Terminally ill pets and their desperate, distressed caretakers are those that seek Dr. Marty Goldstein’s miraculous help. Yet his unconventional philosophies and radical therapeutic methods are shown in a fairly conventional, albeit deeply affecting, manner in director Cindy Meehl’s “The Dog Doc.” His devotion to the cause of integrative care — a blending of traditional medicine with alternative, homeopathic treatments — to help pets live longer than expected is palpable and pressing. Widely available via streaming a week after its limited theatrical release on March 13, this documentary is not an infomercial for the Smith Ridge Veterinarian Center, but rather a wildly compassionate call to arms for a profession in need of advancement.
Meehl’s portrait of the passionate veterinarian and those he’s inspired opens on his establishment in South Salem, N.Y. It’s the setting for the unfolding chaos of the clientele, the symphony of the staff whose incredible skillsets make the clinic function, and the scope of care they give each patient. The fluid camera movement floats around the halls, mapping out the facility and showing bodies constantly in motion. A swirling chorus of voices overlap, sonically alerting us to the bustle. Doctors’ calendars are stacked with appointments for pets and their people, some who’ve traveled the world to seek their forms of integrative therapy. Soon thereafter we get to know the man, both professionally and personally, who’s inspiring revolutionary change in his field.
Of course, Meehl’s “dogumentary” is chock full of happy, heroic and heartening moments, including scenes in which doctors tell worried pet owners they can service their fur child’s dire needs, or when they dive into the multitude of success stories the clinic has experienced in extending animal lives. But it’s also not without its sorrow, which most pet owners (past and present) know very well. “Dr. Marty” (as he’s known) is a godsend, but he’s not God, and is powerless to prevent heartache from happening with a few of the featured animals. The ongoing health struggles of one such beloved companion, a once plucky puppy named Waffles, provides the entry point for audiences to get a good sense of the process of diagnosis and different treatments Dr. Marty pioneered. His case also highlights how other traditional veterinarian practices fail to give similar adequate care.
Meehl, who exercises the same humane touch here as she did in her previous documentary “Buck,” utilizes different styles to illustrate how Dr. Marty’s philosophy and practice materialized and how it continues to thrive. She and her crew use a “day in the life” style to capture the life-saving veterinarians in their element. We experience their attachment issues and emotional windfalls, meeting and treating dogs who are silently suffering from sickness. There’s no pervasive feeling of ham-handed manipulation or schmaltz despite the closeups of absolutely adorable cats and dogs. She intersperses interviews when necessary to hammer home salient points or relate the backstories behind the successes and struggles. There are some animated sequences to illustrate Dr. Marty’s discoveries (like the industry standard, “one-size fits all” vaccination dosage being the same for a Great Dane and a 2-pound Chihuahua) and highlight the medical journals, studies and blogs seeking to discredit him. Though it does get into the weeds a little with some medical jargon, it’s important information for those in the field who assuredly will be watching this as a valuable educational tool.
Maybe it’s Meehl’s inconspicuous style as a masterful documentarian, or the importance of the subject matter showcased, but what works best about this documentary is that these life-preserving techniques will reach both the casual and career-minded viewer. It distances itself from any conspiracy theories about the reasons traditional medicine is reluctant to integrate holistic avenues, focusing instead on the greater good of shining a spotlight on an imperative issue. It’s the cinematic preservation of a hope-filled legacy begat by a rebel who sought to give humanity the gift of extra time with their furry, four-legged joy factories. And there’s nothing more priceless than that.