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Fetch this fetching dog doc

Two dogs share a muzzle-to-muzzle nuzzle in Stray.
Two dogs share a muzzle-to-muzzle nuzzle in Stray.

She should have called it Köpek , Turkish for dog. Elizabeth Lo’s documentary Stray exists as a kind of canine counterpart to Ceyda Torun’s lovely 2016 documentary Kedi , about the feral cats of Istanbul. Lo spent more than a year following a trio of stray dogs around the city’s streets and waterfront, attaching GPS collars to her subjects at the end of each day so she’d know where to find them the next.

Several directorial choices make this more than just 72 minutes of aww-that’s-cute moments, though there are plenty of those. One was to shoot most scenes from dog height – I briefly wondered if she’d employed cameradogs – the better to capture the city from a canine viewpoint. Another was to carefully record the sound in each scene, so we hear what the dogs do, including snatches of intimate conversation. (Humans will discuss anything around dogs.)

And while the mutts are always the focus, Lo doesn’t shy away from recording their encounters and friendships with people. Chief among these is a group of young Syrian refugees, whose homeless lives are about as perilous as the dogs’ existence. Another scene shows one of the dogs howling along in fairly decent harmony to a muezzin’s call to prayer.

The minimal on-screen information informs us that Turkish law prohibits euthanizing or holding captive any stray dogs, which explains their number. We also get several quotations from Diogenes, a philosopher from nearby Sinop who lived in the 4th century B.C., and who left behind such wisdom as: “Human beings live artificially and hypocritically and would do well to study the dog.” And: “Dogs and philosophers do the greatest good and get the fewest rewards.” In fact, he may have been a dog. Diogenes sounds like the kind of name a dog would come up with to hide his identity.

Stray is the perfect film for animal lovers, and particularly those who recall watching Kedi and thinking: “What’s with all the cats?” I identify as a cat person, but even so I found this one its equal in every way.

Stray opens March 5 in select cinemas (Charlottetown, Kingston, Saskatoon, Regina) with others to follow, and on demand through iTunes, VIFF Connect (in B.C.) and Hot Docs at Home (March 11).

3.5 stars out of 5

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2021

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