After about 15 minutes of watching Quill, I found myself scrambling for information on this film. Wait, is this a documentary? No, it actually isn’t. Quill: The Life of a Guide Dog is a fascinating and kind of curious film that follows the life of one guide dog from when he is frolicking with his litter-mates to his death at age “12 years and 25 days old”.
Except for a couple odd moments (like a curious animated sequence of Quill’s dreams), Quill is a straightforward chronological story. It is narrated by the human that is his caretaker at each point of his life. He is first picked from a litter as a potential guide dog because he is the only puppy that doesn’t hurtle himself across the room at every exciting distraction. Quill, as the yellow lab is named for a bird-like mark on his side, is a patient and calm dog. He has the perfect personality for gently guiding a visually impaired person.
Quill’s training is perhaps the most fascinating part of the film. Though it takes place in Japan, the dogs are trained to understand English commands and words (like “Good!”) as they are “easier to understand” than English. It is interesting to see the characteristics that cause various dogs to be weeded from the training group. The same is true for the blind folks that are selected to receive the dogs. They go through their own training, where they learn to interact with the dogs as well as bond with the animals that they will need to trust. As Quill is matched with a cranky and stubborn middle-aged man (Kaoru Kobayashi), you kind of wish he had a master as good and kind as he. But as their relationship grows, you see that Quill brings out the best in his owner, and improves the man’s life and outlook.
If you are even the slightest sucker for animal movies (raising hand), you will find something to like in Quill. Despite the subtitles, I think it would be a great film for older children that are interested in animals (I would have LOVED it as a kid). But be warned: If you felt completely manipulated and misled as you sobbed through the end of Marley & Me, take note that yes, the dog does die at the end (the film’s title is quite literal, as it spans Quill’s whole life). But oh, for the love of all the gentle creatures and the people who love them, you couldn’t ask for kinder people to be with this dog at the beginning, through his journey, and at the end of his interesting life. Lovely.