Imagine taking care of 72 dogs at home. That’s standard operating procedure for Ron Danta and Danny Robertshaw. “Life in the Doghouse,” the film about how they do it, plays Saturday, April 27, at 10 am. The documentary is part of the Spectrum (LGBTQ) Film Festival, and describes their 14-year rescue operation. Danta and Robertshaw will introduce the film and answer questions after the screening. Lisa Dawley, director of the Animal Shelter of Martha’s Vineyard, will also attend, and with several canines in tow, she will discuss pet adoption on-Island.
Danta talked about Danny and Ron’s Rescue in a telephone interview last week from the South Carolina home he shares with Robertshaw. “It’s not because we’re gay, but because we both love animals,” he said about their rescue mission. Nevertheless, director Ron Davis decided including Danta’s and Robertshaw’s life story enriched the film. He is donating the film’s net proceeds to dog rescue.
“We’re very excited to be there,” Danta said of their upcoming visit to the Island, which will be their first. “Life in the Doghouse” has played all over the country, both at festivals and in commercial release. The couple has appeared on the Today Show, ABC, and CBS news, the Hallmark Family Channel and the “Pickler & Ben Show,” as well as many local TV stations, to describe how they rescue dogs.
Most rescue dogs are kept separately in kennels, but when dogs are placed in kennels, they cower, Danta explains. “By living in our house, they rehab so much quicker. They get a lot of human interaction.” Dog fights are not a problem. “You have to have a pack leader,” he says, “and you have to be the pack leader.” A staff of seven helps manage the dogs and keeps the house spotless and odor-free. They do 18 loads of laundry a day. “Someone is always with the dogs, 24/7,” Danta says. As he puts it in the film, “We live in the dogs’ house. We’re the guests.”
The catalyst for Danny and Ron’s Rescue was Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The couple traveled to New Orleans to help people, but it became clear that pets were being abandoned when their owners were rescued. Their focus quickly became providing for the dogs left behind, and they saved 600 of them, spending 40 percent of their retirement income in the process. Danny and Ron’s Rescue depends on donations for survival. They have now rescued over 11,500 dogs.
Both Danta and Robertshaw train horses professionally, and are active on the show horse circuit, where they travel with their rescue van as well as showing horses. Horse shows in particular have provided places for both rescue and adoption, along with up to 100 shelters the two men have worked with. Owners may also surrender their dogs, as was the case with one soldier deployed to Iraq. Other dogs come by way of puppy mills or court intervention in South Carolina. Once Danta and Robertshaw acquire a new dog, they send it straight to the veterinarian. When sickness — heartworms are a major problem, especially in the South — is an issue, the animal is quarantined. Dogs with behavioral problems remain with Danta and Robertshaw.
Six and a half million animals end up in shelters annually. Ninety percent have not been spayed or neutered. Two and a half million find homes, but four million are euthanized. The couple points out that individuals who can’t adopt can help in other ways, like visiting a shelter and spending time with the dogs, or donating money.
Along with Danta and Robertshaw, “Life in the Doghouse” stars the many dogs that appear as part of the rescue operation. They will warm viewers’ hearts. “The beautiful thing about dogs is that dogs never judge others by looks, and I wish human beings would be that way,” Danta said.
For information and tickets for “Life in the Doghouse” and other films in the Spectrum Festival, see mvfilmsociety.com.