It began with the need to help. To invoke change. To step up and make a difference during what little time we have on this confusing planet. And though it sounds as if I could be speaking about one of the subjects of the film I am making, I’m really talking about myself. After three rock documentaries, films which were truly a dream to make and deeply rooted in my comfort zone, I needed something more.
But it had to be a subject about which I was passionate. What is art without passion? You can spend years on one film. And to spend years on a subject that did not have a significant place in my heart was something I was not at this point in my life willing to do.
Where could I make a difference? To find the answer I had to look no further than the other end of my sofa, at a rambunctious Labrador mix named Springsteen. I owed him and all of his brethren for the joy they’ve brought into my life.
So, the subject? Dogs. But what would the film be about, specifically?
My wife, Kristine, who does a lot of the research for my company, was at the same place in her life. Seeking a purpose. And her passion for dogs ran perhaps even deeper than mine. Unfortunately, when she searched for dog stories online, what she found much too often were horrible reports of abuse. Dogs set on fire, dragged behind cars, wrongly shot by policemen, thrown down garbage chutes, left to starve to death, left to overheat in cars.
The abuse came at a rapid pace, and it was not long before Kristine would stop sending them to me because of my extreme reaction. Unfortunately, justice for the dogs in question never seemed to be never a part of the equation.
Shortly before leaving for a 20th anniversary vacation, Kristine sent me an email with a link to yet another dog story. I asked her why. I really didn’t want to read something horrible as we were about to embark on our first real vacation in almost a decade. She told me, “Read it. This one has a happy ending.”
Not only did it have a happy ending, it had a perfect three-act structure, a hero who stood against the system, a dog who survived against all odds, and a young runaway girl whose life was also saved by a near-tragic event. Everything about it screamed “movie!”
It was the story of a dog in Mobile, Alabama. A dog named Gucci.
At ten weeks old, Gucci was hung by his neck, punched repeatedly, doused with lighter fluid, and set afire. That should have been the last thing this puppy would ever experience. His last contact with humans. His final moments of life. But Professor Doug James, standing on his porch nearby, waiting to meet a prospective buyer for his house, heard the puppy’s cries and ran to help. He scared away the cowardly thugs who had perpetrated this heinous crime, doused the flames, and returned the puppy to its owner, a 15-year-old runaway girl who had resisted one of the thug’s advances.
Burning Gucci had been her punishment. Frightened for her life, and not knowing how she’d be able to care for the severely injured puppy, she asked Doug James for help. He took the dog in for the night. Thus began a 16-year odyssey of devotion and perseverance.
At first it seemed impossible that the badly burned pup would even make it through the night. But Gucci, a Chow/Husky mix, would live for 16 years as Doug’s companion. As Gucci recovered and as an enraged populace came to the dog’s aide with donations to help with his mounting medical bills, Doug did everything in his power to see that the dog’s three assailants were punished. However, the laws in Alabama were not on Gucci’s side. At worst the guilty would receive slaps on the wrists. That was not enough in the eyes of Doug James.
Together with local legislators, and with Gucci always faithfully by his side, Doug would work six years to finally see the “Gucci Bill” passed, changing the laws in Alabama and making domestic animal abuse a felony. He would witness Gucci go from being a survivor to being the face of animal abuse in the South.
So the night before Kristine and I left on that vacation, I watched all the news clips, read whatever clippings I could find online. The story of Gucci and Doug captivated the state of Alabama in the mid-’90s. And I knew the story could captivate the world now. Especially in a time when a new tale of outrageous animal abuse pops up on the news or on Facebook every day.
I knew this had to be my next documentary project, and emailed Doug James, telling him of my passion. Telling him how my film would show how one person can make a difference, especially when they have a tail-chasing pup by their side. And how it would examine the bigger picture of domestic animal abuse in America, the laws in every state, the track records of the judges and prosecutors hopefully enforcing those laws, and even what any fed-up citizen can do to help.
I also told Doug what I would call the film. A Dog Named Gucci.
By the time Kristine and I arrived at our destination, Doug had already written back. He too felt it was time Gucci’s story be shared with the world. He spoke lovingly about his old companion who had passed away a few years prior. How Gucci was the friendliest dog he had ever known, despite what happened to him. He told me Gucci’s birthday was March 15. My birthday. But the thing that stands out most in my memory about that first conversation was how Doug kept referring to Gucci as a “rock star.”
That was when I knew. Not only did Gucci’s story need to be told, I was the person destined to do it.
Watch the trailer for the movie here:
A Dog Named Gucci will also examine the bigger picture of domestic animal abuse in America, the laws in every state, and what you can do to help change them. We are also choosing to cover six other abuse cases to help us illustrate the problems.
If you love animals — and you wouldn’t have read this far if you didn’t — you will fall in love with Gucci. And you will see how his struggle is only the tip of a very big iceberg of abuse. Horrible torture of our most loyal friends. Crimes that so often go unpunished.
Our Kickstarter campaign for the movie has 11 days to go. If you would like to see this movie happen, visit the page. Pledge what you can. Spread the word. With your help, we can get Gucci’s story out there and make a difference. Follow our progress on the film’s Facebook page, A Dog Named Gucci, and visit Kickstarter.
Gorman Bechard is an film director, screenwriter, and novelist who is best known for his independent feature films Psychos In Love, Friends (with Benefits), and You Are Alone; his rock documentary Color Me Obsessed, A Film About the Replacements; and six novels, including the very animal-friendly The Second Greatest Story Ever Told. His third rock doc, Every Everything: The Music, Life, and Times of Grant Hart, a documentary on Hüsker Dü’s infamous drummer and singer-songwriter, premieres in London next month.
He is currently working on A Dog Named Gucci and another documentary, Pizza: A Love Story, which tells the history of the three greatest pizza places in the world: Sally’s, Pepe’s, and Modern, all located in New Haven, CT, where he lives with his lovely wife, Kristine (who does all of his documentary research), and their dogs Springsteen and Phoebe.
Read more about saving dogs and ending animal abuse on Dogster: