows the puppies as they are shipped off to foster owners who house and train the dogs for more than a year. During that process, the puppies’ progress is monitored and evaluated by the program and those not keeping up are either moved to new foster owners or cut from the program completely. Even though the quintet of pups came from the same litter (from a mom who was handpicked during the same program), each has its own personality. From the overly aggressive Patriot to the goofy Phil, each puppy becomes a character in itself. Eventually, the group is whittled down and the pups who make the cut are sent back to the program. The females are evaluated to see if they are worthy of becoming breeding dogs (Only the best of the best make it there) and the remaining dogs are put into the training program. There, the dogs must meet their benchmarks and pass the training to remain in the program. It’s entirely possible none of the pups make it to graduation where potential blind owners patiently sit on a waiting list for the opportunity to have a canine counterpart to help them make it through their travels.
Even if you’re not a dog lover, the inspiring story of these amazing pups and their ability to learn the skills necessary to allow their blind owners to travel safely through the world is incredibly touching. Pick of the Litter is an emotional ride. It kicks off with blind owners discussing how their lives have been changed and, in some cases, saved by their canine counterparts. From there, it never relents as it consistently goes for the feels and succeeds. Even at its most cold, when the program rips the dog from one foster owner and places them with another without warning, the emotional toll this program puts on the humans who volunteer to help these pups shines through. Throughout Pick of the Litter, it’s so much more than just adorable pups doing cute stuff. It’s 81 minutes of inspirational storytelling featuring five endearing pups easy to root for in their attempt to become guide dog for the blind.
You’ve seen service dogs for the blind leading their owners around and wondered how they were able to do that.
You let the dogs out.