He was once one of 60 hungry dogs living on an abandoned Missouri property, but these days Marshall the three-legged Lab is the subject of a children’s book and also a new movie, Marshall’s Miracle, which comes out on DVD and Video on Demand Oct. 6.
Marshall is no stranger to the camera — the terrible conditions he once lived in were captured by an Animal Planet crew during a 2010 episode of Confessions: Animal Hoarding. The reality TV crew followed along as the Humane Society of Missouri rescued then-2-year-old Marshall and the other dogs from horrific conditions they’d been living in, but Marshall needed more help than most of the pack. Poor Marshall had been attacked by the other hungry dogs. His front leg was broken, he had a large hole in the side of his face, and his body was covered in bite marks.
The broken leg was so terribly infected it needed to be amputated, and the hole in Marshall’s face had to be sewn up. During his surgery, he almost slipped away, but his medical team was able to resuscitate the amazingly resilient dog. The scars on his body were finally healing, but Marshall still needed to find the forever home that would heal his heart.
“It took him about three months to recover and be ready to be adopted,” says Cyndi Willenbrock, who adopted Marshall in January of 2011.
Willenbrock already had a dog at home, a rescued black Lab named Mooshy, but she worked long hours in sales and felt that Mooshy needed a brother, so she’d been keeping an eye on the websites of different shelters in the St. Louis area.
“The day Marshall was up for adoption, I saw his video, and my first thought was, ‘Who’s gonna want this dog?’ He had this huge scar on his face, he was missing a leg,” Willenbrock remembers.
“My second thought was, ‘Oh my gosh, it has to be me,’ and I just couldn’t get that second thought out of my head.”
Three days later, the Humane Society of Missouri approved Willenbrock’s application and Marshall came home to the family that would help him heal. According to Willenbrock, Marshall was a bit hesitant around Mooshy at first, having never been socialized with other dogs in a positive way. The three-legged dog was quiet and timid, but eventually silent Marshall found his voice.
“I didn’t even know for months that he even knew how to bark,” says Willenbrock, who adds that the first time she heard Marshall’s voice was when he was trying to initiate play with Mooshy.
To Willenbrock, that first woof represented a significant breakthrough in Marshall’s confidence. “It really was like this glorious sound.”
Once comfortable in his forever home, Marshall was trained as a certified therapy dog, and together with Willenbrock, he volunteered at his local Humane Society. At first, Marshall’s work in humane education was just a part-time thing, but after Willenbrock wrote a children’s book about him, everything changed.
“One night, I just had this intuitive thought that maybe if I wrote his story, it would help him heal,” she says, adding that she started writing after being woken up by Marshall, who was plagued by nightmares at that point in his life.
Initially, Willenbrock didn’t intend to share the story with any eyes but her own, but once the words were down on paper, she realized the impact Marshall’s story could have on others. She teamed up with a recent art school grad who also volunteered as a humane educator, and Marshall’s picture book came to life, changing Willenbrock’s in the process.
“When the book came out, I wasn’t expecting the explosion of requests from schools,” she explains. “Literally overnight, I got like 100 requests to visit schools.”
With the support of her colleagues, Willenbrock pressed pause on her sales career to concentrate on Marshall’s message, which was gathering steam quickly.
“Hollywood immediately came calling, wanting to know if they could develop it into a movie.”
That movie, Marshall’s Miracle, which premiered in select major cities in late August, stars Shannon Elizabeth, Lauren Holly, and a Lab named Max as Marshall.
The fictionalized plot centers around a young boy, the victim of bullies, rescuing Marshall. The subject matter of the film is the perfect vehicle for Marshall’s message of bullying prevention, which carries through in all he does, from the picture book to the school visits.
“Humane education and character education are synonymous,” explains Willenbrock. “They are teaching the same things: empathy, respect, kindness, courage, and resiliency.”
That strong anti-bullying message is why the DVD and Video on Demand release of Marshall’s Miracle is happening Oct. 6, during National Bullying Prevention Month. It’s also why Willenbrock teamed up with the Association of Professional Humane Educators to create follow-up discussion questions for families who’ve watched Marshall’s Miracle.
“Parents can go online to Marshall’s website after viewing the movie, and they can have these important conversations about bullying prevention and humane education.”
As Marshall’s message continues to spread, it’s become impossible for the miraculous dog to visit every school that requests an appearance, but a new program is helping get his message into the schools he and Willenbrock can’t get to.
“We’ve spent the last two years with bullying prevention experts to develop the Marshall Mentor program,” explains Willenbrock. “High school students are trained, basically to be me, and they take a six-week program into a middle school in their school district and teach five different cornerstone messages from Marshall’s story.”
Thanks to his book, movie, and mentorship program, Marshall is changing the lives of people he hasn’t even met — proving that he truly is a miracle dog.
Read more Monday Miracles:
About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. Sixteen paws is definitely enough. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.