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And Now, A Word from Kenn Bell, Dog Files Founder and Director of "Hero Dogs of 9/11"

The storyteller talks about the inspiration behind his site, Dog Files, and what compelled him to create a documentary honoring the dogs of 9/11.

 |  Sep 9th 2013  |   3 Contributions


“Showing the world that dogs deserve our love, care and respect” -- that’s the Dog Files motto.

To be honest with you, when I created Dog Files more than five years ago, I thought this was obvious. So obvious, in fact, that I began with the intent to only post cutesy dog photos and happy dog stories.

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Kenn Bell and his dog, Max.

Then I typed “dog” into a Google News search and discovered a world I didn’t recognize. Dogs were being neglected, abused and tortured on a daily basis, and this wasn’t some Third World problem. It was happening right here in the United States.

While animal welfare groups had made inroads since the 1970s with their message of compassion toward animals, they still faced quite a battle. Puppy mills thrived. The legislation that created Missouri’s Proposition B, known as the Puppy Mill Initiative, attests to this continuing battle. Dog fighting was making a comeback, even after Michael Vick was arrested for hosting an elaborate dog fighting and gambling ring. In fact, every day brought a new story of sickening and torturous acts being perpetrated on America’s dogs.

It seemed to me that empathy was taking a backseat to the “me, me, me” culture, and it made me sad. I believed it would be irresponsible for Dog Files to just post cute puppy photos and ignore the dog abuse going on around us.

But what could I do? My greatest compulsion was the desire to tell stories -- to be that proverbial storyteller who sat around the campfire sharing tales, which not only entertained but also secretly (and in my case not so secretly) educated people.

The Dog Files website and video series quickly turned from ice cream socials to rescue stories, anti-BSL stories, and profiles of folks who were making a difference in the world -- people who taught others about animal empathy and adoption.

I was inspired to promote responsible dog ownership though education.

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The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, affected me greatly. Later, I ventured onto the Federal Emergency Management Agency website, and what I found shocked me. Dogs were everywhere at Ground Zero, where the World Trade Center twin towers had stood. They searched for survivors and the remains of victims, they policed the area and they comforted the emergency workers who were going through a world of pain and sorrow.

Quickly, with the anniversary of 9/11 approaching, I combined the photos with emotional music and a simple story that conveyed my feelings about these incredible  animals. It's truly special that we can call them our friends; it's one of the few interspecies friendships on the entire planet. Human and dog. Quite special indeed.

Hero Dogs of 9/11, episode 11 of our video series, Dog Files, was one of our most-viewed videos. More than half a million people across the world have watched it. It clearly touched people. I am particularly proud that it was showcased on liberal and conservative websites, because I believe we need everybody in the fight to make the world a more caring place for dogs, regardless of politics.

Afterward, I wanted to push message even further. How could we get even more people to understand that dogs deserve our love, care and respect? I found the answer in television. 

By joining forces with two great production companies, Kelencontent of Toronto and Starlight Runner of New York, we were able to take the Dog Files' eight-minute short and turn it into the complete story of the brave dogs on 9/11, and what they meant to the men and women who worked so tirelessly at Ground Zero.

In our new documentary Hero Dogs of 9/11, we meet Michael Hingson, a man who has been blind since birth, and watch as he recalls descending 78 floors to find safety on the street with help from his trusty guide dog, Roselle.

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Michael Hingson would not have survived without his dog, Roselle. Still from Hero Dogs of 9/11.

We also meet David Lim, a Port Authority police officer who lost his loyal bomb detection dog, Sirius, as David valiantly helped people flee the towers.

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David Lim and his dog, Sirius. Still from Hero Dogs of 9/11.

And we are privileged to talk to Genelle Guzman-McMillan, the final known survivor to be found at Ground Zero, who was rescued when a search and rescue dog caught her scent.

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Without the skilled nose of a search and rescue dog, Genelle Guzman-McMillan would not have survived Ground Zero. Still from Hero Dogs of 9/11.

This one-hour special is a heartfelt tale of heroism and courage, and the love of humans and dogs. It’s a special story that I truly believe will affect those who watch it.

And I couldn’t be more proud and excited that Animal Planet USA will premiere it Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013, at 8 p.m. Eastern and Pacific Standard Time.

Watch it, and tell your friends about it, especially the friends who don’t see dogs the way we do. Most of all, I hope you let Animal Planet know that you enjoy these types of stories -- stories with a reverence toward the animals they depict, stories that celebrate and educate about the wonderful world of dogs.

As for our next projects, we are in pre-production on our latest documentary, Pit Proud: The True Story of the Most Misunderstood Animal in America. It is based on another short Dog Files episode, which you can watch here.

Dog Files is dedicated to continuing its mission to show the world that dogs deserve our love, care and respect. But we can’t do it without your help.

On Sept. 10, when you watch Hero Dogs of 9/11, please ask yourself how you can help our canine friends and make their lives better, and then act. In doing so, you’ll also change the lives of people. Because every dog that becomes a member of a loving human family leaves an indelible mark on that family. That’s the power of our friend the dog -- and it's a mighty power, indeed.

Hug your pup for me!

Top photo: FEMA/Andrea Booher

About Kenn Bell: After adopting an American Foxhound/Pointer mix named Max from a local shelter, Kenn Bell decided to combine his skills as a filmmaker with his immense love of all things canine to create the dog video series Dog Files. Follow Dog Files on Twitter and on Facebook. If you're interested in sponsoring Bell's Pit Proud documentary, you can contact him here.

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