Life In The Doghouse (Ptown Film Festival, Frameline))

by Roger Walker-Dack

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday June 12, 2018

'Life In The Doghouse'
'Life In The Doghouse'  

"Life in The Doghouse" is one of those documentaries that will touch the heart of the coldest of souls. It's a wonderful love story between two exceptional gay men and their ever-growing four-legged family, which have taken over every semblance of what once passed as their normal life.

Ron Danta and Danny Robertshaw, both in their 60s, live on a horse farm in North Carolina, where they train show horses. How they have the time and energy to do this is never made that clear from the film, as most of their days (and nights) are occupied by the menagerie of dogs that they have rescued, mainly from animal shelters who would have had to exterminate them otherwise.

The 4000+ square house is currently home to an assortment of some 71 dogs that Ron and Danny have meticulously organized in such a way there is not a hint of chaos. Their large pack resulted from a spontaneous reaction to the immediate aftereffects of Hurricane Katrina when, after the two of them had donated much-needed supplies to people holed up in a nearby Sports Stadium, they then turned their attention to all the pets that had been abandoned in the floods. Their methods were simple: They drove their horse trucks down to the devastated area and picked up as many frightened dogs as they could, then drove them home before turning around to go back to get another load.

In the following years this quickly morphed into a full-scale dog rescue service that the couple, with the aid of small team, has run since then. What initially appears to be a well-meaning gesture on the part of these selfless men is actually a well-oiled operation that runs on basic tenets that Ron and Danny insist on sticking to. They go out of their way to save the lives of dogs whose days are numbered and may have health issues or behavioral problems, or simply are the type that rarely get adopted.

The website for the nonprofit named after them, Ron & Danny's Rescue, features the dogs that they consider to be adoptable, but most of their success in getting their charges new homes is on the horse jumping circuit, where they have built up a remarkable following and reputation.

The documentary points out that they have successfully had 10,000 dogs adopted by families and new owners that they vet extremely carefully. Most people would be more than content with such an exceptional achievement, but Ron Danta is not happy that they cannot make a bigger indent in the 4 million pets that end up getting euthanized each year.

Both men are passionate about their crusade and seem happy enough that the only place in the house that is still theirs is the king-size bed, but even that is shared with a handful of dogs. Having sunk most of their pension funds into the operation, the rescue service relies on donations to survive, but in the summer months, when donations are scarce, their precarious finances are constantly are Ron's mind. These considerations are, however, not a deterrent: We see him applying to the bank for a large personal loan to provide urgently-needed cash flow.

Ron is very verbal about the inequity of puppy mills, where dogs are badly housed in small cages and expected to constantly breed to make as much money as possible. To save money they are often inbred, resulting in unsalable puppies that are then simply abandoned.   

Surprisingly, his views on animal shelters that exterminate are extremely rational; he explains that animals are often not neutered or spayed, and that leads to many unwanted litters. That's the real culprit here, not the shelters that have to deal with society's messes.

Director Ron Davis paints an affectionate portrait of this affable couple who show none of the usual eccentricities that we associate with people who prefer an excessive amount of animals over any humans. The film tugs not only on your heartstrings, but all those feelings of guilt that could be alleviated by adopting another stray, or at least by sending a big fat check to their rescue service.

The only hint of regret the film shows is from Danny, who has serious health problems and has enjoyed a much longer life than his doctors predicted. In an unguarded moment he mentions that he and Ron never talk about anything other than the dogs. We can see his point.

Roger Walker-Dack, a passionate cinephile, is a freelance writer, critic and broadcaster and the author/editor of three blogs. He divides his time between Miami Beach and Provincetown.