Viva love! — The story that sparked the start of the Animal Film Festival |

Viva love! — The story that sparked the start of the Animal Film Festival

Lisa Barker
Submitted to The Union
Christi Payne saw the state dogs were in at El Refugio Franciscano and set out to rescue 15 dogs and bring them back to the U.S. for adoption.
Courtesy of Center for Animal Protection and Education |

Know & Go

What: Center for Animal Protection and Education’s 5th annual Animal Film Festival

When: 10 a.m. Saturday (Doors open at 9:30)

Where: Center for the Arts, 314 West Main Street, Grass Valley


This is a story about a man and a woman, the U.S. Mexican border and the love that crossed it.

It’s also about saving lives.

The setting: a barrio in Mexico. It’s a hot afternoon in a neighborhood of small broken down homes with jalopy cars basking in the sun. Stray dogs take shelter in whatever shade there is available.

So many dogs lying around without human company makes you wonder, who is taking care of all them? And if you thought, by the look of the “muttley” crew, probably not much concern is given to these animals at all, you would be right.

It turns out, the best care is given at El Refugio Franciscano, a privately owned dog shelter where thousands of dogs are packed in, surviving on water and troughs filled with mushy tortilla chips. This scene far exceeds the streets, where food and water is uncertain, and the possibility of getting hit by a car and left to die is a fair occurrence.

Caring for these lost dogs

The dogs at the Refugio arrive with a tough past. One was found in a garbage can. Another dog was wading in a tub of water, left for days after it had fallen from a roof. Another tiny dog had his eye ripped out after being chained to a spike and left there with a pit bull who was chained with him. This sad, bleak scene is not unusual in this poor region, overwhelmed with an overpopulation of dogs, and, no culture of neutering.

Enter Christi Payne, an American and director of Compassion Without Borders. She is a beautiful young girl with a vision to bring 15 dogs from El Refugio to the U.S. for adoption. She aspires to one day establish a free spay camp in some of the most impoverished Mexican neighborhoods.

Her vision to better the lives of dogs in Mexico captures the imagination of a man named Moncho. Moncho is a Mexican who volunteers night and day at the Refugio. Sensitive and caring, with passion and commitment to every animal he encounters, he and Payne find a mutual bond. And Payne, drawn to Moncho’s wide open heart, becomes enamored.

Together they grow Compassion Without Borders and their vows of marriage follow suit. Soon after, 15 dogs are flown to Animal Place in Vacaville, where they are given medical care and readied for adoption.

Next, Christi and Moncho create a free spay camp in Chihuahua, Mexico. Within a year, they open three spay camps where more than 7,000 dogs are altered. The spay camps also provide other vet services such as vaccines. Beyond that, the unconditional love that Payne and Moncho give to the dogs they care for has had a ripple effect in the communities they serve.

The start of the Animal Film festival

JP Novic, executive director for the Center for Animal Protection and Education and Shelley Frost, the organization’s creative director, were among those Americans helping to ship the 15 rescue dogs from the Refugio to California for adoption. Novic and Frost were so inspired by the couple’s story that they felt compelled to make a documentary film even though they had no experience.

In 2008, “Viva Los Perros!” became a short, low budget film dedicated to animal welfare. However, it was rejected from film festival circuits. So rather than succumb to defeat, they created their own niche; the Animal Film Festival. They have come a long way in five years.

This fall, the Animal Film Festival received a Best Film Festival Charity award from Fest Forums, a national organization. The Animal Film Festival also teamed up with the Tarshis Foundation and will be awarding $9,000 to the Best of the Fest category winners.

With each year of success, the festival brings to light more stories like that of Payne and Moncho and serves to extend this positive ripple effect on behalf of the animals showcased in films from around the world.

The festival presents 22 films from around the world and highlights many of the filmmakers on stage for a discussion and a Q&A period. There is also a virtual reality room; hot, vegan food made to order in the lobby and free popcorn throughout the day.

The Center for Animal Protection and Education’s 5th annual Animal Film Festival will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Center for the Arts in Grass Valley. Doors open at 9:30 a.m. For ticket information visit

Lisa Barker is a writer who teaches Authentic Movement classes at the Center of Movement Studios in downtown Grass Valley.

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