URI Professor featured on NBC’S Today Show

URI Professor featured on NBC’S Today Show

Communication Studies / Faculty & Staff / Featured / Film/Media / Harrington School-Wide

Over the past three years, film/media and communication studies Professor Mary Healey Jamiel has been on call 24/7 filming K9 Search and Rescue missions for her 90 minute documentary RELIANCE, a film that captures the transformative connections between humans and dogs. The documentary follows Matthew Zarrella, a Rhode Island State Police Sergeant who rescues and rehabilitates dogs from the pound and trains them to become Search and Rescue K9s.  NBC’s Today Show featured both Healey Jamiel and Zarella on December 10, 2013 to highlight both Healey Jamiel’s documentary and Zarrella’s efforts in Search and Rescue K9 training. 

On January 2, 2014, Mary Healey Jamiel completed a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise $70,000 in completion funds to pay for the animations, music and final editing of her film. 

By bringing the audience alongside Zarrella and his K9 teams’ missing person searches, RELIANCE provides an opportunity for viewers to get to know the human and dog teams on an intimate level. The audience will also come to understand the nature of missing person searches, which are stressful for the families, for the person missing, and for the searching K9 teams. Despite tackling this demanding task, the dog handlers must stay calm, since the dogs see the search as a game. Staying calm during this situation is crucial for success, and handlers have learned to feed off the their dogs’ upbeat attitude, energy and spirit to keep the search going.

“These dogs, like some of the victims that they search for, were at one point ‘written off’ or ‘left for dead,’” Healey Jamiel said. “But as we get to know these animals and their patient handlers, we learn that these dogs have something unique to teach us about the limits of human knowledge, and the mystery of the human-animal bond. Dogs have the capacity to help humans in ways we are only just beginning to understand.”

While Healey Jamiel has always felt a connection to animals, especially dogs, her drive to learn more about K9 Search and Rescue teams was sparked after learning that Zarrella and his rescued pound dog, Max, had located the remains of a missing American soldier in Vietnam, who had been missing since 1966. Since meeting Zarrella and learning about his team of volunteers and the dogs they have trained, Healey Jamiel has not only documented their missing person searches, but has given the viewer the opportunity to watch the rescued dogs grow into certified Search and Rescue K9s. Viewers will develop bonds with the dog and human teams as they watch the handlers and their dogs train in environments that are “akin to the disasters seen during Hurricane Katrina,” according to Healey Jamiel, that are designed to resemble collapsed buildings. This training is incredibly complex, since law enforcement and emergency response volunteers from around the country must maintain a high level of proficiency with their dogs in order to pass their certifications.

I’ve never seen a group of people work harder or give so much to their community in their “readiness” with their animal,” Healey Jamiel said. “They spend their Saturdays, while the rest of the world is with family, training in the wilderness or at a simulated disaster site. They train with their dogs several days a week or more in order to pass the rigorous certification requirements. That combination of self-sacrifice and sense of joy with their dogs motivated me to want to learn more about this unique world of K9 Search and Rescue and Search and Recovery, and to bring their story to the world.”

While RELIANCE gives the audience a look into a world rarely seen, it also seeks to illustrate what we can learn about leadership skills through the human and dog Search And Rescue K9 teams. According to Healey Jamiel, watching dogs learn and work with their handlers has taught her that true leadership, even within a dyad, has little to do with words and a lot to do with a strongly cultivated determination to succeed at one’s task despite all odds, despite complete risk of failure in the most public way. The dogs have taught her that the motivation which ultimately inspires people to move at another’s request is the desire not only to enjoy the challenge of the difficult task, but to enjoy the ‘reward’ of mutual celebration upon succeeding. Healey Jamiel has also been inspired by the upbeat attitudes that dogs and their handlers maintain in the face of adversity.

“I believe that dogs have much to teach us, that calmness in the stressful situations is very crucial, and that those animals or people who at first seem challenging or difficult to handle, can ultimately teach us about ourselves. The presence of dogs is healing to humans,” said Healey Jamiel. “I believe they have the potential to teach us humans how to behave more lovingly, with more tolerance and openness.”

The story that RELIANCE hopes to tell is one that Healey Jamiel has been working on without receiving any compensation for the project for the past three years that it has been in progress. She has filmed approximately 120 days during the last three years, and has worked even more days on managing footage and data, color correction, writing and executing of grants, developing animations, and music logistics for RELIANCE, all while being a full-time professor. So far, RELIANCE has been paid for by competitive grants. In order to raise money to complete the documentary, Healey Jamiel has started a Kickstarter with a goal of raising $70,000.

“Most documentaries of this scale have a full team, but I am largely on my own, and I hire folks as I can pay them from grants I’ve been awarded,” said Healey Jamiel. “It is fantastic, but my level of readiness to film disaster response affects my entire life.  The importance of the success of Kickstarter cannot be overemphasized. It is a statement to the world that this film should be finished.”

By: Kimberly DeLande