Directed by Geralyn Pezanoski
My family has had a pet since I can remember and pets have been a huge part of our lives. We started with a cat, named Jake, whose beginning almost wasn’t. A Christmas gift from my father to my mother, my mom nearly smothered the package before she ever opened it. Luckily she didn’t, as Jake lived into his 20s! The best cat anyone could ever ask for, and reason why we have not gotten another cat since. Too much to live up to. We then had JJ, short for Jake Jr. (if you can’t tell our attachment yet, you may never). JJ was a yellow lab and a great companion. We definitely spoiled him, but we spoiled him with our love. Once JJ slowed down, we got JT (you guessed it, Jake the Third), hoping his young step would revitalize JJ a little; I fear it did the opposite and we had to finally let JJ go. But JT has been a great companion as well. A yellow lab like JJ, he is extremely needy, also has to be touched or cuddled, but he is also the friendliest pup you’ll ever meet.
Pets are an important part of many people’s lives. They are our friends when we need one. Not everybody has the same preference, cat or dog, or even something less typical. There are even those I’m sure who do not know, or cannot appreciate the joy a pet companion brings. Imagine if you had to leave your home and your pet behind then, your best friend, most faithful? That is what thousands of residents were forced to do when Hurrican Katrina viciously hit the New Orleans area. One of the greatest natural disasters in our country in recent history, Katrina was a nightmare for so many who had to deal with lacking government aid and response, and whose homes disappeared in an instant. It is difficult to part with our pets when their time has come, but it is even crueler when we are forced apart from them, during a time of great need for love, like during the tragedy of Katrina.
Director Geralyn Pezanoski takes us through the struggles of a handful of New Orleans residents in the aftermath of Katrina, as they cope with their loses, and search for their companions. Pezanoski does a very good job of chronicling the events of Katrina, and how it affected so many animals in the area. This is am important part of the story she wants to tell, and sets the groundwork very efficiently. I had never given the animals thought when contemplating the tragedy, though this film brings those topics up, and even reinforces the fact that I was not the only one to not think of the animals. But what Pezanoski really wants to say here is not a commentary necessarily on the botched job by our government in getting the people, as well as their animals, out in a state of an emergency. The story she wants to tell is much more on human nature, what we do to make us happy, and how we might react in certain situations of claiming “property”.
The tragedy of Katrina, and the human side, is beautifully captured in Trouble the Water. Pezanoski is not belittling that part of Katrina in the least, she just has something else to say, and she does it well by delivering us a perfect handful of pet owners who lost their dogs in the storm. The loss is unconventional however, as the animals mostly survived (though many others were less fortunate), but what followed is a confusing string of ownership, even as the “owners” describe the pets as family members and not property. The dichotomy of the philosophy of these pet owners, between seeking to regain their companions, and using the notion of them as property to succeed in their attempt, is a fascinating examination of the psyche. Spending time with these people was quite a roller coaster ride.
But it was a welcome ride on Pezanoski’s coaster, as she took me on a journey that had me changing my mind constantly. With each layer I was able to easily sympathize with the people involved. It would pain me to have to leave my pet behind, but if I adopted a pet and then was told later I had to depart, I too would be confused. I think ultimately, however, if I knew the circumstances, like some of these adoptive owners did, I would willingly and happily return the pet to its owner. But that is what makes this such an interesting look into the choices these people make. Not everyone thinks that way, and we get treated to a little bit of everything in the process. We have those not willing to give up their new pet, those conflicted by the situation, and even those who happily part with their new friend to return it to their New Orleans owner, who has already gone through so much suffering. I think the one thing I felt most strongly about, however, is the ability to part. It is one thing to lose a friend, a pet, and to seek them out. But after 3 years, just like if a pet had died conventionally, there definitely comes a time to move on, as difficult as it may be. But for some people, their pets are everything.