Dog Movie Spreads Spay-Neuter Message, Painlessly

"My Dog Tulip," the animated movie by Paul and Sandra Fierlinger that opened this week at New York City's Film Forum and was hailed by...

Julia Szabo  |  Sep 3rd 2010


“My Dog Tulip,” the animated movie by Paul and Sandra Fierlinger that opened this week at New York City’s Film Forum and was hailed by Mel Brooks as “a work of art,” is more than an insightful examination of relationships in general and the human-canine bond in particular.

It’s also a timely animal-welfare flick that sends a subtle yet strong message about the vital importance of spaying and neutering dogs.

The movie is based on J.R. Ackerley’s book about how his life changedafter he adopted an “Alsatian bitch,” i.e. female German Shepherd. She becomes the focus of his life, the “ideal friend” he’d always sought but almost gave up hope of finding.

The film opens with a scene all besotted dog loverscan relate to:Ackerley, an employee of the BBC, isseen attending a 1940s-era, A-list, fancy-dress function where the featured guests arenone other than Winston Churchill and George Bernard Shaw. Yet the entire time, as the camera flashbulbs pop,our hero islooking anxiously at his watch, itching toscram at the earliest opportunity so he can return home to his beloved dog. Ackerley’s heroic attempts to battle London trafficen route to his flat are priceless.

In his attempt to give Tulip a full and happy life, the author seeks a “husband” for her, so that shemay experience the joys of motherhood.Ackerleyand his bitch-in-heatare seen walking together through the snow, with Tulip leaving behind tell-talecrimson spots.

The misadventures of Tulip’s search for a mate are hilarious. The animators pull out all creative stops in depicting canine courtship, including highly imaginative pencil-sketch sequences that are by turns comical and quite sad.

Tulip is picturedas a femme fatale straight out of a film noir. Standing on two legs, wearing a short skirt, sunglasses, and high heels, she’s a K9 Lana Turner. Never mind thatstuds for miles around are hot onTulip’s tail; Tulip has eyes only for one, a tiny terrier about one-eighth her size who is largelyindifferent to hercharms.

Courtship rites and wrongs are the same for humans and dogs, it seems, as Ackerley (who is voiced by Christopher Plummer)consoles his girlby gently whispering,“It’s the way of the world.” This is one of the most poignant scenes in the film; if you’re not moved by it, then you’ve never had your heart broken, or you haven’t gotone to break.

Memorable puppy-porn sequences reveal Tulip’s abortive sexual encounters with purebred male Alsatians, among them an imposingly butchspecimen and apreening dandydog whose aristocratic owners are depicted as figuresin a Holbein painting. Despiteappearing to bemade for Tulip, these suitors can’t quite – well, you know.

Ultimately, however, Tulip does manage to score. But in this game, the winner doesn’t take all. I don’t want to be a plot spoiler, solet’s just say that what happens next is bittersweet, to say the least – and a powerful argument against seeking a husband for one’s hot bitch.

Without intending to, Ackerley wroteatouching treatise that could easily convert anyone wishing to have his dog experience the so-called “miracle of birth.” This book should be required reading for any owner of a female dog, and the film adaptation dramatizesits importanttheme beautifully, without preaching. One could argue that the film actuallygets this point acrosseven more powerfully than the book on which it’s based.

The spay-neuter message comes across quietly, with typically British stiff-upper-lip understatement, but it’s loud and clear. To avoid unhappiness in an uncertain world that isn’t always kind to foundlingpuppies, it’s best to prevent dogs from reproducing in the first place. There are plenty of dogs out there already, awaiting adoption at animal shelters (or refuges, as they’re called in England).

“My Dog Tulip”deftly conveysits lifesaving spay-neuter message in a way that will really get through to audiences, with humor and heart.If seen by enough people, this moviecould save manycanine lives;it deserves to win an award from the ASPCA.

Sadly, during Tulip’s lifetime, there were noprograms offering free or low-cost spay-neuter surgeries to dog owners. Today, there are many such programsall over the world. Meanwhile, Found Animals Foundation in Los Angeles isactivelyworking to findthe injectable sterilant thatwill finally bring spay-neuter into the 21st century, without surgery.

Ackerley and his beloved Tulip would most assuredly approve.