A dog who was once homeless on the streets of Emporia is about to make his big screen debut.
Buckley, a dog who was adopted from the Emporia Animal Shelter by Jessica Steele-Sanders and her husband, Chris Sanders, stars alongside Harrison Ford in the latest adaptation of the Jack London classic novel “Call of the Wild.” The film opens nationwide on Feb. 21.
A short Facebook video from the Pet Collective titled “The Pawducer” tells Buckley’s story from Emporia to Hollywood.
“It was just the perfect thing, that he came along when we needed a dog,” Sanders says in the video. “It was the perfect package that came along at the perfect time.”
Buckley had been at the Emporia Animal Shelter for three weeks after being taken in as a stray when Steele-Sanders found him. Sanders was already in the midst of directing the film.
Emporia Animal Shelter Manager Peggy Perez said the staff at the shelter remembers Buckley — who was adopted in Oct. 2018 — fondly.
“He was a big, fluffy goofball,” she said. “All of our staff remembers him, and not because he’s getting all of this attention now. He was just a big, friendly guy.”
Steele-Sanders said in the video that the couple’s dog, Brody, was getting older and she was starting to look for another like him. Buckley — who is a cross between a “farm collie-type dog and a St. Bernard” — caught her eye because the main character in the novel is named Buck. He also happens to be the same breed London describes in his book.
Steele-Sanders said in the video she called the Emporia Animal Shelter, but the women she talked to “weren’t aware of ‘Call of the Wild’ or Buck.”
Sanders said it almost seemed serendipitous.
“So I decided to load up my dog Brody in a rental SUV and make the drive to Kansas,” Steele-Sanders tells the Pet Collective.
Though Buckley ended up being perfect for the role of Buck, that was not the intention when he was adopted. Steele-Sanders came in looking for a good dog who could be a companion for Brody.
"I adopted Buckley as a family pet; his being cast in the film came after the fact," Steele-Sanders said in an email to The Gazette.
"When I took to Petfinder in Oct. 2018, I was in search of a second dog, a companion to my elderly dog Brody in his golden years. When I ran across Buckley, his breed combo and his name immediately caught my eye because my husband Chris was directing 'The Call of the Wild,' and it felt like kismet, like a sign that this dog was meant to be a part of our family."
Perez said it was a surprise when she learned the dog she had recently adopted out would be starring in a movie.
“I knew he was going to a home that had some connection to Hollywood, but we didn’t have any idea they were going to put him in a movie,” Perez said. “We were just super happy that he was going to a good home. And his family has done an excellent job keeping us up to date. They regularly send us pictures and videos — he has his own Instagram page — so we knew Buckley was in a great home.”
Sanders was on set when his wife got back to California and he got to meet both his new family member and star of his film for the first time.
“One of the craziest things is that, you know, we’re on set, we’re getting pretty deep into things, and here comes Jess with this dog she found in Kansas and he’s the exact right dog that we needed,” Sanders said in the video.
“We were having a difficult time finding a real stand-in for Buck. The Buck described in the novel is a very specific combination of two different breeds; and this is a combination you just can’t find anywhere.”
On the video, it’s clear to see that Buckley is living the Hollywood lifestyle in his new home. Videos and photos show him being snuggled by both Steele-Sanders and Sanders, attending his own premier and smiling big at his new home.
Steele-Sanders said the first scene he filmed was one in which he got to eat pancakes.
“So, he goes from being on the street — hungry and sad and cold — and now he’s on the set of a major motion picture being asked to eat pancakes, please,” she tells the Pet Collective.
Sanders said in the video that he felt Buckley’s story parallels that of “The Call of the Wild.” He says the film is about life, and how everyone must not let surprises defeat them, but make them stronger.
“Here’s this guy, we don’t know where he came from,” Sanders said. “He had some hardships and he finds where he belongs.”
Much more than his new-found fame, however, is the importance that he has a loving family who want to pay it forward. She said Steele-Sanders let her know they were filming the short video that was posted online because she wanted to highlight the importance of adopting. She wanted to be sure Buckley’s history was known.
“That’s what keeps us going,” Perez said. “Obviously we deal with a lot of bad stuff here at the shelter, but seeing our animals go to loving homes and living a happy life is what it’s all about.”
The movie opens Friday Showtimes in Emporia have not yet been announced. Perez said the staff members at the Emporia Animal Shelter are “super excited” to go see the movie. The shelter will also be running an adoption special in honor of Buckley. Anyone who brings in their movie ticket for “Call of the Wild” will get $10 off an adoption fee.
“It’s crazy, the attention that this has brought to the shelter — good attention,” Perez said. “But we’re not superstars here. We just took good care of him until he could find his forever home.”
"I didn’t intend to cast him; it just worked out that way, and Buckley’s big role now makes him a great ambassador for adopting shelter pets," Steele-Sanders told The Gazette.