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'Shelter Me' Director Steven Latham Talks About Saving Cats and Dogs

In the new documentary Shelter Me, director Steven Latham shines a light on the issue of shelter animals, who are too often put to sleep because no one adopts them. The issue has long been a concern of animal rights activists across the United States.

The film is airing on PBS stations, and there will be a benefit premiere at Laemmle Monica in Santa Monica on Thursday, June 14. Tickets are available to the public. Latham answers our questions about the documentary.

L.A. Weekly: What's your goal or mission for this film?

Steven Latham: Shelter Me is a celebration of our shelter pets. I want to raise the public's awareness about shelter pets and then turn that awareness into action by helping these incredible animals. I want people to get involved with their local shelter and make a difference in the lives of the cats and dogs, not pity them...

Latham (continued): The plight of shelter pets is an out of sight, out of mind problem. When people find out that six to eight million pets enter America's shelters and less than half get adopted, the first reaction is disbelief and then most ask, "What can I do to help?" And there is a lot to do. An important step is for people to find out where their local shelter is and then visit it. It's not scary or depressing. It's a place to bring home your next family member.

Weekly: What part of the film touches you the most, and why?

Latham: Shelter Me tells three very compelling stories: The first story shows an animal control officer capturing two stray dogs in South Los Angeles. We follow the journey of these dogs through the shelter.

The second story is about a program at a jail in Southern California that pairs inmates with shelter dogs. The prisoners train the dogs for four to six months to become service animals for those with disabilities.

The third story shows how shelter pets are helping our returning veterans heal from PTSD.

These three stories embody the title of this film. Shelter Me is about the refuge one provides to a shelter pet and what that pet provides to you in return.

Weekly: What do you hope audiences will come away with?

Latham: The entire tone of my project is different than the way the issue of shelter pets has been communicated previously. Shelter Me provides a positive, upbeat and optimistic look at shelter pets and shelters. If you cry, they will be tears of hope, not tears of despair.

We're creating a community with our Facebook page to share ideas on helping the shelters and saving the lives of our shelter pets.

I also want people to know that any pet you're looking for, you can find at the shelter. Shelter pets are the new black. It's not cool if your pet did not come from the shelter.

Weekly: What can politicians, who make the policies for shelters, learn from this film?

Latham: Understanding the problem is a big part to creating solutions. Just between Los Angeles City shelters and Los Angeles County shelters, which consist of 12 shelters, they are responsible for more than 140,000 cats and dogs every year.

I'd like to see much more financial support for targeted spay and neuter programs in neighborhoods that need it most and more education programs that teach students about shelter animals and responsible pet ownership.

When politicians see the impact shelter pets can have on people, they will realize that these are lives worth saving.

Politicians in New York just proposed legislation to make the shelter dog and shelter cat the state's official dog and cat. How cool is that?

Shelter Me airs in Los Angeles on KOCE on Tuesday, June 19 at 7 p.m. The proceeds of the June 14 benefit premiere, which is open to the public, are going to the Los Angeles city and county shelters.

Tickets can be purchased at http://www.facebook.com/events/363871247006875/

Contact Patrick Range McDonald at pmcdonald@laweekly.com.


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