I always enjoy the opportunity to review pet-themed movies for myPet-Lebrity News column, especially projects that aim to benefit the betterment of animals and thereby the humans that care for them. One film in particular has come to have great meaning to me. While attending the 2015 BlogPaws convention, I met Eve Roser and Donna Smith Lawrence and learned of the inspiring film and animal welfare foundation Susie’s Hope. After hearing Donna and Susie’s story, I knew I had to spread the word of the inspiring message and amazing work done by Susie’s Hope.
Who is Susie?
Susie is a mixed breed dog that suffered horrific cruelty in being beaten by her owner and set on fire. As an eight-week-old puppy, she was found near death in Greensboro Park in Greensboro North Carolina. The staff at the Guilford County Animal Shelter nursed Susie back to health and she was eventually adopted into the forever home of Donna and Roy Lawrence. Since her traumatic start to life, Susie’s gone on to be certified as a Canine Good Citizen and does therapy dog work for burn patients with Donna, who has quite the story of her own to tell.
Who is Donna?
Donna is an animal philanthropist who witnessed a local dog suffering obvious neglect while being chained to outside in the owner’s yard. The owner moved and left the dog in the yard, so Donna attempted to help by providing some basic sustenance. After several days of leaving food, Donna was viciously attacked by the dog. She escaped, but still deals with physical injury from the attack. Besides suffering the physical trauma, Donna also experienced emotional distress that made her fearful of dogs. Upon meeting Susie and learning of her story, Donna felt kinship with her which helped change her perspective from a victim to a survivor who has overcome a horrible and life-changing event.
Donna’s bond with Susie ultimately inspired Susie’s Law and, ultimately, the movie Susie’s Hope.
What is Susie’s Law?
Fortunately, the owners of the dog that attacked and Donna were ultimately caught via Crimestoppers. The potential sentence faced by the perpetrator certainly doesn't match the anguish Donna went through, as she states “North Carolina's structured-sentencing guidelines only allowed the guilty party to serve four to five months of a suspended sentence (probation) for a Class I felony of Cruelty to Animals.”
According to the Animal Law Coalition, “LaShawn Whitehead, Susie’s abuser, received a sentence of 4-6 months in jail for burning personal property and a 4-5 month suspended sentence for animal cruelty. That’s it.” Donna states that Whitehead’s violation was “Burning of Personal Property, which is a Class H felony that carries an active prison sentence. Therefore my perpetrator could have burned someone's couch and received a tougher penalty than the one he received for burning and torturing me.”
This disparity motivated Donna to help make greater the penalty for animal cruelty offenses through Susie’s Law. More specifically Susie’s Law aimed to reclassify “felony Cruelty to Animals from a Class I felony to a Class H felony and elevated the A1 misdemeanor of intentionally starving an animal to death to a Class H felony as well. That allowed judges to determine whether to give an active prison sentence.”
North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue signed Susie’s Law on June 24, 2010 with Susie observing the process.
What is Susie’s Hope?
Susie’s Hope is a feature film inspired by the tragic events and the adversity overcome by both Susie and Donna.
Seeing the portrayal of Donna being attacked by the chained-up dog and the recreation of Susie being lit on fire brings back terrible memories for me. Having worked in emergency practice and with rescue organizations for many years, I’ve seen the effects of animal attacks and severe abuse to dogs, cats, and other species. Often, the physical trauma that occurs never fully resolves and the recipient’s quality of life is forever altered for the worse.
That said, I loved seeing the portrayal of Marsha Williams, Director of the Guilford County Animal Shelter, who insists that the police do their job to bring Susie in for evaluation by the shelter veterinarians instead of immediately defaulting to the euthanasia option.
Susie's Hope Trailer
A survivor of a pit bull attack, Donna Lawrence, adopts a pit bull-mix puppy, Susie, that has been beaten, set on fire, and left for dead. Together, they learn to heal, love, and forgive as they lead a historic effort to seek justice and protection for all animals.