ByJames McDonald, writer at
James is a Movie Critic and Celebrity Interviewer with over 30 years of experience as an Award-Winning Filmmaker.
James McDonald

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 lead a historic effort to seek justice and protection for all animals.

With the constant crying and whimpering of a neighbor’s dog, Donna (Emmanuelle Vaugier) decides to check on the isolated pup and discovers that its owners are out of town and have left no food or water for the canine. As she turns on the water hose, the pit bull becomes aggressive and attacks her. Because the dog is chained to a post in the yard, Donna, after having been savagely mauled, manages to escape the dog’s reach and is rushed to the hospital by her best friend Ramona (Andrea Powell). When her husband Roy (Burgess Jenkins) turns up, he is informed by the doctors that Donna miscarried, a result of the attack.

After surgery and rehabilitation, Donna makes her way home. While out in the park one day with Ramona, they discover what appears to be the remains of a young puppy in the bushes, allegedly dead. When Ramona calls the authorities to inform them of their gruesome find, Donna realizes that the puppy is still alive and they take it to a local animal shelter. There, they are informed that the dog has been mutilated, burned, and physically abused and is on the verge of death and the most humane thing they could do is put it down. Refusing to believe that is the only option, Donna states that she will take care of the dog and nurse it back to health, even when it is disclosed that it is half pit bull.

With Roy and Ramona unhappy about her decision, she brings the pup home and both human and canine begin their long and arduous road to recovery, gradually earning each other’s trust and respect and learning to love and forgive along the way.

“Susie’s Hope” is based on the real life story of Donna Smith Lawrence, who rescued a puppy from near-death after having been brutally abused by its previous owner and who was also the survivor of a savage pit bull attack herself. The dog’s previous owner, LaShawn Whitehead, was sentenced to two years in prison and was registered as a violent offender.

According to the North Carolina State Senate, ‘Susie’s Law,’ named after the rescued pup, reclassifies the “malicious abuse, torture, or killing” of an animal from a Class 1 to a Class H felony, with a ten-month potential period of confinement.

While “Susie’s Hope” does a good job in highlighting the importance of animal abuse and harsher punishment for the perpetrators, the movie itself is overly sentimental and full of tear-jerking scenes that don’t just tug at your heartstrings, they forcibly ram their way through your chest, wrap around your heart and vigorously uproot it. Emmanuelle Vaugier brings an emotional and sympathetic vulnerability to her character, the only role in the movie worth mentioning, while the part of Susie is played by the real life dog the movie is based upon.

The scene where Donna is attacked and mauled by the pit bull early on and the few scenes of abuse and violence towards Susie, are tastefully done and thankfully never veer into gratuitous. Director Jerry Rees tackles a controversial subject matter head-on and does so with conviction and fearlessness and while much of the movie is buried under maudlin melodrama, it does get its point across. And when dealing with such a hotly-contended topic, that’s what matters most.

Available on DVD January 5th

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