Along with the shock of discovering just how feeble her injuries made her, Artenstein made another surprising discovery – dogs, like humans, can sense and respond to distress. In particular, she discovered that her dog, Scout, was responding with incredible alacrity to her precarious situation.
“When I came home from the hospital, I couldn’t do anything,” she said. “I couldn’t feed myself, I couldn’t move my body. My life changed in an instant, and Scout, who was a bit of a puppy then, turned instantly from a puppy to a caregiver. He never left the room I was in; he was always with me.”
As Artenstein slowly made progress, relearning how to walk and become mobile again, Scout was by her side constantly. The day she took her first unassisted step in her living room, Scout “did circles in the room.”
“He really celebrated,” she said. “Before this, I wasn’t one of those people who talk about dogs in that way, but he was really excited.”
Scout’s remarkable response got Artenstein thinking. A filmmaker by training, she was brainstorming her next project – and during her time of recovery, she had plenty of time to contemplate it. She started reading about the history of dog rescue in America, with the intention of creating a documentary focusing on individual stories of rescue and redemption. The nature of filmmaking being the slow process that it is, however, made her restless. She needed something to do in the meantime, something that would allow her to channel her newfound appreciation for dogs and the way they contribute to human society. And that, in a nutshell, is how the Doggie Street Festival was born.
“Doing films is a lot of organizing, so the Doggie Street Festival was a bit of a natural outgrowth from that,” she said. “I thought we could invite all the nonprofits, all the shelters, and get everyone together and get the public out there. The first year we got tons of press and media attention, and San Diego as a whole was really supportive of the festival.”
Now in its fourth year, the festival doesn’t look like it will be losing any of that support any time soon. Each year, more than 100 dogs find homes at the festival, though Artenstein said it’s hard to quantify the number of dogs that benefit from it, since many people who attend the festival later go out and adopt a dog from a local shelter.
“We hope it creates a ripple effect,” she said.
One essential component to that ripple effect, Artenstein said, is education. The festival is designed to be fun, but more importantly, it aims to educate participants about every possible facet of being a pet owner. By bringing together about 35 rescue groups, veterinarians and shelters, the festival is able to offer a well-rounded pet education. Booths on pet care, training, behavior – even a booth walking new owners and their festival-adopted pet through the steps of becoming a new pet parent – are offered.
“We really hope the event getting people together will be hand-in-hand with education,” she said. “People can get exams for the dog they adopted right there, they can find out how to take care of them and they can learn any number of things. So, really, the festival would be serving a deeper purpose in that way. We set out to create this event that has high visibility, that’s very inclusive and that brings together the community, where we have education and information, and people can learn free of charge. It’s such a feel-good combination – the goal is to create an atmosphere where that would happen, and also dogs would go home.”
That deeper purpose may be taking effect, as the festival continues to grow and, due to this year’s larger venue, starts to widen its berth – this year, the festival is accepting cats for adoption as well. Artenstein, however, is careful not to accept any personal credit for its success, or for the hundreds of pets that have been adopted as a result of it.
“After the first year, I realized how much those who are involved in this kind of work do every day,” she said. “It’s an endless task. The shelters continue to work all year round, and I give them credit on a daily basis. I see this as tapestry and everyone that adds a paintbrush to it is being of service and helping. It really is a collective effort.”
This year’s festival will hold special significance for Artenstein. Scout, the dog companion whose friendship and service was the impetus for the first festival four years ago, passed away this February. Artenstein, who gets teary as she talks about her pet, is dedicating the event to Scout. This year’s event, meanwhile, coincides with another milestone. This month, she will launch her television series, “Pet Lounge,” also a project that would never have seen the light of day had it not been for Scout’s loyalty. During the time Artenstein was recovering from her accident and brainstorming her documentary, “Rescue Me,” she discovered she had so much material, she might have to create a “Ken Burns-style 20-part series.”
“The more I talked to people [about the documentary], the more I started understanding there was so much to know, so many sides and aspects to pet rescue,” she said. I thought it would be great to do a TV show, where I could deal with a multitude of topics and deal with them more rapidly. With a documentary, you need to settle on a theme and totally investigate that theme. If you cover the amount of topics we’re going to cover in “Pet Lounge,” it would never end.”
At the time, the show sounded like a great idea, but, as Artenstein put it, “how many hours are there in the day?” The idea sat on the back burner – until now.
So what should viewers expect to see on “Pet Lounge?”
“Everything. What’s great is that I can tell the adoption stories, the ones I wanted to tell in “Rescue Me,” but I can also cover topics that I think are fascinating, like the history of dog-related topics,” she said. “The possibilities are kind of endless. I want to do fun subjects, and I want to try to run the gamut. I’m going to cover not only dogs, but every kind of companion animal you can think of – rabbits, snakes, cats, everything. But I’ll try not to do stuff that’s already being covered, or at least to do it in a different way. The format gives me the ability to go deeper into certain topics, so I’m hoping to pick a single topic and cover it in depth on some episodes, and on others do a multitude of topics.”
The possibilities, indeed, are seemingly endless. And Artenstein is careful not to forget the path that brought her here.
“It’s funny how life is. If I hadn’t injured my knee, I wouldn’t have done Doggie Street Festival, and if I hadn’t done that, I would in no way be equipped to do “Pet Lounge,” she said. “What I can bring to the show is the so many things I have learned doing the festival. “Pet Lounge” is really the beneficiary of four years in the field. These animals are able to give us this connection to nature, and it always amazes me, the endless list of ways they help us and save us, and still they’re waiting on us to save them. It’s a pretty tragic situation, but having said that, we also know so many people who are trying to rectify the situation and help out. That’s the goal of “Pet Lounge” – to empower people to make a difference. Empowerment is the key to success, so if we do an episode on adoption, it will be about showing the problem but also showing the people who are helping to solve the problem. Hopefully it will give the viewer an insight into what you can do in your community.”
“Pet Lounge” will air on Cox Cable and Time Warner on Channel 4 beginning May 19 at 1 p.m. and again at 5:30 p.m. Check your local TV listings for more information. The fourth annual Doggie Street Festival will take place June 10 at Robb Field in Ocean Beach from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. This year will also mark the first annual Los Angeles Doggie Street Festival, taking place on June 24 at Westfield Century City Mall from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit www.doggiestreetfestival.org.
• Doggie Street, Where Dreams Come True!
• Pet Lounge, Best in Show!