Review: Wild Dog and Mrs Heart

by Isabella Akinseye

In this new Riaan Hendricks documentary, Wild Dog and Mrs Heart, the relationship between man and animal comes to the fore. Shot mostly in black and white and in Afrikaans, we follow the lives of Pieter and his fiancee Nadia of the Animal Welfare Helderberg as they go about caring for animals. Their motto "Dare to Care" which is emblazoned across their bus sums up their attitude towards both sick and healthy animals.

As the film progresses, the caring for animals takes a sombre note. As Nadia points out that she studied to care for animals not to put them to sleep. The viewer is bombarded with back to back sequences of animals being picked up, euthanized and disposed off in black bin bags. Eventually, it becomes apparent that both sick and healthy pets are victims. Pieter reveals a shocking statistic: 8 - 15 dogs are euthanized daily during the month of December when people are cleaning up their yards. The case is no different for cats. This situates the pets as victims of a relationship turned sour.

The film deals with the issue of over consumption. In a material-driven society, man goes about acquiring things which also includes animals. The problem then arises when man gets bored and wants something new. The pet suffers and is either abandoned, maltreated or put up for euthanasia. This could be as a result of a number of factors. We are shown cases of people who are unable to pay for expensive treatment at the vet.

We also see cases where owners do not follow the advice of veterinary doctor. Another scenario is when the owner allows the health condition of the pet to deteriorate before calling for medical help. Other times, the lack of basic hygiene by the owners causes problems for the animals. In some cases, the owner has outgrown the pet and is no longer interested in them.

The film takes a positive turn when Pieter visits Mrs Heart, a poor old lady living with dogs and cats. Despite her impoverished state, she still finds a way to care for these animals. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she talks about her love and devotion to the animals promising to throw a feast when they become old. She speaks excitedly about how she will cook, organise a barbecue and invite a few little children to celebrate with her pets.

Although Mrs Hearts appearance in the film is brief, it marks a turning point in the documentary. From there on, her hopefulness radiates throughout the rest of the film as we see no more animals being euthanized. We see sick animals who have recovered being re-united with their owners. Towards the end of the film, the images move from black and white to colour. The colourful images further reinforces the positivity and hopefulness of the film's direction. The film concludes with quotes from newspaper and website sources regarding animal care. This further reinforces the director's message to the viewer on the relationship between over-consumption and animal euthanasia.