Heroes come in all shapes, sizes, and types. Some heroes run dog rescue organizations tasked with saving lives. Another hero might be an ordinary little girl, doing her part by plucking a stray animal from a parking lot and bringing her home for a lifetime of cuddles. And yet another hero might use a public platform or a creative work to change minds about how we view man’s best friend.
Courtney Daniels is all of these types of heroes, rolled into one.
As producer and star of the children’s feature film comedy Rescue Dogs, Daniels has done something unique. Not only has she created a family film that celebrates the value of canines, she has partnered with rescue organizations in more than 20 cities around the U.S.
These carefully selected groups — all no-kill organizations — have coordinated with Daniels’ production company, Busted Buggy Entertainment, in putting together movie premiere events that provide not just family-friendly entertainment, but also forever homes for dogs who need somebody to love.
Rescue Dogs, aimed primarily at preschool and elementary-aged children, follows Tracy (played by Paul Haapaniemi) and his rescue dog, Charger, as they foil the plans of a businessman who wants to build a golf course on the site of their beach restaurant. Daniels plays Tracy’s love interest, Bridgette. The movie will have a limited distribution run, starting April 1, for several days to a week in select theaters. Each city will feature red carpet-style events, on-site pet adoptions, rescue fundraising, or other awareness-raising features.
“Rescue animal advocates want to see an entertaining film that helps their cause,” Daniels said about how the goofy, lighthearted comedy — filled with cute “talking” canines — aims not only to entertain young moviegoers but to serve the needs of rescue groups.
She likened the partnerships with rescues to the goals of the TOMS shoe company, which for each pair of shoes sold donates a pair to a child in need.
“If you see this movie, or buy these shoes, you also help a cause you care about, and that forwards the greater good,” she said. “If we can take our daily lives and actions, make them passively generate the good we want to see in the world … I think we will win and make a real difference.”
Following the theatrical release, Daniels said the film would continue to be made available to additional rescue groups for screening, and at some point will be made available for public purchase via download and DVD (release dates are still to be determined).
A unique feature of Rescue Dogs is that dogs seen on screen aren’t trained canine actors — they’re real-life rescue dogs themselves. Among them is Daniels’ own pet, who is the flick’s furry star.
“One of my dogs, Baron, plays the lead role of Charger,” she said. “He was adopted from the Arizona Animal Welfare League (AAWL), where my mother had been a longtime volunteer and foster.”
Daniels said working with Baron and the other regular dogs was quite different from the usual Hollywood-trained animal shoot. She said there were a lot of laughs on set and a few unexpected things happened. For instance, one of the dogs kept getting distracted by a drone flying overhead, which was attempting to film an aerial shot.
“Yes, it’s a challenge,” she explained. “On the other hand, the writer, Jordan Rawlins, was amazingly brilliant in the way he crafted the story. It allowed for the animals to just be themselves and do what they do.
“The co-directors,” she continued, “did a great job of capturing the animals just being themselves, and then filling in thoughts and humor with our incredible voiceover talent.”
Daniels suggests anyone planning to work with animals have a “patient director, crew, and human co-stars. No one can get uptight; the animals sense it and quit cooperating.
“There were definitely a lot of laughs, a lot of surprises,” she said of the third film she’s produced, but her first featuring animals.
In addition to being Mom to Baron, Daniels has a household full of other pets.
“I also have a Great Dane named Windsor, who was rescued from AAWL as well,” she said. “AAWL is of course one of our partner rescues for the release of the film.”
She said her other dog, Coco, was originally owned by a neighbor who was moving and unable to keep the animal, so Daniels stepped in.
She and her husband also have three cats — Cairo, Scotch, and Wilber — whom she refers to as “the bosses of the house.”
Daniels has always been a hero to the helpless.
“I have always had dogs. My mother was rescuing dogs from my earliest memories,” she said. “I have been rescuing animals pretty much since I rescued my first cat, Luckie, from a parking lot when I was in, like, third grade? So it’s just part of who I am at my core.”
She’s affected deeply when she sees animals hurting.
“I believe that animals are voiceless and we are responsible for giving them a voice,” she said. “They didn’t choose to be abandoned, and they don’t have a voice or way to change their situation. The only thing they have is their love.”
She relishes that love daily from her own animals. She enjoys daily walks with them as a time for relaxing and head clearing. She said even as a young child, she would go for a run or walk with her dogs to think about things. She said everything seems better at the end of a dog walk.
“There is no judgment,” she said. “It’s constant love and understanding.”
Daniels said the whole reason she started Busted Buggy Entertainment was so she could tell stories about things she really, really cared about. As an actor, she said, “You’re always waiting for the phone to ring.” But as a producer, she’s able to take things into her own hands.
“I could tell whatever stories I chose to, or I could wait for someone to give me permission,” she explained. “If you ask my parents, permission and authority were never really my thing.
“To be able to combine my love of film and love of animals … I don’t think people get that opportunity very often,” she said.
A movie trailer, dates, times, and locations for Rescue Dogs screenings — including premiere night adoption events in coordination with rescue groups in each city — may be found by visiting the film’s website Rescue Dogs the Movie.