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The Silver Screen and German Shepherds

Love Leads the Way-A touching 1984 made-for-television movie made by and for the Disney Channel, this film is fondly remembered by many fans of the German Shepherd dog. Starring Timothy Bottoms and Glynnis O'Connor, this film follows the story of an insurance salesman who is blinded following a freak boxing accident. In the aftermath of this tragedy, he finds himself angry and bitter, impossible to cope sightless with the world around him. His world is turned upside down once more, however, when he learns about a then-innovative European program that trains dogs – German Shepherd dogs, to be exact – to help the blind “see.” Morris Frank comes to meet and known his seeing eye companion, falling in love with the intelligent, brave, dog only to be blocked at every turn by harsh regulations that prevent him from taking his canine companion into public buildings. Soon, he must fight for the right to stay with his seeing eye dog, and for the rights of blind individuals everywhere. Love Leads the Way is based on the true story of Morris Frank and his fight for seeing-eye dog legislation in America.

K-9 -Another 1980's film, K-9 is less a touching drama than a hilarious action-packed comedy. Starring Jim Belushi as foul-tempered San Diego policeman Michael Dooley, K-9 follows the story of Dooley's unfortunate run-in with a powerful drug trafficking group, who has tagged him for execution. To help protect him, his friend Brannigan – played by Ed O'Neill – supplies him with a “police dog” - Jerry Lee, who has been trained in the craft of sniffing drugs. Unfortunately – and humorously – Jerry Lee proves to be even more stubborn and obstinate than Dooley himself, and together the two characters get into hilarious scrapes and antics. Jerry Lee was played by real-life police dog “Koton,” who was tragically later killed in a real-life drug bust. His heroic actions, however, helped uncover over 10 kilos of cocaine from the suspects.

I am Legend -While Will Smith plays the major lead role in this post-apocalyptic science fiction film, released in 2007, a German Shepherd dog plays a pivotal – if often tragic role. Protagonist Colonel Robert Neville is one of very few people left alive after a devastating attack of a mutated virus has destroyed 90% of humanity, and turned another nearly 600 million people into “Darkseekers” - chaotic, blood-thirsty, zombie-like individuals. Living in fear of both the virus and these “Darkseekers,” Will Smith's character, Colonel Neville, has only the friendship of his beloved German Shepherd dog Samantha (“Sam”) as he seeks to find a cure for the virus. While the German Shepherd dog in this film comes to a predictably tragic end, she is nevertheless depicted as a heroic figure whose loss inspires Will Smith to work harder to find a cure for the virus that is ravaging humanity.

The Hills Have Eyes -Two German Shepherd dogs play a vital role in this 1977 horror film. Directed by Wes Craven, famous horror impresario, The Hills Have Eyes tells the story of a normal suburban family who are beset and attacked by a family of ravaging cannibals in rural America. Beauty and Beast, the two German Shepherd dogs accompanying our protagonists, come to grisly and upsetting fates – but their outcomes play an important emotional role in defining the climax of the film. However, for most German Shepherd lovers easily offended or upset by animal cruelty, this film is not remotely recommended.

Downfall -In this controversial Adolf Hitler biopic, the motif of Hitler's relationship with his beloved German Shepherd dog – Blondi – based on the real-life figure's famous affinity for his pet – is used to explore the fine line between humanity and monstrousness – and how someone at once so loving to his pets could engage in the mass cruelty and horror with which his name would be associated forevermore. While the film raises many difficult questions – and indeed, presents us with irreconcilable images of one of the most abhorrent men the world has ever known – its intriguing use of the German Shepherd dog to juxtapose humanity and “animal” cruelty makes it a worthwhile film for all German Shepherd lovers – or at least those who can stomach the perhaps inevitable tragic ending for the pooch.

The Littlest Hobo -This Canadian television series has gained a cult following after its original airing. The story of an itinerant German Shepherd dog, traveling from Canadian town to Canadian town and transforming the lives of its inhabitants aired from 1963-5, and was then re-aired to popular acclaim on CTV from 1979-85 as The New Littlest Hobo. Unlike Lassie, the German Shepherd dog in the film – referred to as “Hobo” although never actually named onscreen – did not remain with one family, but rather was constantly “on the move,” doing good deeds in each town he visited.

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