Humanity’s Best Friend – The American Service Dog

Hi, I’m Billy Blake, I’m a filmmaker, and I love dogs. I’ve always loved them. My best buddy Chance recently turned 10. I’m writing this article to share something that happened to me recently, which opened up a whole new dimension of not just love, but even greater respect and admiration for our canine friends. In fact, I’m making a film about it:
But before I tell you that story, let me tell you another story.

Several years ago, I visited a friend whose teenage daughter Rachel had volunteered to be a puppy-raiser for Canine Companions for Independence. Her dog, Godiva, was to be a prospective service dog and I watched how close they became. A couple months later, Godiva “graduated” – meaning she would move elsewhere for her specialized training – my friend invited me to the ceremony. All the adults in the room were sobbing, but not Rachel. She was beaming. She knew she was giving up the dog she had raised for a greater good, and she was comfortable with that, as she should be. It affected me because it was so selfless, and I don’t think we see enough selflessness these days. I had so many questions about how this Service Dog thing worked. How are puppies chosen? Is it always volunteers like Rachel who raise them? How are the dogs trained? What are the ranges of tasks they can learn? What are the human disabilities they assist with? How are they matched to a person? How much do Service Dogs cost and how do people afford them?

I Googled, researched several different websites, then started making phone calls to organizations. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know. And then a light bulb went on for me, there had never really been a documentary film that told the story of the world of Service Dogs. We hear a lot of noise in this world. Even when it doesn’t get to you, it’s still there. There truly seems to be conflict everywhere we turn these days and sometimes I just wish people would cooperate with each other more. Well, this 74-year-old filmmaker from Santa Monica just stumbled onto a place where human cooperation is alive and well. It’s in the world of Service Dogs.

Think about it. You have people like Rachel who volunteer their time. You have donors who support the organizations that make the whole process possible. You have trainers. Some organizations use military veterans to teach the dogs. Some involve the prison population. All these elements of human society working together to make this thing possible, doing it for the greater good, and the best part is – the people who benefit from it all the most are the people who need it the most.

It’s easy to forget what wonders we are capable of as human beings. Maybe we just need a less judgmental and far cuddlier species to help remind us, and I’ve heard their call. I’m making a film about these dogs, but it goes beyond the fact that dogs are loyal, patient, valiant, strong enough to pull a sled, and gentle enough to love a baby. It goes beyond the fact that dogs live squarely in “the now,” without regret, without judgment, fully and with unconditional love. Our film WILL show that this important segment of the dog world – the Service Dog world – also brings out the best in humanity.

I came up with the name Humanity’s Best Friend because that’s truly who these animals are. The film will showcase an amazing range of tasks these amazing dogs are trained to perform. It will reveal the strong emotional bonds they forge with the people they help. We’ve all seen these wonderful canines guiding people who are blind and alerting people who are deaf, but they are also valuable partners for anyone with mobility issues, bone and skeletal issues, developmental issues, mental and emotional issues, plus MS, cancer, diabetes, severe allergies, epilepsy, and more. But the real underlying message of my film, and the reason I’ve written this article, is because these dogs are also a lesson and a reminder of how people can work together. Like I’ve said, the world of service dogs reflects the best in our whole society. I want to show that there are a lot of human heroes too.

I can make a great film. This isn’t my first rodeo as they say. Back in the 1970’s I optioned the film rights to a poem that became the cult classic horror favorite Pumpkinhead. I also optioned the film rights to song titles I loved, and one was Rhinestone Cowboy. I produced the film Rhinestone with Dolly Parton and Sylvester Stallone, in which Stallone actually sang country. (One reviewer said he saw that film on a plane and walked out!) A few years ago, a terrible raging fire destroyed my home and I lost most of my possessions, only narrowly escaping with my life, my partner Peggy, and our dog Chance. I also lost most of my photography (my hobby). I was depressed. In 2014, I launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter for a coffee table book of my remaining photography, which succeeded, and that brought me back. Now, I’m producing this film! Life does have a way of bringing us full circle, doesn’t it?

I decided to produce Humanity’s Best Friend as an independent film, because it’s personal and I need to tell this story truthfully. Recently, I went back to Kickstarter for production funds. I set up a fiscal sponsorship through From the Heart Productions so that all pledges made to the film on Kickstarter (or otherwise) are tax-deductible. I’ve spoken with respected service dog organizations such as Canine Companions for Independence, Freedom Service Dogs of America, Paws with a Cause, NEADS, and the Warrior Canine Connection. All of these wonderful organizations are cooperating with the film and helping steer me in the right direction. The campaign on Kickstarter is live, there’s a short trailer and a lot of information here:

I can’t wait to make this film! People working together – alongside dogs and alongside each other – I could get used to that.

Thanks for reading.
– Billy

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