- Associated Press - Friday, August 28, 2015

FLORENCE, Ala. (AP) - Doug James smiles when reminiscing about his “rock star” best friend.

“When Gucci would arrive somewhere, everyone would get so excited,” James said. “‘Gucci, Gucci, Gucci.’ He just loved everybody.”

He was speaking of the once-abused chow mix who was rescued by James in 1994 and became a symbol for animal-abuse awareness.

Gucci died in 2010, after 16 happy years with James. But the dog’s memory continues to live on, and is the inspiration behind a documentary that will premiere Sunday in Birmingham.

The film, “A Dog Named Gucci,” will screen at 10 a.m. Sunday at Red Mountain Theatre Company as part of the Sidewalk Film Festival.

Renowned documentary filmmaker Gorman Bechard approached James about the project after Bechard’s wife found out about Gucci, said James’ niece, Beth Ann Pounders.

“Gorman wanted to do a film on animal abuse, but wanted one that had a happy ending,” Pounders said.

Gucci’s story certainly had a troubling beginning. That was when James, who was a Spring Hill College professor living in Mobile at the time, caught a group of teenagers setting the dog on fire.

James stopped the youths, but not before the damage had been done. Gucci was severely burned and had scars for the rest of his life.

James rescued Gucci and, through the help of numerous veterinarians, particularly a team at Auburn University’s veterinary school, the dog was saved.

That was the start of a wonderful friendship between Gucci and James, who adopted the dog. But the story didn’t end there.

The incident inspired James to lobby for stronger laws against animal abuse.

The so-called “Gucci Bill” sprang from those efforts. The bill, which made certain types of animal abuse felonies, became state law in 2000.

It also made Gucci a bit of a celebrity. The dog appeared at numerous events and television programs, including “Inside Edition” and “The Maury Povich Show.”

Gucci appeared on stage as Sandy in the local theater production of “Annie” in Mobile.

Despite Gucci’s harrowing encounter with the teens in 1994, the dog loved people.

“If he saw the guy who torched him, he wouldn’t have any problem with him,” James said.

He said he hopes the story also inspires others to take action on causes that are important to them.

“The animals don’t have a voice, so they need us to be that,” he said. “We all really need to be more involved in causes, in general.”

A portion of the proceeds from the documentary will go to the Friends of the Mobile Animal Shelter and the Florence-Lauderdale Animal Shelter, Pounders said.

She said everyone has high hopes for the documentary’s success. “Gorman Bechard, himself, has quite a following.”

The film also explores other animal-abuse cases that end happily. “But Doug’s was a complete story,” Pounders said.

She said Gucci was full of warmth and personality.

“Everywhere he went, he was the big celebrity,” Pounders said. “Kids would just lay on him and tug on him, and Gucci would just love it. He was Doug’s constant companion. Gucci worshiped the ground Doug walked on.”

She said Bechard told her he has a surprise in store at the end of the film.

“Gorman said, ‘Just wait until you see who sings the final song. I can’t wait until Doug sees who sings the song,’ ” Pounders said.

For James, author of the 1996 book “Gucci: A Puppy’s Tale And Other Pet Stories,” the documentary is an opportunity for Gucci’s legacy to continue.

“He was the best,” James said. “He was a rock star. Perfect dog. Good boy.”

___

Information from: TimesDaily, http://www.timesdaily.com/

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