When developing Netflix’s Dogs documentary series, which comes to the streaming site Nov. 16, an image from the conflict in Syria stuck in Oscar-nominated documentarian and executive producer Amy Berg’s mind. “I saw an image of dogs in a school house, there were like 800 abandoned dogs.” Berg tells EW. “And I heard that those dogs would get shot on the street in Syria.”
Berg’s interest in the conflict in Syria led to the climactic second episode of the series, which Berg directed, where Ayham, a young man who fled war-torn Syria, risks everything to bring his dog Zeus across the border to Lebanon. “Of all the films that I’ve made in my life, this was one that will just go in my memory bank forever because it was such an emotional experience, and so satisfying to make,” Berg said.
Though the result was rewarding, the shoot wasn’t without obstacles. A week before Berg was set to shoot in Lebanon, the Lebanese Prime Minister was kidnapped and a high travel warning was issued for Westerners visiting to the country. Berg took the necessary precautions and decided to go anyway.
This high stakes nature of the shoot might not be what you’d expect from a docuseries about adorable dogs, but it was always set on being substantive, in addition to the obvious cuteness. Part of that was hiring the incredibly talented roster of directors, including Jesus Camp director Heidi Ewing, and Oscar winners Roger Ross Williams, T.J. Martin, and Daniel Lindsay (Undefeated).
“We have some tremendous artists that directed these episodes,” executive producer Glen Zipper says of the directors. “[Each episode] is like their own film, with their own journeys, their own characters, their own stakes, and we know that dog lovers are gonna absolutely love the show. But we think that even if you’re not the biggest dog lover in the world, you’re really going to enjoy going on these journeys.”
The series’ six episodes span the globe, everywhere from Syria and the U.S., to Japan, Costa Rica, and Italy. “One of the goals in making the show was to show how universal our love for dogs is,” Zipper says of the show’s international focus. The episodes also include dogs that are not just pets, but service dogs and working dogs, highlighting the diversity of canines’ roles.
Despite the breadth of the show’s focus, it’s still essentially about the pure love between dogs and people, and how we can better serve these animals. “Probably my biggest 30,000-foot ambition [for the show] is that it inspires people to be better to dogs,” Zipper says. “Whether it’s dogs that are remaining unadopted in animal shelters or dogs that are being adopted but are being stuck in a backyard for their entire lives, we can certainly do better.”
Dogs is available to stream Nov. 16.