“Pick of the Litter” is the irresistible new show that is about to debut on Disney+. The docu-series kicks off on December 20 and will air six 30-minute episodes. Based on the 2018 documentary with the same title, the new show tells the tale of six puppies on their journey to becoming guide dogs for the blind: Paco, Pacino, Tulane, Raffu, Amara, and Tartan.
The cameras follow the service animals, their trainers, and their human companions, as the pups embark on their career path. Guide Dogs for the Blind, which was established in 1942, works to provide services free of charge to their clients. They take no government funding and are completely supported by donors and volunteers.
During an advanced screening of the docu-series, executive producers Don Hardy and Mary F. Celenza were joined by the CEO of Guide Dogs for the Blind, Chris Benninger, at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California. Making the afternoon paws-itively delightful, puppy raisers Roger and Sue Dupuy (who appear in the show) were there for the December 17 event as well. A few of the dogs in training also made special appearances.
Hardy says that they initially wanted “Pick of the Litter” to be a series before the documentary was ever made. This show expands on the original 80-minute film, filling out three hours, this time exhibiting elements that weren’t seen before. It allowed the filmmakers more time to get into the stories in a different way. There were more tools and gadgets to play with here, and they went into it with more knowledge than they originally had going into the film.
Guide dogs go through a detailed protocol where they’re trained to help those who are visually impaired become independent. Benninger points out that they’ve estimated in order to teach a dog how to guide, there are at least 50 people involved. It takes a huge community to do what they do. “We’re very hopeful that this docu-series will raise visibility around what we do and how we do it,” Benninger said. While you can’t control every element that goes into a production like this, the series does a great job of showcasing each dog’s personality in a way that is beautiful and touching.
For families such as the Dupuys, who raise the pups, the process can be hard, but it’s also gratifying. Puppy raisers take care of the dogs for roughly a year before they hand them over. While it’s admittedly difficult to say goodbye, and can be quite emotional, they understand that there is a greater purpose at hand. Everyone involved knows that the dog is going to a good place. “Bringing a puppy into our home has been life-changing for us,” Sue says. “As much as we put into the dog, we feel like we get so much more back.”
“We don’t want to give them up, but it’s such a cool group of people who are going to receive the dog,” Roger added. There’s a sadness to it, but as he went on to explain, that’s also part of life. “Sometimes when we volunteer, there are sacrifices, and sometimes when we give there are sacrifices… there are not always victories.” Some of that, you’ll see unfold on screen. “There are ups and downs and difficulties, but I think done right, people can learn and grow from it. We are learning and growing from that, too,” he continued.
Matching a dog with their furever home is also a detailed process. Dogs are carefully paired with their human companions based on different aspects. Lifestyle, travel, personalities, and the breed of dog – all of that is taken into consideration. Benninger says that there’s a bit of “magic” that goes into the pairing.
It’ll be interesting to see which dogs graduate and which ones (if any) get career changed. Some may go on to guide the visually impaired, and others may turn out to be in service in other ways – like becoming a dog for people with diabetes. Either way, they end up a best friend, a companion, and a partner. All of those options equal a happy ending.
“Pick of the Litter” is produced by ABC Studios, a division of Disney Television Studios. The docu-series is executive produced by Dana Nachman, Don Hardy, Mary Celenza, along with Josh and Dan Braun.
The new Disney+ docu-series premieres on December 20.
Published on Hollywood First Look Features.