Award winning filmmaker Cindy Meehl (Buck) directs The Dog Doc, a documentary that gives viewers an up close and personal look at Dr. Marty Goldstein’s approach to integrative veterinary medicine. Goldstein and his fellow doctors at the Smith Ridge Clinic in South Salem, NY bring their medical expertise and holistic training in helping enhance the lives of animals and their owners.
During our conversation, Meehl discussed her origins as a filmmaker (her directing goals surfaced out of necessity) and what continues to drive her as a storyteller. One of the greatest aspects of The Dog Doc is it is not a talking head documentary. Rather, it brings us right into the activities of the doctors working at the Smith Ridge Veterinary Center. One topic I did not cover was Goldstein’s determined mission to bring his controversial (yet effective) approach to his colleagues, but more importantly that is detailed in The Dog Doc.
The documentary is now available On Demand.
I’m a huge fan of Buck. Did you grow up a huge documentary or movie fan? Was it always in your DNA at an early age?
That’s a good question. I’m an unusual filmmaker (because) I had never planned to make a film. I had not been to film school. The reason I made Buck was because I was at one of his clinics and I love horses.
He had written a book when I met him. There was talk then of doing a narrative film on him and all I could think about was knowing him and being around him and the clinic and thinking no one could ever play this man. Who would they cast to play this guy? I thought wouldn’t be great at the same time the narrative film came out, a documentary came out so people would see the real guy.
I went to a different clinic a little while later and he was by himself. He’s always with a bunch of people and he was waiting for his group for lunch. I walked up to him and out of the blue said, “I’d like to do a documentary on you (laughs).” He said okay and he wrote his number on a piece of paper, and I walked away.
It was a two minute conversation which was crazy when I look back on it now because then I thought, he’s a serious guy. Your word is your bond. I was raised that way too – Cowboy Code and all. I thought well I better figure this out. That kind of started me on this way crazy path and then the movie actually turned out really well. Julie Goldman and Andrea Meditch who are famous in the doc world came to rescue and liked the idea. And then I thought, that worked and I’d like to keep doing that (laughs).
What inspired you to make The Dog Doc?
Well, I had actually wanted to do this film since I did Buck. People asked “What are you going to do now” and that was the first thing that came to my mind. The other guy I really think people need to know about is Marty Goldstein. He had been my vet for over 20 years at that time. I had found him because I had a dog on death’s door. Nobody could save her – she had been chronically ill all her life and all of a sudden this guy goes, “Clearly these antibiotics and steroids aren’t working. We’re going to do it differently. Let’s take her off (medications), here some homeopathics, etc.”
Seriously in a month, this dog was like a new animal. She was like a puppy. It was so profound. She had been off and on sick, so instead of dying like another vet told me she would, she lived six more years and was a different animal.
Conventional medicine has a great place in the world and in our society, but people have gotten to quick to take a pill and just ignore the whole body that grew the tumor or got this issue. We want to treat the issue instead of also looking at what created the issue. (I say this) without being preachy (laughs)!
Your immune system is really important and I think more than any other time, that should be really something to think about.
Is it tough getting personally involved with the people and animals you spotlight in this documentary? Or is that just part of being a director?
Another good question. For me, I would never direct a film where I would never feel very personally knowledgeable and passionate about. I have known Marty for so long and people call me like I’m a vet (laughs). I can tell you a lot of things and I have ideas, but still I’m not a vet. But I got very involved with these families . . . and it’s so personal to me. I have so many friends who call me with their animal issue and to me if they lose an animal, I feel for them so much and I understand how traumatic it is. It’s like having a sick child.
I did get personally involved with some of these people. I kept my distance as a director during filming but they were also gracious. If they were crying, I’d also be crying. How could you not?
You’ve known Marty for so many viewers. From your own perspective, what drives him as a person?
I’ve known him a long time and I think he’s still elusive on some levels (laughs). He’s like no one I have met by far. What I find so admirable about him is he has the enthusiasm of a child. He would walk into a place and the whole mood would lift. He’s always very positive. I think dogs are sensitive to energy.
People would come in and he would just start talking to the person and he wouldn’t hardly look at the dog and he would try to explain what the dog needs or how he operates. The energy he would exude and the owner and the dog would pick up on – so many times I heard people say, “The Dog was better when I left there and he really didn’t do anything yet.” He’s not just “Oh, here’s my favorite supplement.”
He takes blood, and I want to make that very clear, and he looks at the blood of every animal before he says take this, that, or the other. Unless it was something where the dog was constantly throwing up and he wanted to immediately fix something like that, which he might do something then.
Even with people, you do the blood work. Every person is an individual. Every animal is an individual. What might be great for me would be terrible for somebody else. Unless you look at the blood, you really don’t know.
This documentary also focuses on the importance of learning about the importance of treating one’s immune system, whether it be a personal or animal.
Since the film has come out, we’ve been in a lot of festivals. (At the) Q&As (I said) that if you could possibly get your dogs off Kibble, or just really read the labels carefully. If you are going to use Kibble, add some fresh greens. There are so many little things you can do, and I’ve had so many people call me and go “My dog doesn’t smell anymore” or “My dog looks like a different animal.” The food makes such a difference.
Dr. Karen Becker, she’s a friend of mine, she said one time at the vet where she works, she said it starts at this side of the room with all these supplements and then it goes to the right where we have all these pharmaceuticals. But we always try to start on the left side of the room because any pharmaceutical you take, as you see in the commercials, there is a laundry list of possible things that drug can do. Why wouldn’t you start with a Vitamin C or something like that which doesn’t have side effects? If you took a ton of Vitamin C it might start going through you a little too quick, but (won’t have) the type of side effects you see with pharmaceuticals.
If you could improve your own immune system, it’s amazing. I’m 63 years old. I don’t take any pharmaceutical drugs and I know way too many people who take them. I don’t want to shame anybody for taking them. I’m just saying to look into other alternatives before going into that quick fix because I can guarantee you there will be other things that will come along with it.
When you start adding more and more, what studies have been done about those four pharmaceutical drugs together? Do you feel okay every day? Do you have good energy? There’s a lot to look at.
And certainly I know they have their place and antibiotics is really important when you need it. But I do think to look at the more holistic approach sometimes, you might be surprised.
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What are your personal priorities and goals as a filmmaker?
What I’m actually working on right now is an educational series that goes with it. I did it with Buck too. We have 300 hours of footage with Buck. We have 300 hours of footage with The Dog Doc. To go back and get some of the real important things that you can’t throw into a film because it’s maybe a talking head talking about something that’s in the film.
Even with Buck, that was my real passion. It’s exciting to make a film but to go back with one of my editors and to sit there and go through this footage again and pull out things that I really think would save dogs or would help someone with a big problem with their horse. That’s what it’s about. If I’m going to help save somebody’s dog or give them a longer life or just give them a healthier life, without sounding like a Pollyanna (laughs), that’s what blows me dress up.
It is so much work that if I didn’t feel like it didn’t have much purpose and was really important, believe I’m sure I could find something else to do. Believe me, it’s not for the faint of heart to make a documentary. I’m sure you know that in your line of work.
Even with the horses, I could help them with their horse but I’d be one person. I thought if you can show the master doing something, think of how many people can pick up stuff and help their horses. It’s the same with Marty and me. Marty can only treat one dog at a time but if we can send this message out into the world and make them stop and think, whether it’s changing the food that they are feeding their dog or looking for a doctor that is more open to less invasive therapies.
To me that is the most exciting thing I can think of. Making these animals that depend on us happier and healthier.
****The Dog Doc is now available On Demand. For more information, check out the film’s official site.
I also discuss The Dog Doc on the latest episode of CinemAddicts (at the 1:07:48 mark). Take a listen below!