An award-winning filmmaker who grew up in Hadley, he is president of Steven Latham Productions in Los Angeles, which has produced several documentaries, including the award-winning PBS series “The Living Century.” His latest film, “Shelter Me,” will air tonight on public television stations throughout the country, including WGBH in Boston and WGBY in Western Massachusetts. Through three stories, it portrays how shelter dogs change people’s lives.
‘We’re in a shelter pet crisis. . . . In 2012 there are 6 million to 8 million cats and dogs entering shelters and only 3 million to 4 million making it out.’
Q. Did you grow up with pets?
A. I grew up with all kinds of animals in Hadley. We were very fortunate to have a sheepdog that lived to be 17 and a cat that was 19½. They were family members. We had rabbits. We had horses. I worked on a farm and have been around animals all my life.
Q. Do you have any animals now?
A. Currently, my pack is six dogs. I have three dogs from the shelter, and I am fostering three more.
Q. What is the message of your film? What do you hope to accomplish?
A. We’re in a shelter pet crisis in this country. In 2012 there are 6 million to 8 million cats and dogs entering shelters and only 3 million to 4 million making it out. One of the ways we are dealing with the overpopulation crisis is by killing more than 50 percent of the adoptable animals in shelters, and I don’t think the majority of the public knows that.
Q. Some people are afraid to adopt shelter pets, thinking they are somehow tainted. It’s obvious you do not see shelter animals that way.
A. My project is really about a new way of looking at shelter pets, to celebrate these animals, because I personally believe they are the best pets. These
aren’t damaged goods. These aren’t scary animals. Most of them are housebroken; they lived with owners in a home. I believe this wholeheartedly: A shelter pet knows when they’ve been saved. There is a wisdom and appreciation. They never forget you’re the one who saved them. If you make that connection, I promise you are going to fall in love.
Q. Animal lovers will love your film. How do you reach the others? Why should they care?
A. If the shelter in your area is full, your community has a problem. What I want people to do is to look at the shelter as something the community takes pride in, something they will adopt. There’s a ripple effect that will benefit everyone. With the inmate program, every single woman who has trained the dogs — not one of them has returned to jail for a crime, and that’s unheard of. You have a reduced rate of recidivism, less money spent on incarceration and fewer victims on the street.
Q. I found the stories of the recently returned veterans with their shelter dogs very moving. It’s clear that more wounded veterans could use a loving dog in their lives.
A. The vets program is critical. Our veterans who have sacrificed so much are returning and suffering from PTSD. The program connects a veteran with a dog and allows them to begin healing and getting back to life. Even if you’re not an animal person, this is a proven program that has saved lives.
Q. If you can’t adopt a pet, what can you do?
A. I’m not going to preach about it and fall into the trap of showing sad animals behind bars and say, “Give us your money.” What I do is to show you that these animals are incredible and worth saving. You can volunteer even an hour a month. Support your shelter however you can.
Q. What is causing this overflow of shelter animals?
A. The utter irresponsibility of people. They abandon them in the Hamptons, in the Everglades, in the desert. It’s very scary to me that someone can take a sentient being and be that callous. There are puppy mills and people who don’t neuter. They contribute massively to this crisis.
Q. We recently adopted Gumbo, a 4-year-old mixed breed. He is sweet and well-behaved and very handsome. Would you be his godfather?
A. I’d be honored.