'DogTown' episodes 1-3 feature various animal stories

First three episodes of National Geographic program 'DogTown' feature a variety of animal stories from Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. Here's a recap.
By Amy Abern

Darcy Dennett came to Best Friends looking for stories. And she found some pretty remarkable ones, including her own.

Gathering stories for 'DogTown' TV series

Darcy spent several weeks at the sanctuary finding, developing and following all the story lines for the Best Friends-based series "DogTown," which she produced and which is currently airing on the National Geographic Channel.

Looking back on the experience, she says it "was a huge privilege" to be so intimately involved with the organization. "It took me quite a long time to understand all that Best Friends does. What’s amazing to me is the level of commitment made to each and every animal. It’s a commitment for life. I find that pretty incredible."

As it turned out, Darcy made her own commitment for life.

Adopting a special-needs Siamese kitten

While at the sanctuary, she fell in love with Opal, a little Siamese kitten with a compressed spine who was in the Best Friends' Guardian Angel program.

Darcy adopted the kitty and nicknamed her Mao because of the sound she makes when she "talks." Mao has been designated "princess of the house" and hops happily around her new home in New York City.

What Darcy came to know in a very real and personal way is that every animal, regardless of circumstances, deserves a chance to find a loving home. The staff, volunteers and outreach partners at Best Friends will do everything in their power to make that happen.

'DogTown' second episode: Stray puppies from Navajo Nation and Chow who crosses Rainbow Bridge

That prevailing message was thoughtfully, humorously and emotionally delivered in the second episode of "DogTown," which aired January 11. We watched abandoned puppies from the Navajo Nation transition from struggling for their lives as strays to being adopted as cherished new family members. We followed the story of Annie, a young dog with infant/children aggression issues who eventually found her happy ending in a new home. And we bade a tearful goodbye to Bruno, an older chow whose quality of life deteriorated to a point where it became clear it was time for him to cross the Rainbow Bridge.

It was an emotional episode, not just for the two million viewers but for all of us at Best Friends. Best Friends animal trainer Sherry Woodard, who is featured prominently in this episode, admitted to strong feelings, especially for Bruno.

"I think his story was told beautifully," she says. "It showed that no matter how sick or beyond hope an animal may be, there will always be hope on our end. Dr. Mike [Dix] and Jeff [Popowitch] did everything they could to give Bruno a happy life. Jeff never gave up hope on finding a home for Bruno until the very end."

Darcy says she appreciates how Best Friends’ commitment extends beyond the sanctuary. "Watching the Best Friends staff and Tom [Corrigan] from Fredonia Humane Society work with these people and their animals was very impressive. The Navajo Nation residents were very receptive to their efforts and seemed to really want to work with them. They have so few resources with so many animals. And they showed how grateful and appreciative they were of Best Friends’ work."

It was painful to watch the drama unfold at the dump site as Tom and Best Friends staff searched for strays, but by that time Darcy had a greater understanding of the bigger picture.

"I didn’t cry," she says, "I didn’t feel helpless, because I know Best Friends and Fredonia Humane Society are doing something about this problem. And what’s even more amazing to me is that all these people volunteer for these trips. They go on their days off and spend all day helping the people and the animals there."

Darcy also fell hard for Wiggles, a young bulldog. Wiggles has a few challenges: He can’t walk straight, his long tongue lolls out of his mouth, he has serious incontinence issues and he "poops at random" as he walks.

"In a typical shelter situation," Darcy says, "you know Wiggles would have been euthanized, but Best Friends helped me understand that, despite his challenges, he’d make a great dog for anyone, that he’d bring so much happiness and joy to any family. All his issues are trivial inconveniences. He deserves a chance to be loved. Every dog deserves a chance to be loved. To me, that’s what this whole series is all about."

'DogTown' third episode: Bulldog with health challenges, shy spaniel mix, and Rottweiler and hound mix with allergies

So what did happen to Wiggles? You can find out in the next episode of "Dogtown," which airs Friday, January 18, at 9 pm ET/PT on the National Geographic Channel. Here’s a sneak preview of the episode, called "The Outsiders," provided by Nat Geographic:

"A one-year-old bulldog named Wiggles arrives at Dogtown from a California shelter with unusual symptoms. He falls frequently and can’t control his bowels. Dr. Mike Dix must determine if Wiggles’ condition is life-threatening or if he’s stable enough to live in a home. Trainer Pat Whitacre faces a different kind of challenge: to transform spaniel mix Jolene from a painfully shy, fearful dog into a happy, friendly one. Step by step, Pat attempts to socialize Jolene so she has a chance at adoption. Zoey, a Rottweiler/hound mix, suffers from crippling allergies to the environment and to humans. No allergy medication has worked. Dr. Dix works on a new plan of attack."

"The Outsiders" is the last of three episodes scheduled to air, but if the series proves successful, additional episodes will be produced and broadcast. So please watch, and encourage your friends and family to do the same.

A good way to get the word out is to send an e-card from Best Friends’ Dogtown web page, which also offers videos of your favorite Dogtown dogs, introductions to some of the staff members highlighted in the series, and wallpaper you can download to your desktop.

Adopt a dog from Best Friends.