No dogs die in Dogs.
This was definitely my first concern when I saw the trailer for Netflix's new six-episode "dogumentary" series. Ever since being scarred by My Dog Skip as a child, I've been wary of any dog-related media that sells itself as "heartfelt," or the story of "unconditional love." That's just shorthand for saying The dog will absolutely die in the end, and you will cry.
Now, I can't promise that Dogs, out Friday, won't make you cry. It probably will! But that isn't the point of the show. While the stories are gripping, tense, and emotional, Dogs allows viewers to surrender to the episode without anxiety that it will devastate you. In nurturing this trust with the audience, Netflix has created a refreshing, therapeutic TV show.
I refuse to watch the new Netflix series #Dogs until someone can confirm that no dogs die in it. I really wanna just watch a series about dogs being the greatest but I don’t want to cry.
— Morgan Glennon (@mojotastic) November 13, 2018
Dogs is about dogs. Each hour-long episode focuses on the lives of canines, from service dogs in America to a 378-acre no-cage sanctuary for street mutts in Costa Rica. While some of the episodes are zeroed in on particular dogs, like an Italian fisherman's best friend, others are focused more broadly on a culture, such as rescue dogs in New York City. And although many documentary anthologies have particularly great episodes and a handful of duds, Dogs is remarkably consistent — the show never flags, and I found myself entirely invested in each story it told.
Dogs is not just fluff. Each episode has stakes, frequently very serious ones, ranging from a child's medical needs to a nation's stray dog crisis. Even the lightest piece in the anthology, "Scissors Down," about a dog grooming competition, has broader implications about art, globalization, and community, following Japanese entrants who hope to have their aesthetics appreciated in the exclusive world of North American grooming. Other pieces are much weightier; I suspect the most controversial will be "Territorio de Zaguates," about a sanctuary that struggles to properly care for approximately 1,000 dogs because the owners can't bear to leave any mutt on the streets. The most nerve-wracking of the bunch is "Bravo, Zeus," a remarkable episode that follows a Berlin-based Syrian refugee who fights to reunite with the dog he was forced to leave behind in Damascus.
It quickly became clear to me that there would never be a dead dog or a failed shelter, because that clearly isn't what Dogs wants to explore. Although this approach could easily be dismissed as "feel good," implying a kind of coddling by the directors, that would be wrong; Dogs deals with situations that have serious consequences, but does so in an un-manipulative way, letting you completely relax and trust the storytelling.
Taken in sum, Dogs is lovely and rare, a show that invites you to trust it, and doesn't burn you when you do. Dogs simply doesn't want to reach its emotional highs and lows by making you sad. That doesn't make its stories less important or serious; it is a show, fundamentally, about life, and one that just happens to take the lens of optimism. I physically felt myself relax episode by episode, until I was unreservedly immersed in the world of dogs.
So sit back and relax. I mean really relax. You're in for something great.