PICK OF THE LITTER is the latest docu-series to hit Disney+ from directors Don Hardy and Dana Nachman. Based on the film of the same name, PICK OF THE LITTER follows the stories of service animals, their trainers, and their human companions. To best describe the plot, I’ll turn to the IMDB summary:
“PICK OF THE LITTER follows a litter of puppies from the moment they’re born and being their quest to become Guide Dogs for the Blind, the ultimate canine career. Cameras follow these pups through a two-year odyssey as they train to become dogs whose ultimate responsibility is to protect their blind partners from harm. Along the way, the dogs meet a community of dedicated individuals who train them to do amazing, life-changing things in the service of their human. The stakes are high and not every dog can make the cut. Only the best of the best. The pick of the litter.”
I’ll be honest, I didn’t know much about guide dogs prior to watching the first two episodes of this series. That said, I was very grateful that the first episode launched into the process of preparing a dog for this type of service. Starting at the DNA level, dogs born for this purpose follow a timeline of care starting from infancy to training, a two-year period in which not all dogs bred for this cause will succeed. The series also focuses on how much time, energy, and dedication it takes to prepare these dogs to one day be of assistance to someone in need.
Episode one, titled “Meet the Dogs”, introduces the viewer to six families who have dedicated a year of their lives to be puppy raisers. The series picks up three days prior to the pup’s final evaluation in order to proceed onto the next stage of their training. Puppy raisers not only dedicate their time and their lives for this cause, but are also mainly responsible for socializing these pups as well as teaching them behavioral aspects that will help them to become the best guide dog they can be. However, because the process is so arduous, out of the 800 dogs that are born at the center for Guide Dog’s for the Blind, only 300 make it through training. If a dog does not graduate, the trainers call for a career change – this can happen for a number of reasons such as being highly distracted, inappropriate whining and barking, or health concerns. When it comes to being a guide dog, the pup needs to be at its best 100% of the time.
In PICK OF THE LITTER, the series focuses on six dogs in particular: Tartan, Tulane, Pacino, Paco, Amara, and Raffi. Each dog has a distinct personality ranging from playful to excitability, and even low-key mellow behavior. Throughout the 30-minute runtime, we also get to see how these pups affect the lives of the people caring for them throughout this process. The show also expands on their human companions and the different reasoning behind why they wanted to be puppy raisers. Each person we meet along the way has different reasoning for taking on this task but there is one common thread that is woven throughout all of them: their love for these animals. For some, this is their first time volunteering as a puppy raiser while for others they are ticking off their 25th time. That said, this gives viewers a look into what it’s like to be a puppy raiser and a chance to understand what it might be like for someone interested in doing this line of work. The episode ends with each dog having their evaluation as well as the results and issues pertaining to if they can proceed further.
The second episode, titled “Off of the Litter”, picks up right after the evaluation. Though the dogs pass, there are some complications presented that hinder some of them from proceeding further. Seeing how this whole process is done really amplifies the importance that these dogs have to their future companion. We also meet Kendal Lyssy, a college student who received the life-changing call that she would be receiving a guide dog. Blind since birth, and having almost been hit by a truck crossing the street, she discusses just how important it’ll be for her to have a guide dog. I’m glad they expanded on Kendal’s story because it really reiterates the positive effect these animals can have on people.
The hardest part of this episode, at least for me, was what they call recall day. This is when the human companions who have been training the dogs for the past year are required to bring them back to the center for Guide Dogs for the Blind so that they can begin their formal training. It’s so easy to get attached to these animals, they become more than just a pet they are family, they are an extension of you that you love unconditionally. Watching each person say goodbye to their dog was heartbreaking but I give all these people credit for volunteering their time to train these dogs because no matter how sad and upsetting it was for them to say goodbye, they knew their dog had a greater purpose in life.
Once the canines are brought to the Center, they then undergo a medical evaluation to make sure that they are fit for their future human companion. If they pass their medical, they then begin their 12-weeks of training leading up to their graduation. Luckily, their previous owners will have the chance to come back and see them at graduation. However, it’s during this time that guide dogs will go through the most difficult portion of their training, something that I assume will be elaborated on in the remaining four episodes.
I’ll admit, PICK OF THE LITTLER successfully pulled on my heartstrings and reminded me of how committed these animals truly are. My heart melted, I had tears in my eyes, and that’s only from the first two episodes. I can only imagine what will happen during the remaining four episodes! PICK OF THE LITTER is more than just a show about cute dogs, it’s an important reminder that these animals help save lives and are also loving, dedicated companions to those in need. PICK OF THE LITTER arrives on Disney+ December 20.