Dogs have their day in Netflix series

Pesenter Sue White, of Meadowridge, with three of her four rescue dogs, Indiana Jones, Baloo and Phoebe.

The 13-part reality series, A Dog for Life, presented by Sue White, of Meadowridge, launched on Netflix last month.

This matchmaking show with a difference connects Cape Town families with rescue dogs.

Ms White, a mother of three children and four rescue dogs, says she had the idea for the show while volunteering with Oscar’s Arc, a charity promoting dog adoption.

She wanted to create a feel-good series, telling the stories of shelter dogs and the people who adopt them without showing the heart-rending background stuff at the shelters.

Sam Gray’s production company, Grays Matter Films, loved the concept. Ms Gray, of Constantia, produced and co-directed the series. Despite the hard lockdown and the risky economic climate, she found a Hout Bay pet-nutrition company that was prepared to sponsor the series. In February last year, they shot the promo, pitched the pilot and got a two-year licence with Netflix.

Ms Gray says the programmes have two parts. “The first is a doggy matchmaking process where Sue helps humans to look beyond the fluff and fall in love with one of three dogs selected from shelters.”

These are Fallen Angels, the Animal Welfare Society of South Africa, Animal Welfare Society Stellenbosch, Honey’s Garden for Medical Alert Dogs SA, Animal Anti Cruelty League, Domestic Animal Rescue Group, Oscar’s Arc Woof Project and the Cape of Good Hope SPCA.

The second part has take-away training tips and information, mostly from animal behaviourist Kieran Piper, of Somerset West and Lucy Breytenbach of Sunningdale.

According to Ms White, the characters are a colourful mix of the scruffy, grubby, angelic, perky, goofy, shy, boisterous and delinquent… and that’s just the people, she laughs.

More seriously, she says, they met amazing people who shared their hearts fully and openly.

“They were brave in their vulnerability and astonishing in their courage. Some families and our interactions made us laugh until we cried, and with some, we wept. One woman had breast cancer, another was going through divorce. And then there are empty nesters and kids wanting a dog but end up taking an older dog than a puppy. It’s important to tell their stories and important to promote rescue dogs. Actually dogs are the greatest rescuers of all. We cannot call them rescues, we, the humans, are the rescued.”

Ms White had two rescue dogs before the series began and now has four.

Ms Gray has two rescue dogs, Lady and Mr Darcy. Mr Darcy, a black Labrador, became the poster dog for the series.

As for the challenges of putting it all together, Ms Gray says lots of treats – liver biltong – went into getting the portrait shots. Ms White says the team has been cuddled, licked, urinated on and nipped. She had treats in every pocket and constantly had doughy-eyed dogs sniffing her.

Grays Matter co-director and co-editor Geoffrey Butler loves dogs but is allergic – his antihistamines were included in the budget. Despite being a cat person, co-editor Celeste Fourie stared at dogs for months and ended up loving dogs. Her husband, Etienne, was the cinematographer, and his lens bag had a dog lift its leg on it. He was also a cat person, but dogs gravitate towards him and he is officially now a dog person too.

“When we started we thought we knew what rescue shelters are about. We now know we don’t have a clue,” says Ms White.

Ms Gray says she has loved working with her best friends – human and dog.

Producer and co-director Samantha Gray, of Constantia, with Lady and Mr Darcy.
Animal behaviourist, Kieron Piper, of Somerset West with rescue dog Mamasita.
Cameraman Nic van der Westhuizen filming animal behaviourist Kieron Piper, presenter Sue White and Lawrence Khota of the Animal Welfare Society.
Behind the scenes, from left, are Gray Matters Film team, Alex Ferguson, audio engineer Dylan Wallace, cinematographer Etienne Fourie, director and editor Geoffrey Butler and producer and director Samantha Gray.
Samantha Gray (producer /director) and Etienne Fourie (cinematographer).
Samantha Gray and Geoffrey Butler watch Kieron Piper on screen.