Life in the Doghouse

New film documents extraordinary dedication to animal rescue
By Claudia Kawczynska, September 2018

At 6:30 am, when Danny Robertshaw and Ron Danta wake up in their home in Camden, S.C., they’re greeted by 70 or so canine guests of all shapes, sizes and colors. They get busy prepping breakfasts and start on the chores required to keep the place spic-and-span and the dogs exercised and happy. So starts another day in the land of Danny & Ron’s Rescue.

This routine started in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina turned these two highly successful horse trainers into full-time dog rescuers. Feeling compelled to help, they used their horse trailer to transport 40 to 60 dogs at a time up to South Carolina from the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast. They rescued 600 dogs that way, then adopted them out to friends on the horseshow circuit. Since then, they have found good homes, mainly in the horse world, for a grand tally of more than 11,000 dogs! No wonder award-winning filmmaker Ron Davis of Docutainment Films wanted to do a film spotlighting the rescue work of this amazing (and dapper) duo.

The documentary follows the two men as they scour southern shelters online and respond to email alerts about dogs who have been “red coded” (meaning their time is up), then go pick them up. Danny says that “seeing their faces and the looks in their eyes, begging someone to save them,” is what inspires them to do this time and time again. Usually choosing dogs who aren’t very popular, they say they’re not looking for “the perfect dog,” but rather, for “dogs who can be saved and rehabilitated.” They pull dogs from multiple sources, including puppy mills, hoarders and shelters. While some criticize them for working with “kill” shelters, they are pragmatic; they know that because few dogs in the South are altered (something that Danny and Ron believe should be a national law), there will always be far more
dogs than there are people to adopt them.

What’s unusual about Danny & Ron’s Rescue is that all the dogs live in their house with them. 
The men also run their rescue organization out of the house, so staff members are on-site during the day as well. Fortunately, the domestic layout is very organized. Their 4,400 square foot home, where they previously hosted many an elegant party for the two-legged set, is now totally devoted to the care of the dogs. As they say, “We live in the dogs’ house, and we’re the guests.”

There’s a quarantine room for those with special medical needs (many dogs come in heartworm positive), and the front bedroom is reserved for puppies. Carpet has been replaced by tile, and sofas and chairs are now slipcovered and given up for the dogs to sleep on. Even their fireplace has a new role as the favorite lounge area for Amelia, a crotchety 10-pound white dog who’s one of a handful of permanent residents. The kitchen, a hub of activity, is used to help socialize the dogs. Dog bedding is washed in large commercial machines, clocking in at 18 loads a day. Both the interior and the outside play areas are kept meticulously clean. While their staff is paid, Danny and Ron are not compensated; their horse-training work provides their livelihood.

During their stay, all the dogs are socialized and trained by Danny and Ron with assistance from their caring staff, learning how to be wonderful, companionable family dogs. And the two are very picky about who’s allowed to adopt one of their dogs. For example, they question why a family with a young child thinks they need a puppy instead of an adult dog. People often feel they can bond better with a puppy, but as Ron says, give any dog, no matter the age, two days max, and that dog will bond with you.

The film is charming and inspiring, and the dedication they have to their mission—to save as many dogs as they can and teach young people the value of rescue —shines out. This personable pair has an almost messianic (in a good way) drive to help dogs, and they do with it great style, candor and panache—a sort of Ralph Lauren-meets-Mother Teresa approach.

But still, this is a film about animal rescue, and some of the scenes can be challenging to watch. At a kill shelter, they’re not allowed inside; instead, dogs are handed to them through the doorway. As their van pulls away, filled to the brim with dogs, an overhead shot pans across the parking area, where shelter workers are loading a truck with heavy black-plastic bags filled with the bodies of dogs who didn’t make it unto the van.

Still, this is a life-affirming and even an entertaining story—in many ways, a love story about the work of a courageous animal-loving couple who have devoted their lives to dogs and given so much to the rescue cause and to their community.

I urge you to make it a point to see Life in the Doghouse, which is scheduled for release in mid-
September in a new and fun way: Theatrical on Demand, in which the movie only plays if a minimum number of people reserve their tickets in advance. This is also a great fundraising opportunity; see where it’s currently scheduled to play and find out more at lifeinthedoghousemovie.com

Claudia Kawczynska is The Bark's co-founder and Editor-in-Chief.

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