Animal lovers will find a bittersweet watch in “Free Puppies!,” a documentary on volunteer rescue groups working to adopt dogs in areas of the United States that are high in strays and, subsequently, high in euthanasia rates.
The directors Samantha Wishman and Christina Thomas narrow their scope to Dade County, a rural area in northwest Georgia, where locals like the small-business owner Monda Wooten have stepped up to rescue stray animals and push for spay-and-neuter services in the absence of an operating animal shelter. Despite being on the local board of commissioners, Wooten has been unable to secure funding for a shelter or a comprehensive animal control unit for the county since she first started rescuing animals more than a decade ago. As Wishman and Thomas explain, the issue of shelter funding is a pervasive one across the Southeast that, coupled with the year-round warm climate and high rates of poverty, has created an environment with too many stray dogs and not enough kennels or homes to keep them in.
The focus of “Free Puppies!”can feel a bit limited at times. It would have been nice to perhaps see how other counties in the South are responding to these widespread animal welfare concerns, or to examine more closely how poverty and the lack of social services in the region has had a trickle-down effect on nonhuman lives. Nevertheless, the film achieves its goal in raising awareness for these volunteer efforts, casting a spotlight on a chronically overlooked crisis.
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 10 minutes. In theaters and on virtual cinemas.