ROTTERDAM – Wendy Mitchell’s history of dogs in the movies has a simple premise: she chooses a canine star and writes a short history of the dog. The canines in question range from major stars known to us all (Lassie, Scraps and Toto being the most famous examples) to lesser-known doggies who have more than deserved their place in the spotlight (in films such as Carlos Sorín’s Bombón El Perro and Kelly Reichardt’s Wendy & Lucy). Citizen Canine: Dogs in the Movies is far from a shaggy dog story, with each dog taking up equal, minimal space: one page per pooch, with a selection of photos. Though apparently lightweight, it is clear that Mitchell has done her research. Each doggy profile comes with anecdotes and quotes from the humans involved on set, including directors, stars and dog trainers, the latter being the most fascinating.
The book is peppered with inside information such as how dogs are coerced into lovingly licking an actor’s face (rubbing an apple or paté over the human’s visage generally does the trick, apparently) and other tricks used to get the best out of the canine stars. In fact, I feel there is a longer book lurking in these pages that could look at the history of movie dogs and dog trainers. It’s not just individual dogs that get all the attention: the puppies from 101 Dalmatians get a page, as do the 250-odd dogs in the Hungarian film White God, which has one of the most remarkable canine scenes of any film. What might come as a surprise to the more innocent reader is how many dogs play one role (such as the three little pit bull pups that play Rocco and get to be held in Tom Hardy’s arms in The Drop). This is an entertaining and utterly charming read. It’s ideal anyone who’s ever loved a dog, or who loves films, or who – like the author herself – loves both.