The Miracle Dog
A hero, his guardian and a team of talented filmmakers take an anti-bullying message to new heights.
Cyndi Willenbrock's rescue dog, Marshall, overcame incredible odds before they met. Now, his story has reached thousands of kids in multiple states, inspired a Girl Scout patch and served as the storyline for an awardwinning film.
A few years ago, Willenbrock watched a news story about dogs rescued from a hoarder. She looked into the eyes of one badly beaten Labrador-mix pup and knew there was no turning back.
“It’s one of those things that after you’ve seen it, you can’t un-see it,” says Willenbrock.
She opened her home to the dog, who had a pretty yellow coat and held his head high, despite scars and a missing leg.
“I was so amazed by his determination and love for life,” Willenbrock explains. “He was so willing to love and be around people. I knew I had to spread that story.”
Willenbrock, who was enjoying a successful career in sales, began taking Marshall to schools around St. Louis and then beyond. Eventually, she left her job to go full-time with Marshall. So far, they’ve offered kids in 250 schools around the country the opportunity to connect what he went through with bullying.
“Research shows that we find it easier to sympathize with animals before other people a lot of times,” explains Willenbrock. “So if kids connect with Marshall and his story, then it’s not difficult to draw the parallel between that and how kids are treated while at school.”
Willenbrock presented Marshall’s work to St. Louis-based Lamplight Films producer and owner Chris Benson, along with a storyline about a kid who stops his bullies with the help of a brave dog.
Benson, who had never produced a family film before, loved the idea. “I thought something was important with this story,” he says. “Who doesn’t love success stories about dogs and kids? It had mass appeal and a strong message.”
Benson knew the film had to draw star power from its cast (which includes Matthew Settle of “Gossip Girl” and Shannon Elizabeth of “American Pie”) and deliver a message while still being true entertainment.
Marshall’s message of acceptance has proven to be a hit: “Marshall the Miracle Dog” won “Audience Choice Best Film” at the St. Louis International Film Festival in November.
“There’s no stopping it now,” Willenbrock says. “He changes lives.”
Locals got the first look at “Marshall the Miracle Dog” March 7 -8 when the movie debuted in 40 theaters in the St. Louis area. A wide release is coming later this year.
Photo credit: Mike Bizelli