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Does the Dog Die?

Save yourself the heartache and check this awesomely to-the-point site before pressing play.

by Chris Norris
March 30, 2022
A woman holding a dog with a big smile.
Spoiler: Sparky and Agatha (Kathryn Hahn) in WandaVision
Photo: Marvel Studios

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Movies often tell us what stage of life we’re in — how our priorities may have shifted, what we can no longer tolerate onscreen. My doctor sister — a karate blackbelt unafraid to intubate someone or deliver their baby — found, after having her first kid, that she could not watch Finding Nemo, a G-rated Pixar adventure full of wholesome life lessons, which begins with the wholesale slaughter of a mom and nearly all of her children. She realized that kind of fare was off her menu. A similar change might visit those who adopt their first dog.

At least that’s one explanation for the recent raft of online resources cataloging the appearances, treatment, and untoward ends of animals in entertainment media. In the last couple of years, such sites have included Tumblr’s Dogs in Movies Database (DIMDb), gamer Twitter’s Can You Pet the Dog?, and a handful of others, all more or less following in the footsteps of the awesomely to-the-point site Does the Dog Die? 

Software developer John Whipple founded the site in 2010, though he credits his sister with providing the initial spark. After reading the screenwriting manual Save the Cat, she’d realized just how often Hollywood deploys the hacky trope of animal endangerment to manipulate an audience. Whipple acknowledges some overlap with sites like TV Tropes and various pages on IMDb, but his initial vision for the site was not snarky or trivial.

“Our mission is to help people navigate media they wouldn’t otherwise even attempt to enjoy,” he says. A lifelong dog lover, Whipple lost his dog some years ago and found doglessness so intolerable that he adopted a puppy within 24 hours. “The site’s initial vision was definitely pet-centric, but we soon discovered that many of our users have deep emotional connections to the things we track.” As users suggested new categories, these potential triggers expanded drastically, now ranging from things like “there are bugs” and “the ending is sad” to instances of miscarriage and rape.

Whipple admits to being surprised by some suggested categories, like Does the Dragon Die? “Not because of the category itself,” he says. “But because in that case, the user who requested it said that they ‘had a pet dragon as a child that was brutally murdered.’ It was at this point that I realized two things: 1) many of the things we track aren’t a big deal for most people, and 2) every human on this earth has at least one thing that is a big deal [to them] if they’re surprised by it in a movie.”

In recent years, Whipple has also helped the site unconsentingmedia.org get started, largely by importing his own site’s structure. “They do a great job curating some of the really sensitive triggers that don’t lend themselves to pure crowdsourcing,” he says. Of course, many will be eager to chide users more upset by a wounded kitten than a squad of Marines killed in an ambush, but Whipple says such criticism ignores that it’s not the violence itself, per se, but the vector of cruelty that’s displayed. “People are bothered by mistreatment of the innocent,” he says. “It’s the same reason we have child-related triggers on our site.”

Some categories incite debate among users — sometimes over whether an animal actually dies in a film or their potential death is merely implied. Whipple has never pored over clips as if they’re Zapruder footage, but wouldn’t be surprised if visitors have. “People are really passionate out there,” he says, pointing to apparent lightning rods that range from the Nordic pagan horror film Midsommar to, bizarrely, the Avengers movies.

If all viewpoints are represented, has anyone suggested a category like Does the Shark Die? to cover Jaws or Deep Blue Sea? “There probably are some instances of that,” says Whipple. “But users come to the site to avoid becoming an emotional wreck, so they probably don’t get caught up on whether a category makes 100% sense.” Especially since the offending events often don’t make sense themselves.

In Amazon Prime’s otherwise tautly directed series Reacher, the action thriller plot takes a total detour so its title hero, a massive, bone-crunching ex-MP with lethal hands, can avenge a neglected dog. I actually laughed aloud when I watched the massive actor Alan Ritchson, who we’d just seen dispatch Latin American special forces dudes hired as private thugs, walk onto a suburban lawn and squint around to find the scumbag who left this dog chained up out here like this. As of this writing, this scene got six “No” votes on DtDD’s title category, six “Yes” votes for “are animals abused?,” and one clarifying comment: “A dog is left without water by an a**hole.” Suffice to say there’s no category for what ends up happening to said a**hole.

chris norris bio photo

Chris Norris

Chris Norris is a writer, reporter, author, and longtime companion to West Highland terrier Gus, recently departed but intensely loved. Chris Norris is has written for The New Yorker, New York Magazine, The New York Times MagazineRolling Stone, GQ, Details, and NPR’s “All Things Considered.” He lives in New York City with his wife and 8-year-old son.