Work has gone to the dogs

When Burbank resident Eva Sippel thinks about Romania, she does not reflect on the fall of communism, caricatures of Dracula or winning women's gymnastics teams. She thinks about dogs.

The owner of Schnuffie Productions in Burbank has a soft spot in her heart for dogs. And after a trip to Romania three years ago, she hasn't been able to get the country's stray dog problem out of her head. So much so that she's decided to put them on film.

"They're everywhere ? you can't look anywhere without seeing 20 of them," Sippel said. "They're mostly friendly, but they have mange, they have fleas, and it gets very cold over there ? they freeze to death."

There are more than 250,000 stray dogs in the country's capital city, Bucharest, Sippel said. The dogs are, for the most part, descendants of pets that were abandoned by families displaced by dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

"Europe to me was always France, Germany, Switzerland," Sippel said. "For Romania to be so poor, that shocked me."

Upon her return to the United States, Sippel decided to do something. And where Sippel's mind goes, Schnuffie is soon to follow.

"She's very determined," said Paul Carlin, Sippel's husband and director at Sippel's television production company. "When she has something in her mind, she'll pursue it."

The documentary Sippel is working on is the largest the company has attempted to date. Sippel and Carlin returned to Romania on Tuesday laden with video equipment and 10 volunteers, including Molly Stretten, the president of the Burbank Animal Hospital, and Loretta Swift of "M.A.S.H."

Sippel started Schnuffie Productions in 1993 as a transcribing company, but soon the company grew and moved in to television productions.

"I named it Schnuffie, because it was a word I made up as a kid," Sippel said. "Hollywood can be so fickle and so serious; I wanted something to remind people that you should also have fun."

The company produces commercials, public service announcements, educational films, and the occasional promotional film for the Burbank Animal Shelter. The documentary will be the company's first feature-length work.

"I think my goal is to demonstrate that we can do this, and we can do it well," said Carlin, who is in charge of filming in Bucharest.

Sippel intends to capture the scope and living conditions of the dogs in the film, looking back on a history of attempts to exterminate and contain the dog population.

The film will also show the dog problem as a symptom of the larger problems that plague the country, she said.

"People don't have enough money to feed their kids," she said. "So the stray dog problem is kind of a low priority."

Sippel also hopes to explore potential solutions to the problem in the film, and in addition, she'll be returning to the United States in late May with five rescued Romanian dogs.

"I want this to be a feel-good movie," she said. "My main point is that one person can make a difference.

"There's magic in action," she said.

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