With a few exceptions, Outside is a shamelessly pro-canine publication. So as soon as we heard that Netflix was releasing a high-end documentary series about our relationships with dogs—a doguseries, if you will—we rounded up some staffers to watch with their best friends. Dogs features six episodes, each helmed by an accomplished director, and we watched every single one. Our reviewers also noted how many times their dogs took interest in what was happening on-screen, which is the closest we could get to their honest review.
Episode One: “The Kid with a Dog”
This was a piece of television that seemed designed almost exclusively to make viewers cry, but it didn’t succeed with me—and when dogs are involved, it’s usually pretty easy to make me cry (and reach for Cabot, my lab mix). My main quibble with this episode of Dogs is that it didn’t really introduce us to a dog; it introduced us to a girl named Corinne who has epilepsy. Her and her family’s lives revolve around her unpredictable seizures, and I did feel sympathy for them. But the hour-long episode left me with a lot of questions about the dog. About halfway through the episode, the family meets Corinne’s service dog, Rory, for the first time. A trainer at the facility gives a stern lecture about “protecting the bond” between the dog and the human it’s there to serve, which means siblings are not allowed to give treats to the dog, ever. Corinne’s sister glumly walks out of the room, and that moment was when I came closest to crying. Couldn’t the trainer have explained “protecting the bond” in a kinder way? Why didn’t the producers of this episode show us more about how Rory—the dog—was trained? We get that Rory is supposed to bark when he sees Corinne having a seizure, to sound an alarm for help. But we never see or even hear about him successfully doing that for her; the episode ends shortly after Rory has gone home with Corinne.
At the beginning of the episode, we learn that Corinne’s mom sleeps on the floor in her daughter’s room every night, so she can be there in case Corinne has a seizure. My mom used to do that for me, too—I’m a Type 1 diabetic, which puts me at risk of middle-of-the-night seizures, so I really had sympathy for this particular aspect of the family’s story. But at the end of the episode, even after getting Rory the dog, Corinne’s mom is still sleeping on that bedroom floor and says she thinks she “probably always will.” Then why did you get this expensive dog that your other daughter isn’t even allowed to play with or give treats to? In the end, I still had no sense of how effective Rory will be in his role, and I didn’t know anything about his personality.
Cabot’s review: She usually notices when I’m watching something that features other dogs—she’ll look up when she hears barking, for example. But she slept through the whole episode, despite having a front-row seat on my couch.
—Svati Narula (associate social media editor) and Cabot (lab mix)
Episode Two: “Bravo, Zeus”
The cold heart of mine that refused to melt while watching Corinne and Rory, in episode one, turned to mush the instant I saw Zeus. Zeus is a Siberian husky trapped in war-torn Syria, waiting to be reunited with his owner, Ayham, who has fled to Germany. Ayham frantically checks in on Zeus with frequent FaceTime calls to his friend Amer, who has been entrusted with Zeus’s care. While Ayham is navigating Berlin as a refugee, Amer and Zeus are living in a crumbling building, with Zeus barking when he hears gunfire and bombs dropping. The situation appears hopeless, but Ayham does, miraculously, find someone willing to facilitate what is essentially a rescue mission for the dog. The obstacles to that mission piled up with more suspense than I could handle—I was a wreck while watching this and spent much of the episode with my head in my hands and on the verge of tears. Watching a dog flee Syria when so many humans can’t, of course, adds another layer of pain to this. But the producers don’t forget to show us Amer’s fate, too, effectively weaving a deeply human story into the journey of one very good boy.
Cabot’s review: She noticed that I seemed to be distressed, threw me a head tilt, then went back to begging for food. Halfway through the episode, Koda, the dog of Outside’s social media editorial assistant, Abbey Gingras, entered the room, and then Cabot and Koda were too busy wrestling to notice anything else—until the moment I exclaimed, “Zeus is such a good boy!” and they both thought I was talking about them.
—S.N. and Cabot
Episode Three: “Ice on the Water”
Like most of this series, the focus in this episode isn’t really on the ten-year-old Labrador named Ice but on the issues surrounding his family. His owner, Alessandro, fishes on Lake Como and runs a small family restaurant. But the lake is inexplicably running out of fish, causing fear among the fishermen in town, while Alessandro also worries about the future of his restaurant if his children decide to pursue their own careers. It’s an intimate look at a family just trying to get by—something I can relate to despite having a radically different life. Ice’s role in the family is not unlike my dog Koda’s: serving as a reliable, comforting presence in the face of uncertainty and change (their uncertainty being fish populations, and mine being the future of Facebook). I liked this episode, but I could barely contain my jealousy that Ice could sit at the kitchen table without trying to eat everything in his reach.
Koda’s review: He didn’t seem very interested in Ice. I can only blame this on Ice’s quiet watchfulness—he barely barked, so I don’t think Koda knew there was a dog on screen.
—Abbey Gingras (social media editorial assistant) and Koda (husky mix)
Episode Four: “Scissors Down”
As the dog mom of two mutts who hate the groomer even more than the vet, I was nervous to watch “Scissors Down” with Ted and Stella. The plot follows two extremely passionate Japanese groomers who are headed to the U.S. to compete in a contest. These are not your average PetSmart stylists. Clients drive three hours, and sometimes even fly in, to seek out the services of these groomers. One of them compares her work to a day spa, and the other is referred to as an artist by his fans. (Think: fluffy white poodles coiffed into perfect balls and matching outfits for dog and owner.)
Ted, Stella, and I are a family of three that likes to roam the desert, sleep in our truck, and bathe less than frequently, so we were all a bit skeptical of the Vogue-worthy styles showcased in this episode. But as we watched, we were moved by the passion of the two main characters. At one point, a judge said that she was impressed with how one Japanese contestant had groomed a dog because he made it look cute in spite of its very short legs. But then Netflix cut to an interview with the groomer, explaining that he picked the dog out of many options because he felt the short body would showcase the style he was going for. This hit especially close to home, because both Ted and Stella measure in at about a foot tall. Although there were a few dull scenes in the middle of the episode (how many snipping shots did we really need to see?), by the end I teared up a little, Ted cuddled in close, and Stella didn’t even let out a single snore (a great feat!).
Ted and Stella’s review: They did not bark at the screen once—I’d like to think this was thanks to their impeccable training, but in reality, I think the speakers on my laptop just weren’t loud enough to attract their attention.
—Abigail Wise (online managing editor), Ted (poodle and cattle-herding mix), and Stella (pug and hound mix)
Episode Five: “Territorio de Zaguates”
Every day with my dog Beep is filled with chaos and uncertainty. What thing that I value did she eat today? Why won’t she ever let me sleep in past 6 A.M.? Why won’t she stop barking while I try to watch this episode? (I had to put headphones in.)
The chaos and uncertainty at El Territorio de Zaguates in Costa Rica is different. The sanctuary, the largest of its kind in the world, is the morally ambiguous solution to a man-made problem—Costa Rica’s two million stray dogs, or zaguates. At the center of El Territorio are Alvaro Saumet and Lya Battle, a married couple who now look after 1,200 dogs on a 300-acre free-range shelter. (Outside wrote about them in 2017.) Whether or not it’s going well depends on your definition of success.
The episode takes its time to get where it’s going—like the lifestyle at El Territorio, the plot feels undetermined. You’ll find your line, however, with Jonny, El Territorio’s seizure-prone head caretaker, and Max, the dog that chose him. The episode is a reminder of the way our animals feel our strife, and why we try to save them even when the odds are stacked against us. Yes, I cried. Yes, Beep drank sneakily from my mug of hot chocolate (she’s fine) while I was sucked into the drama.
Come to this episode for the insane aerial shots of hundreds of dogs going for a run through the rainforest. Stay for Max’s love for Jonny, Jonny’s love for his brother, and your newfound hatred for one specific murderous tapir.
Beep’s review: She did not like the sequence of dogs barking at the beginning of the episode, but bravely defended our apartment from the 1,200 canines that she thought were encircling it. (Cue the headphones here.)
—Madeleine LaPlante-Dube (editorial production fellow) and Beep (border collie and Aussie mix)
Episode Six: “Second Chances”
In Costa Rica, a zaguate isn’t just a stray: it’s a lowlife. It’s filthy. Not so in New York City. “If you’re different,” a voice says at the beginning of this final Dogs episode, “if you’re a loner, a straggler, you can make yourself a home here.” New York, we discover, is where los zaguates become dogs.
I’ll admit I watched this episode sans Beep. Despite her adorable name, she does not like the sound of car horns, of which there were plenty. The dogs in the episode don’t seem to mind, however, and there are loads of them: more dogs live in NYC than people live in Cleveland, the episode states, and having spent four years in Ohio, this stat rings true to me.
The gooey center of this sweet episode is Heart and Bone, a rescue organization that takes dogs from kill shelters and organizations that are at capacity, and disseminates them throughout a foster network—and later an adoption one—in the city. We see in detail the quiet herculean efforts of Anna, our resident dog rescuer and Heart and Bone’s head honcho.
Cry when adoptive family Neal, Emily, and their daughter Julia reflect on their recently deceased Mickey, the sweet mutt that used to lay his head on Julia’s belly when she cried. Cry more as Julia says, tearily, “Adopting a new one can [make you] have that happy feeling again,” when the family announces that they’re ready for another dog. Laugh at the absurd amount of city dogs toted in bags, purses, strollers, arms, and outfits. And witness not the weakness or fragility of the human spirit but the softness of it, as dogs make their humans’ lives happier, fuller, and more purposeful.
I need to go get Beep now. Watch this series.