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Dear Hollywood: Please spare the pooches

In your ever-churning industry of fright, terror, sap and schlock, you may do your worst. Trot out zombies or flesh-eating creatures you will. But please, spare the puppy dogs.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Dear Hollywood directors, producers and screenwriters:

I write you not as a man of a weak stomach, but as a sucker for sentimentality.

Though hardened against many of life’s cruelties, one subject touches a frayed nerve that, though small, has the power to instantly shatter an otherwise stoic front.

In your ever-churning industry of fright, terror, sap and schlock, you may do your worst. Trot out whatever zombies, madmen or flesh-eating creatures of the night you will; I will sit in the dark emotionless, barely batting an eye while my moviegoing neighbors frantically employ outstretched fingers as blinds and sink their nails into distressed armrests.

But please, spare the puppy dogs.

The death of a dog is the most toxic of emotional Kryptonite. Sure, I’m fairly helpless when it comes to nostalgic baseball catches between fathers and sons, but the real damage is done by movies like “The Incredible Journey” and “Benji.”

Yet my letter is not prompted by such heartwarming four-legged tales; it’s your holiday blockbuster “I Am Legend.” (If you haven’t yet seen this movie of yours, beware of spoilers ahead.)

As you are no doubt aware, in the film, Will Smith’s character is one of the last humans alive on Earth. His solitude is leavened by one thing: man’s best friend. His German shepherd — Samantha or “Sam,” for short — is his only pal and rides shotgun with him wherever he goes, head happily struck out the window, tongue flapping in the wind.

But in protecting her owner — no, partner — Sam is bitten by a hairless zombie. (There’s an ad for an invisible fence.) Despite Mr. Smith’s best efforts, she quickly contracts the rabies-like disease that has decimated the planet. When our hero is forced to strangle his only friend with his bare hands, he can’t even stand to watch her death, gazing helplessly away.

And, oh Lord, ditto for me.

An exploitation of pathosAlfred Hitchcock once said he erred when he suspensefully killed a boy with a bomb in 1936’s “Sabotage.” Well, I like kids fine, but it’s the dogs I can’t stand to see die on the big screen. It’s an exploitation of pathos that should be restricted by law — or at least by a “Curb Your Dog Movies” sign.

Take Gary Sinise’s 1992 adaptation of Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.” It’s not Lennie’s fate that really gets me; it’s when his dog is killed that I go a blubbery mess.

In Vittorio De Sica’s “Umberto D” (1952), an old man, played by Carlo Battisti, is insensitively thrown out into the street, where the bleakness of homelessness awaits. He eventually tries to part with his best friend — a little pup named Flike — to save the fella from sharing in his inevitable fate.

The scene where he attempts this is arguably the saddest thing that has ever been created in the history of the world. If I wanted to torture someone for information, I would make them repeatedly watch “Umberto D” until they pleaded, “I’ll tell you anything you want, just please, please save Flike!”

And if that’s not enough, here are two words to consider: Old Ye-- ... no, I can’t even discuss that one.

A warning: If you producers ever get your paws on Wilson Rawls’ book “Where the Red Fern Grows” for another remake, I promise a protest that will dwarf the writers' strike. All one has to do is mention red ferns or the localities in which they may or may not grow to get the waterworks started.

The fact is that we humans are a mean bunch, so our downfalls are usually our own fault. But the soul of a dog is pure before the Michael Vicks of the world interfere.

As Byron wrote in “Epitaph to a Dog,” a dog is “the firmest friend,” while man is a “vain insect!” ever asking forgiveness.

Or, to simplify, puppy dogs never hurt nobody.

Hollywood, in the name of Lassie, throw a dog a bone.