Spoiler Alert: This is a review of a movie currently in theaters. While attempts are made NOT to reveal the entire plot or ending, I do discuss animal welfare as pertains to the message of the movie. Be forewarned.
Disclaimer: This is a new blog by Tamira Thayne, founder and FORMER director of Dogs Deserve Better. All opinions posted in this blog are my own, and have no connection to or bearing on the organization. In my “Untethering,” I am freeing myself to express whatever opinions I damn well please on both the chaining of dogs and the tethering of people to the ideas, opinions, or bullying of others. Be again forewarned.
Today I finally got out to see the movie “Max,” in theaters now. If you’d like to read more about the movie and watch the trailer, here’s the official site link: http://max-themovie.com/
In short, Max is a Marine military canine that suffers PTSD after his handler is killed in Iraq, and ends up with his handler’s family back in the states when he’s not longer suitable for duty.
When my hubby Joe and I saw the previews, we were both interested in seeing it, but for different reasons. He immediately stated “That looks good” and I immediately responded “Why are they chaining the fucking dog?”
In hindsight I should have said “Why are they fucking chaining the dog?” [emphasis moved] so as not to imply that the dog was in any way at fault for his own chaining. Or that he somehow deserved it.
I obviously get a little worked up about the chaining of dogs, wherever and whenever I see it.
The movies are no exception. In fact, I would argue that movies play a large part in crafting public opinion as it pertains to the treatment of our best friends, because their reach is vast and their influence permeates society.
It’s important that the messages we are putting out into the public are responsible both TO and ABOUT our dogs.
Namely, these responsibilities include (at a minimum): Dogs 1) are firmly part of the home and family; 2) are NOT chained or penned outside; and YET, 3) are NOT running the neighborhood off leash and therefore getting a free pass to torture and maim other critters or humans wondering the planet.
These are not impossible stretches of the imagination OR undoable in any way. It’s just how it needs to be in today’s America. If these are guidelines you don’t feel capable of following, then I recommend you simply don’t get a dog. Easy peasy.
Let’s just get over the ridiculous argument that chaining is humane and move on to taking action to make chain-ge for backyard canines.
I needed to see for myself why Max was being chained in the movie, and was pleased to see that the dangers of chaining were well demonstrated, although I remain unconvinced that this was deliberately done or set up as a lesson to movie-goers.
Kyle, Max’s handler, is killed in Afghanistan, and so Max is sent back to the states for evaluation. It’s determined that he can’t be handled by anyone else and is slated to be put down. Kyle’s family (mom, dad, and brother Justin) decide to take Max home when he shows an affinity for Justin, as I guess he gives out the same aroma as Kyle. Nifty.
That’s all fine and dandy, except for the fact that the Marines just sent a dog they are describing as vicious out the door with a 16 year old kid who knows nothing about dogs (Ummmmm….a little training help, perhaps?), and two parents who wishy washily and uncertainly declare “Max is part of our family, too.”
And then promptly take him home and chain him outside.
I don’t know about you, but I make a habit of NOT chaining my family outside. They tend to not like it. In fact, they get downright grumpy about it.
By way of explanation, Dad declares that the dog is too vicious to go inside the home with the family, and so he hammers in a post and chains him outside—where he will get even more pissed off, break free, and attack the first idiot to come along.
Yep, that happens.
Mom and Justin aren’t really on board with the chaining. But, as in many ‘traditional’ families across the world, they aren’t the ones in power, are they?
Max makes no bones about his unhappiness at being chained outside—barking all night long, and disturbing Mom, Dad and the neighborhood until Justin finally goes outside and sleeps in the grass with him. Only then does Max settles down.
It bears repeating that it’s less a matter of inside versus outside when it comes to where our dogs live, but about them being WHERE WE ARE. Since we live INSIDE, that’s where the dog wants/needs to be too.
Why? Because dogs are social beings. They are alone and lonely in the backyard, which goes against the very nature of the dog. They hate it.
After Max drags his chain free of the post and attempts to attack a bad guy, Dad—ever so wisely—decides to buy him a circus-style cage and sit it in the middle of the yard, thereby fixing the whole ‘break free’ problem.
No water in the cage! Or shade. In Texas.
As with chaining, caging is something that my family frowns upon as well. They don’t enjoy it.
Max didn’t either.
Max is left in the cage while the family goes off to the parade to enjoy the fireworks. Fireworks. For a dog with WAR PTSD? Needless to say, Justin eventually realizes that this is not a good combo, and runs home to sit in the cage with the dog.
Luckily his face doesn’t get eaten off.
By the end of the movie, Max EARNS his way into the home (I won’t tell you how.) But the point is that a dog—AS a member of the family—doesn’t need to EARN a spot inside. He or she has the spot simply by virtue of being a family member. Just like the rest of us do.
What I most liked about the inadvertent lesson in chaining was that Dad’s character was very indicative of the kind of person who keeps a dog chained. He was very domineering with his son, expecting him to toe the line and treating him as an object. In many ways his treatment of his son mirrored his treatment of the dog.
Both the son and the dog were incredibly unhappy, and acted out accordingly.
Just as our dogs are not mere possessions to chain, pen, or treat in ways that are harmful, our children don’t ‘belong’ to us either. We are their guardians, their soft place to land, their support system. Not their dictators or authoritarians.
In a crucial turning point of the movie, Mom says to Dad “We already lost one son, I really don’t want to lose the other.” After this lightbulb moment, Dad’s character changes—opens up, tries to connect with his son, and ends up bringing the dog inside to live.
This opening of the man’s spirit is indicative of a chain-ged person—and changed lives, for both the son and the dog.
Even though I hate to see a dog chained in real life OR the movies, I’d give the movie a thumbs up, because I felt the chaining and penning of Max clearly illustrated the dangers of chaining to both the dog and to the community. And I hope that message, even subconsciously, gets through to the audience.
The movie also brings to light the intelligence and dedication of our military service dogs, further highlighting a dog’s worth and value to humanity. They even featured pictures of war dogs with their handlers at the end of the movie before the credits, a fitting tribute to those who give their lives in service to the U.S.
The final point was driven home to me and all those who take in this movie: Our dogs are MUCH too valuable to chain.