Westside German Shepherd Rescue Gets the Documentary Treatment in "Robin"
Animal rescue videos are plentiful on the Internet. They show the heartbreaking stories of dogs, cats, and other animals, many neglected or outright abused, most abandoned but some surrendered. These zero-budget productions, shot home-movie style by volunteers, usually end with a plea for adoptive families, donations, or both.
Robin adds other elements to the typical rescue video. Produced by the recently launched women-centric YouTube channel WIGS, the documentary short shows the many challenges facing rescue organizations through the story of Los Angeles' Westside German Shepherd Rescue and of its founder and president, Robin Jampol. We chatted with Jampol last week before the Sept. 15 premiere of Robin.
“I’ve known Marsha [Oglesby] for many years,” Jampol said, when asked how WIGS came to choose her group as the subject of one of its unscripted shorts. Oglesby serves as co-executive producer for the YouTube channel and has long been involved with WGSR. She takes in fosters and even holds her birthday parties at the group’s shelter, requesting donations in lieu of gifts. “Marsha wanted to tell the story of animal rescue and of women making a difference.”
Jampol and her organization certainly do make a difference. Through Robin, viewers learn that Westside German Shepherd Rescue saved more than 700 German Shepherds and mixes in 2011 alone, the same year it moved into an 11,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility in Westwood. The documentary explores the new facility, designed to look more like a Cape Cod-style home than an animal shelter, while interweaving tales of the group’s heartbreaks and successes.
One such heartbreak involves Belen, a puppy with Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, a rare but deadly and painful skin disease caused by a reaction to medication. Viewers watch as Jampol cares for Belen at the shelter and later in her home, before the sick pup finally succumbs to the disease and its many complications.
“Belen was one of the most heart-wrenching ones,” Jampol said. “She truly was such a special little girl. We tried so hard, and people rallied. It’s one of the most touching things I’ve ever done in rescue.”
The rallying she speaks of included nearly around-the-clock care, which included an expensive drug therapy that was supplied by an area hospital from its own stock, because WGSR could not get it from the manufacturer soon enough. It cost $1,900.
“Someone just walked in the door with the full amount" for the drug, Jampol said. “The disease just kept going and going, though. It was horrible.”
Viewers see and hear the effect Belen had on the veteran animal rescuer. She chokes up when talking about the dog’s death, one of many hard hits in recent months. The group also lost a major source of funding in the spring, resulting in layoffs of paid staff and putting its long-term residency at the new location in jeopardy.
“What we can do will be very limited if we don’t get more support,” Jampol said. “Just yesterday 12 dogs came in. Each dog is so amazing. To lose one would be such a tragedy. We’re fighting to stay there.”
Not having enough funding to help all animals in need takes a toll on those who do rescue work. And while Robin features many bright moments -- including a visit to the kitty room where dogs get tested for cat friendliness, along with the pickup of German Shepherd-mix George at an area shelter -- the documentary’s somber tone helps to convey the many challenges rescue organizations face.
At the end of the doc, Jampol shares how she keeps spirits high enough to continue the important work. “Because we love them so much, that’s what keeps us going, and everyone’s very special. Even though it is a lot of heartbreak and a lot of hard work, it feeds your soul.”