Three local nonprofits join forces for ‘Dogs on the Inside’
May 12, 2015
On Thursday, the Park City Film Series will combine two Summit County favorites — dogs and film — when it hosts a free screening of Brean Cunningham and Douglas Seirup’s "Dogs on the Inside" at the Prospector Theater.
The documentary, which is about a prison program called Don’t Throw Us Away that recruits inmates at a Massachusetts prison to train rescued dogs for adoptions, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2011.
What followed to bring the film back was a journey on a path of serendipity that can only be found in Park City, said Katharine Wang executive director of the Park City Film Series.
"Kim Page, who used to be the board chair for the nonprofit Friends of Animals Utah [and interim executive director of the Park City Film Series] was approached by Douglas Seirup, one of the directors of the film, at the Sundance Film Festival," Wang said. "He wanted to bring it to Park City and have a Q & A. So Kim brought it to our attention, and since we’ve partnered with Friends of Animals Utah over the years for our Reel Community Series, this seemed like the perfect film for them."
But as Page and Wang talked, they realized the heart of the film mirrored the mission of another locally based nonprofit, Canines with a Cause, which recruits female inmates at the Utah State Penitentiary to train rescue dogs for adoption.
"So, we thought it would be great to get these two main animal-rescue organizations in our community together for a screening," Wang said.
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"Dogs on the Inside" examines the issue of overflowing animals shelters, which ultimately means most of the dogs end up being euthanized, Wang said.
"So Don’t Throw Us Away helps not just the dogs, but also helps the prisoners in a mutually beneficial program," she said. "You see animals and people who are neglected by society for various reasons who need companionship and love."
Cathy King, executive director of Canines with a Cause heard about the film before it was released.
"This was exactly our focus," King said. "We train dogs down at the Utah State Penitentiary at the Point of the Mountain in Bluffdale so they can become service dogs to our military veterans."
Canines with a Cause had actually reserved the film when it became available, and then they were contacted by Friends of Animals Utah.
"Incidentally, I used to be the executive director of Friends of Animals Utah," King said with a laugh. "Anyway, Kim contacted me and said the filmmakers were contacting animal groups around the country and wanted to screen the film. This was something we wanted to be involved in because this is what we do.
"This program is not just for the dogs to get out of the shelters so they can find homes, but also for the inmates," King said. "Many of the dogs we train have been deemed unadoptable, so having these prisoners train them is their only hope of getting out."
The program gives the inmates a vocational skill they can use once they get out of prison.
"It gives them something to nurture and love while in prison, which is important because many of these women have children whom they may never see again," King said. "One of the quotes from an inmate is ‘I’ve done a lot of bad things in my life and since I’ve been incarcerated, the only thing left for me in my life was to sit around every single day and think about everything bad that I’ve done. And now, I’ve been given a chance to give back. I can now train a dog that otherwise would have been euthanized to go to a loving home, or even better, go to a vet with post-traumatic stress disorder.’"
Canines with a Cause implemented the program in March 2014.
"We had been trying to work with the prison for some time, but it wasn’t until Rawlin Cook became executive director of the Department of Corrections 1 ½ years ago when things started to work out," King said. "He saw a need in the women’s prison and had heard about programs like this. He searched us out and it took about a year for us to put a program together."
The program partners one dog with three women.
"The dog lives with two in their cell and we have an alternate who comes in if one of the women become ineligible to continue with the program," King said. "Our volunteers and staff will visit the prison on the weekends and work with basic behavior, sit/stay and things like that. Throughout the week, the inmates will do their homework with the dogs. The dogs are given training 24 hours a day and seven days a week."
Kathleen Toth, board president of Friends of Animals Utah, said the partnership with the Park City Film Series and Canines with a Cause fits well with its mission to increase the awareness of the "ability, skills and intelligence of the dogs that are sitting in shelters, waiting for homes."
"Park City is a great community where everyone supports film and everyone supports animals," she said. "It’s important that we raise awareness in our community of the quality, the intelligence and trainability of rescue animals that are left in shelters.
"Rescued dogs make great therapy animals and make great search and rescue dogs, as the Deer Valley team would attest," Toth said. "They have adopted one of our dogs recently.
"We also believe rescuing goes both ways," she said. "You have probably seen the bumper sticker that says, ‘Who rescued whom?’ with a paw print. And I think that is a great way of saying the relationship between an animal and companion both benefit from. It’s important that all rescue groups work for the same goal — these animals are valuable, trainable and worthwhile."
After the screening, which was also made possible by the Park City Rotary Club, the Park City Film Series will facilitate a Q & A via Skype with co-director Douglas Seirup, Wang said.
"Part of being a nonprofit art-house cinema and differentiates us from our commercial competitors is that we use film as a mechanism to elevate the community dialogue," she said. "Film can be used to get everyone on the same page in very short time period. It would be a missed opportunity to show a film like this one and then not have a discussion afterwards or show that we do have programs or organizations in our community like Canines with a Cause or Friends of Animals Utah that people can act on right away."
Park City Film Series, Friends of Animals Utah and Canines with a Cause will present a free screening of Brean Cunningham and Douglas Seirup’s "Dogs on the Inside," not rated, at the Prospector Theater, 2175 Sidewinder Dr., on Thursday, May 14, at 7 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, visit http://www.parkcityfilmseries.org.