Documentary Short Film Review “Gander: America’s Hero Dog”



First, the Recap:

We’ve heard it advised for decades, perhaps even centuries through what history has established–dogs are known as man’s best friend. While many of us can directly relate to this sentiment via our own personal experiences with the common household pal, there is another group of people who so overtly benefit from the companionship of lovable pooches–our veterans returning from war.  Whether physically injured, mentally impacted, or as so often occurs–both–these men and women returning home with PTSD are more than in need of aid and something to grasp onto, even live for. Enter the wonderfully endearing service dog. At times literally saving their owner’s lives, they become a necessary component for those suffering post-war trauma to find something potentially in short supply–hope.

One particular example of what these dogs can achieve for someone is a Labradoodle named Gander. Lon Hodge, a vet and PTSD sufferer, has had the distinct honor of Gander as his service dog, and the experiences gained from this partnership is nothing short of amazing. Learning that there is currently a 2-year waiting list for a dog at a cost of at least $25,000/dog to train and prepare, Lon was fortunate to have been granted Gander, as the shelter dog turned service dog was supposed to go to another owner. Expounding on how the Colorado prison system helps Freedom Service Dogs train the animals as part of inmate rehabilitation, the literally hundreds of tasks the dogs can perform, to simply acknowledging the furry companion is “a reflection of what is good”, it’s made abundantly clear the impact these dogs have.

Next, my Mind:

With this 27-minute documentary short film, writer/director/cinematographer/editor Stacey Stone once again delivers a top-notch effort and more than adequately pulls on the heartstrings via a narrative about both the incredible world of service dogs overall as well as specifically on the loving relationship between veteran Lon Hodge and, literally by achieved title, America’s Hero Dog, Gander. What becomes most affecting about the story, beyond the sheer cuteness and intelligence of its affable lead, is not only does it illustrate how much time, effort, cost, and love goes into training these dogs, but also how deep the human/dog bond can go, especially in light of the ongoing struggle those with PTSD experience. With Gander, there’s an incredible, almost innate ability to sense when people are hurting, and watching the interactions between him and Lon, much less others along the way, only serves to emphasize this further.

Interviews beyond Lon Hodge are many and very interesting, including insights from Supervisor and Founder of the CO Prison Trained K9 Companion Program Debi Stevens, who’s watched as dozens of inmates have been so greatly influenced by working with training the dogs, Marc Racas, Executive Director and Cofounder of Operation Fetch, whose love for Gander and what the dog has accomplished knows no bounds, as well as Kenny Bass, Cofounder/Executive Director of The Battle Buddy Foundation, sharing how his service dog has been an unexpectedly wonderful, even if initially challenging, addition to his life. Also willing to tackle the tougher barriers sometimes faced by those with service dogs, including access issues/rules, people having “fake” dogs, made to appear like service dogs. but aren’t actually trained as such, plus other types of impediments that have very much hindered veterans who rely on their service dogs heavily for their physical and psychological health, it’s another eye-opening look into how integral it is that veterans have the tools they need to get through their day to day lives.

In total, “Gander: America’s Hero Dog” paints a delightful, but still purposeful and steady, portrait of how Gander and other service dogs like him are so integral to veterans like Lon Hodge, Kenny Bass, and Marc Racas and their journey to combat the so often debilitating effects of PTSD.  It’s the beauty of the camaraderie created for and shared by man and dog, and it should never be taken for granted how powerfully healing this extraordinary bond can truly be. Also, it establishes on undisputable fact that will forever remain it seems–dogs hate baths!

As always, this is all for your consideration and comment.  Until next time, thank you for reading!


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