Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — I’ve always looked at my dogs as these conductors of happiness, like time spent with them is an escape from the real world. When I used to live at home with my parents, I’d take my dogs into my room to decompress after a bad day. Now that I’ve moved out I don’t get to see them that much, which is probably why I’ve followed about a dozen or so internet-famous dogs on Instagram, and why my Facebook timeline is pretty much just memes and photos now from groups like “Heckin Big Group of Dank Doggos” and our local version of “Who’s your pupper, senpai?”
I’ve gotten so used to seeing doggos and puppers as memes — as a breather from the increasingly dominant bad news on my social media feeds — that watching Netflix’s documentary series, “Dogs,” took me by surprise. I was expecting the 50-minute video equivalent of a meme, or an extended cut of those heartwarming videos from The Dodo. But “Dogs” is kind of the opposite of those things. Instead of letting me turn away from the harsh realities of the world, I found myself confronting them. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Produced by Glen Zipper and Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker Amy Berg, the 6-episode docu-series follows the stories of people (and the pups they love) from all over the world. In the first episode, “The Kid with a Dog,” we meet 11-year-old Corrine, who has a severe form of epilepsy, and who is days away from meeting Rory, her would-be service dog. “Bravo, Zeus” introduces us to Ayham, a Syrian refugee seeking asylum in Berlin, whose best friend Zeus is a Siberian Husky who remains trapped in the middle of war-torn Damascus.
In episode three, “Ice on the Water,” we meet Alessandro, a fisherman in a sleepy Italian town with a dwindling fish supply, and his 10 year old Labrador retriever, Ice, who accompanies him on his fishing trips. Episode four, “Scissors Down,” takes us back and forth between Japan and America and into the world of competitive dog grooming. In episode five, “Territorio De Zaguates,” we’re taken to Costa Rica, where a small group of people struggle to keep a sanctuary for over 1,000 street dogs, or zaguates, afloat amid money problems. Lastly, “Second Chances” takes us to New York and its community of animal rescuers and adopters.
Dogs have been a part of human lives for as far back as 20,000 years ago. Some scientists even speculate that the earliest evidence of domestication dates back 40,000 years. There’s also evidence of parallel evolution between dogs and humans. All of that just means that the story of dogs is also the story of humans — they’re inextricable. These creatures have accompanied us through time and have seen and, in one way or another, helped us face our biggest trials.
That sounds like a mighty big statement, but that is the statement that underscores the series as, episode after episode, you see the lengths humans go to to take care of their furry friends, and why wouldn’t they if dogs haven’t done the same for us?
Take the people who run the Costa Rican sanctuary for dogs, for example. Despite having barely any resources but the vast land they own, the group continues accepting dogs into their sanctuary, sweeping the streets for abandoned pups. But I think “Bravo, Zeus” is the clearest example of this, as Ayham’s friends in Syria risk their lives to protect and transport Zeus to Germany; all while forcing us to experience and understand the Syrian refugee crisis.
For the most part, “Dogs” expertly weaves socio-political issues into its stories. For Alessandro, there’s the looming threat of a depleting livelihood source in a small town. For the dog-obsessed women of Japan (featured in “Scissors Down”), there’s the expectation to leave one’s career for motherhood, which they — whether consciously or not — avoid by treating their dogs like the children they can’t, or choose not to, have.
Some stories are more intimate and personal, like that of Corinne and her service dog, Rory. For Corinne, Rory is a literal lifesaver, who has been trained to determine an incoming seizure by scent, and whose job is to alert her family so she can receive proper care. This episode is the biggest tear-jerker of all, though most of the others come close. You feel for Corinne, who just wants to live a normal life, be seen as a normal girl, and her family, who is constantly on edge because of the severity of her condition. Rory’s arrival offers a remedy to both.
“Dogs” is a surprising take on our relationship with these furry creatures — a painfully relevant one. As we come to realize just how much turmoil is going on in our world, we’re forced to see that we’re not the only ones affected by our actions.
But for all that it tries to tackle, “Dogs” is still a pretty easy watch. And yes, a hopeful one. There are many lighthearted moments and ones that’ll make you squeal “aww.” My favorites are watching Ice fall asleep at the dinner table like an exhausted grandpa and seeing Zeus “sing” when Ayham video calls him. If you’re a fan of dogs, you’ll quickly devour this series, albeit through tears and dozens of tissues.
“Dogs” is out on Netflix Nov. 16.