Towards the end of “The Dog Doc,” Dr. Martin Goldstein is asked to give a lecture at his alma mater Cornell University and after hauling out case files from his successful veterinarian practice in South Salem, New York, he is clearly frustrated by the time constraints of boiling his career down.
“I can’t teach integrated medicine in 35 minutes,” Dr. Goldstein complains to his wife, who’s timing his remarks with a stop watch. By that point, you’re well-aware he can, calmly articulate with an easy way about him that puts both animals and their owners at ease, but he also has to know he’ll have the benefit of the hour-and-a-half filmmaker Cindy Meehl allows audiences to spend in his company, not only explaining how he developed a unique practice that married homopathetic remedies with his traditional medical training, but actually being able to show the success he’s had as a number of different dogs experience treatment. Dr. Goldstein hasn’t changed much in appearance since last being at Cornell in the early 1970s – one patron describes him as being “25 years too old for the clothes he’s wearing” – but he changed his diet significantly, coming to realize that the fast food he ate in his busy early days as a med student was severely compromising his immune system, leading to him towards vitamins and an alternative way of looking at practicing medicine.
Meehl sets up her camera at Smith Ridge Veterinarian Center, the culmination of Dr. Goldstein’s 45-year career where he’s set up a clinic specifically, in his words, for “hopeless, terminal cases from all over the world” since many of his patients become aware of his methods after all traditional channels have been exhausted. But it’s inaccurate to suggest the camera is ever still as the film roams around the buzzy offices with abandon, tracking the ailments of different dogs and the staff’s race to find the proper therapy, and as the filmmaker showed with her previous film “Buck,” the 2011 profile of horse whisperer Buck Brannaman, she exhibits the gentle persistence of those who appear in front of her lens, able to keep things active while remaining sensitive at the same time.
It is inevitably wrenching when some cases have no remedy and even the success stories come with heartbreak on their way to a desired result – Dr. Goldman insists he cannot cure animals with his unconventional methods, only extend and improve quality of life – but the film does well in breaking down the science that its subject himself is deconstructing to understand exactly why some treatments take and others don’t. Meehl does include criticism of his methodology, but having his wife scoffing at skeptical blog posts and only including another vet at a medical conference relating his initial dismissal of Dr. Goldstein to express his surprise at becoming a convert strongly suggests where the filmmaker’s heart lies.
However, a compelling argument is made, particularly with how the film gradually introduces the Smith Ridge staff attending to dogs with unusual ailments and intertwining their personal stories of how they came to work at the clinic after seeing inefficiencies elsewhere to handle such cases and with its straightforward approach, “The Dog Doc” doesn’t just tug on the heart to make its point about alternative treatment, but resonates with the mind.