Pitbulls have a reputation for being dangerous animals, and sometimes that's true.

But the subject of a new documentary wants people to understand that bad dogs are made by bad owners.

Director Eryn Wilson's new documentary Dog's Best Friend is about Jacob Leezak and his work rehabilitating pitbulls, and other "powerful" dogs, at his Dog Psychology Centre in Australia.

Wilson, who spent most of his younger life in Pāpāmoa, is bringing Dog's Best Friend to Tauranga next weekend as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival.


The documentary was filmed over 18 months at Leezak's Rouse Hill home near Sydney and looks into the man who has dedicated his life to rescuing pitbulls.

"He has about 27 dogs on the property," Wilson said. "He rehabilitates all dogs, but he specialises in powerful breeds like pitbulls. The dogs no one else will take."

Jennah Leezak with a rescued pitbull. Photo / Supplied
Jennah Leezak with a rescued pitbull. Photo / Supplied

Wilson's interest in Leezak was piqued by his mother, who is "crazy about dogs". She saw Leezak's YouTube videos and recommended them to Wilson, who saw their documentary potential.

Wilson got Leezak on board and raised $34,000 through a Kickstarter campaign, which covered the costs of flying back and forth to Australia and the cost of filming and editing the documentary.

During the filming, Wilson stayed at the Leezaks' home - at their insistence - often sleeping on a couch or armchair.

Here he discovered just how much of Leezak's life was dedicated to the dogs.

"It sounds like a dream job to a dog lover, but it's 24/7. He's out there at 3am trying to find out why a dog is barking, or waiting for a rescue dog to be delivered from the other side of the country.

"There's only him, his wife Jennah and their four kids. He doesn't leave the house."

Wilson said many of the dogs had sad stories. Many had been rescued by other people with good intentions, only to be abandoned.

"A lot of people rescue dogs but have no idea what that dog needs. It's one thing to have a puppy, but a rescue dog that's had a bad life needs careful management.

"Jacob gets people who can't deal with the dog they've rescued. He's had them drop a dog off for rehabilitation and never come back."

Leezak is firm on the idea that bad dogs are caused by bad humans, going so far as stating in the documentary's trailer that humans destroy everything they touch.

"He sheds a new light on these dogs. You realise there's no such thing as a bad breed, just a bad owner," Wilson said.

Screenings of the documentary in other locations had sold out, and Wilson said about half the seats for the Tauranga screenings had already sold. He expected they would be sold out soon.

Wilson said it was nice to be able to bring the film back to Tauranga, where it all began.

He grew up in Pāpāmoa in a house with numerous pet dogs and says his family were ignorant about the care the dogs needed, keeping them in an unfenced property and not getting them desexed.

"The film is beginning a much larger conversation that we need to be having around responsible dog ownership."

Dog's Best Friend

• A film directed by former Pāpāmoa man Eryn Wilson about Jacob Leezak's efforts to rehabilitate pitbulls and other powerful dogs
• Playing at Rialto on August 26 at 1.15pm and August 27 at 8.15pm