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The Guardians on Animal Planet is a Justice League for the four-legged

Brian with Sanford on The Guardians
Brian pictured with Sanford, a dog he saves in Philly during Guardians Episode 1

This Guardians review is based on the premiere: The Puppy Flipper Sting of Long Island.

The tableaux is set in Long Island, New York: A diverse group of animal activists sit at a table and review covert film taken of some horrific and shady puppy sales.

Animal Planet’s The Guardians, which premieres tonight, is a new series featuring a dedicated group of volunteers which includes ex-cops, ex-gang members, ex-military, ex-private investigators and more.

All members of actual organization Guardians of Rescue, these “normal everyday people” with a passion for helping animals use their assorted talents and common interest to investigate abuse cases overlooked by swamped agencies tasked to keep animals safe.

The Guardians employ unusual methods, like drones, surveillance and old-fashioned gumshoe door-to-door interviews to follow leads and peel back malfeasance and shady dealers.

Rob Misseri
Rob Misseri, one of the leading members of animal abuse organization Guardians of Rescue

“Government agencies are doing all they can,” says one of the lead members, Rob Misseri, but he adds: “It’s not enough.”

Indeed. Animal abuse is rampant and for-profit puppy mills are the focus of the season premiere, as Rob explains the tactics that “puppy flippers” use to charge a premium price for dogs. A strong case needs to be built to shut these backyard breeders down.

“They’re scumbags,” Rob so eloquently describes them.

We also meet Marceline, who is a private investigator, and her normal beat is chasing down love-cheats. But she loves the volunteer work she does with Rob and his Guardians crew. They all have a strong purpose together and support each other.

Marceline
Marceline, who volunteers for The Guardians outside of her normal work

Then there’s Marialisa, aka Miss Elle. She’s hardcore, saying “check yourself before you wreck yourself” as she works with Marceline to investigate online postings about breeders who advertise on the internet. The pair then set up a sting, the primary focus of the first episode.

Marialisa
Marialisa, aka Miss Elle, who organizes a sting with Marceline in the first episode

Next up, enter burly and tattooed Brian, who is a volunteer too, an electrician who loves to save animals. “It’s my passion,” he says as he cruises his NYC neighborhood.

Steven, aka Face, from Brooklyn, NY, rides with Brian, hoping to change the mindset of people who breed and abuse animals.

He likes working with Brian and feels connected to him. They are a good match as we see in a more stressful situation later in the episode.

Face
Face, who chases leads with Brian as they cruise around NYC in the premiere

The two men are riding in NYC looking for a case based on tips, and they cautiously approach a home.

They announce they are with the Guardians of Rescue and offer some help, as they look around a man’s garage with fish carcasses hanging from the rafters.

It’s a hoarder-like situation and the dog’s whereabouts are questioned. Brian appears to be agitated, saying: “You’re not supposed to know we’re coming” as the man asks him why all the questions.

Back in Long Island, NY, we meet feisty mutt Lambchop and his owner, the queen of the Guardians, Dori of Save-A-Pet, where she serves as the executive director, working with Rob and the crew.

Lambchop
Lambchop giving a little snarl — it’s always the little ones!

Her offices are impressive and we are also introduced to Misty, a knitted brow of a formerly abused pit mix rescue who now enjoys working up front with the administrative help greeting clients.

“All of our cases usually come in via email, social media or a phone call,” says Dori.

Dori introduces us to Bill (Hale), a former investigator who uses his brawn and biker skillsets for the animals. Bill says: “I’m kinda like an animal myself.”  He’s built like a WWE wrestler and looks like he was cast in Sons of Anarchy.

The puppy flipper sting is now in motion. Video evidence is gathered as Rob explains their methodology for ascertaining their information for the set-up. Rob coaches the team — Bill, Marceline, and Elle — on how to set up the purchase and prove the puppy mill’s existence.

Bill
Burly Bill, pictured holding a puppy mill puppy during the sting

The sting is now fully engaged. Bill is placed on the scene. The women are watching, waiting, as “Kyle” drives up with the dog for sale — a Lhasa Apso.

The deal goes down as Kyle offers the package deal, while the dog wheezes. It is evidently completely ill but Kyle blames its hacking on “a kennel cough”.

We are then introduced to Marvin, aka Moose, who is a veterinarian, biker, and all around mensch who melts when he holds a dog.

Moose
Moose is used to people writing him off based on his looks, but he cares deeply about animals

His business is South Jersey Mobile vet services, and Moose gets to the hard-to-find places where vets are not usually found.

“I’m often judged just based on my appearance,” explains Moose as he gives us his modus operandi, not fearing dodgy neighborhoods and people as he cares for their animals.

Meanwhile, in Philadelphia on a tip, Face and Brian are working on a separate case. Brian appears to be the most emotional of the group, as Face tries to manage his reactions, noting that hoarders are often animal abusers because of their mental illness.

The pair are hot on the case of a potentially neglected dog, as they corner the dog’s owner named Ed who is trying to fob him off. Brian is relentless. Face plays good cop. They get in and see a nightmare of debris and clutter.

Then a dog bolts dramatically from the yard. Panicked, the dog is frantic. “It’s a family dog, crammed in to one lonely spot, just desperate to be with some people,” says Brian.

Ed is now crying because he knows he is caught dead to rights, ashamed that he has been found not caring for his animal. They reassure him they will help him. Ed is primarily guilty of the sins of poverty, and unfortunately his circumstance and bad judgment created this bad situation for his dog Sanford. It’s quite a sad scene.

Back to the sting, as Marceline holds the small dog in play. Kyle gives her a long story and becomes agitated when questioned about the health of the dog. Rob is smelling blood at this point.

The show culminates as Marceline sets up the unsuspecting dealer. “Every licensed breeder has to have a USDA number, that USDA number will give you a definitive location, a date of birth and where that dog came from,” explains Rob behind-the-scenes. That’s the litmus test to discern if the dog is legit or from a puppy mill.

Cue the “uhhhh” from shady dealer Kyle.

Then Bill gets involved. He asked where the puppy came from. “Lebanon, Missouri,” says Kyle.

We learn that the city and state are the epicenter of all puppy mills. Busted. Rob confronts him and the scene is volatile as Kyle defends himself.

“You’re victimizing people and you’re victimizing an animal,” says Rob. Kyle hems and haws as he makes excuses and then suddenly has to go to his car to get something.

It’s obvious he’s trying to bolt from the scene. “He’s definitely leaving,” says Elle. Bingo.

The show ends with the Philly duo of Brian and Face who have liberated Sanford from his flea-infested prison while Ed, his owner, was treated to a state-of-the-art camera surveillance system installed by Face that allows him to monitor his garage and front door so that his imprisoned “guard” dog can have a life.

It’s a touching moment as Brian lathers him up with dishwashing soap and the dog is relieved that people give a darn about him, finally. Waggy tails and doggy smiles from Sanford the soapy pup who visibly understands his life is about to get better.

Animal Planet’s The Guardians excels in giving us visual red meat with the deeply heartfelt emotions that surround the good intentions of these burly, tough-as-nails, animal do-gooders.

But very little explanation is given thus far as to how they really get the goods on certain individuals and groups in the profiting of animal cruelty.

Online tips, social media and phone calls aside, these people get into the faces and physically intimidate people, and one wonders how the lawsuits are avoided.

You can tell this is an east coast endeavor and not produced in the American south or the west, where gunplay would be more of an issue and concern for these animal avengers.

The show’s premise is that they eschew using the police for resolving conflicts and removing the animal from the situation, but in reality, people are quite unpredictable and can push back, and how these Guardians really get past that is not learned in the premiere episode. This remains to be seen.

But unquestionably, all of the Guardian cast members’ hearts are seemingly in the right place, and people who love animals, redemptive stories and justice served gently will totally dig this new series.

The characters are compelling, the pacing and interplay are balanced and Animal Planet looks to have a new winner on their hands.

The Guardians premieres tonight, January 7, 2017 at 10/9c on Animal Planet.

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April is an accredited entertainment writer, interviewer and television critic. She is a current member of the Television Critics Association (TCA), Gay and Lesbian Entertainment... read more
April Neale
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