In “Buddy,” we meet a half-dozen service dogs, following them and their people from bedrooms and kitchens to the grocery store, parks and even a heavy metal rock festival.
Along the way, we see the dedication of the animals helping their humans, the joys of living that the dogs' help bring and the emotional connection between each of the six pairings.
The picture comes from acclaimed Dutch documentarian Heddy Honigmann, who clearly took plenty of time to get to know her subjects, gently interviewing them and following them and their dogs.
The six pairs are: a visually impaired psychologist and his calm labrador, Missy; teenager Zeb, who has visual problems and is autistic, and his labradoodle Utah; military veteran Trevor, who suffers from PTSD and Mister, a very alert and attentive poodle; octogenarian Edith van der Meulen, who was blinded by a German bomb in World War II and her literal running mate, long-haired Alsatian cross Makker; a teenage girl, who lives in a hospital, is in a wheelchair and nearly blind in one eye and her enthusiastic pup, who doesn’t get rattled by the metal volume and paraplegic Erna Aarsen and the amazing labradoodle Kaiko.
Kaiko opens drawers and refrigerator doors for Erna, fetches printouts, helps her undress and roll over in bed, goes shopping with her, filling a basket with goods she knocks off the shelves with a pointer and even gives her a shot. Kaiko, Erna says, allows her to live by herself.
In a very different way, Mister lets Trevor live with his family, providing comfort and assurance -- something that’s seen on camera when he has a PTSD episode and they connect, eye to eye.
Perhaps the most touching tale comes from Edith, who recounts all the dogs she’s had since the 1940s, shows clips of her riding a horse, one of her dogs leading the way at high speed and talks about how Makker gives her companionship and someone to love.
The stories aren’t told in linear fashion. Rather Honigman cuts back and forth between the pairs -- a technique that keeps the stories going for the entire film and gradually reveals the connections between the pairs and the lives of the people.
It’s all beautifully captured by Adri Schrover’s observant camera, which spends as much time watching the dogs as it does the people.
While not aimed as such, “Buddy” is a wonderful companion piece with “Pick of the Litter,” the 2018 documentary about how service dogs are selected and trained. “Buddy” touchingly shows how the dogs work with their people and, as each of those featured says in some measure, becomes a companion who changes their lives for the better.
Yes, “Buddy” has subtitles. But don’t let that throw you off in seeing the picture. And, if you’ve got a service dog, bring them along to the Ross. They’re always welcome there and, for this week’s screenings, they’ll get some free dog treats from the Canine Consultants & Pet Supply at the box office. That’s a lot better than a ticket.