DULUTH — Emily Allen’s experience as a field worker at PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) is featured in “Breaking the Chain,” a documentary released Sept. 1. The film explores neglected or abused animals in impoverished areas of the southern United States, the PETA workers who provide food and shelter to them, as well as education for pet owners.
Asked what it was like to see herself in a movie, Allen said, “the same reaction that everybody else has: ‘Do I really sound like that?’”
Allen didn’t grow up with animals or knowing much about animal rights. It wasn’t mainstream back then, she said.
In high school, her family adopted a German shepherd mix named Sam from Animal Allies. Soon, she and her twin sister, Elisa Allen, who also works at PETA today, began volunteering at the shelter walking dogs.
After graduating from Duluth East High School, Emily Allen learned more about animal rights, food production and factory farming. “I was horrified, and I wanted to do something about it. PETA seemed like the most logical place to end up,” she said.
After graduating from St. Olaf College in 2004, Allen saw an internship opening at PETA’s Norfolk, Va., headquarters. She moved into the animal cruelty investigation department and worked her way up.
“My 15-year-old self would think my job is pretty cool. That’s something that kind of makes me proud,” she said.
Allen experienced a bit of culture shock moving to the South, noting a pattern of pet ownership different from that of the Northland.
"Growing up in Minnesota, in Duluth especially, I didn't see many backyard or neglected or chained dogs. … Most of the dogs I was used to seeing were members of the family. That's not the case with the dogs I see every single day. Most spend all of their life chained."
In many of the areas they serve, there are often no vet clinics, shelters or experts responding to animal crises.
In “Breaking the Chain,” PETA field workers teach pet owners about trimming their dog’s nails, explain the importance of shelter and socialization, and offer free spay and neuter services.
"Sometimes, these animals don't have happy-ending stories, and that's the tough part of the job," Allen said by phone.
Parts of the documentary are graphic. Footage and photos show worn-down and exposed flesh around a dog’s neck, ears chewed up by fleas, and some deceased dogs.
Allen recounted a recent case where a 13-year-old posted video to Snapchat of himself beating a cat. The animal, Oreo, survived and was adopted by one of Allen’s staff members.
“It’s hard when you see people being so indifferent, but also malicious, to animals. … Then you try to focus on the victories: Getting Oreo in a new home, where he’s never going to get abused again.”
“Breaking the Chain” is available on Apple TV, Prime Video and at breakingthechainfilm.com.