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The protagonist. They go through various lives trying to find their purpose.
- Abled in the Adaptation: Ellie in the film never received her Career-Ending Injury that ruined her nose. She died before that could happen.
- Adaptational Angst Upgrade: Inverted. He doesn't angst about repeatedly being reincarnated in the film.
- Adaptational Species Change:
- Buddy in the book is a purebred Labrador Retriever with a well-known parentage. Quite a bit of ruckus is made over how good his stock is. In the film he's a mutt (more specifically a St. Bernard and Australian Shepherd mix). As a result he's a puppy in a box sold out of a car.
- Likewise, in A Dog's Journey, Molly is a poodle, while in its film adaptation, she's a beagle.
- Adaptation Dye-Job: Bailey in the book is a standard yellow-ish Golden Retriever. In the film he's a "red" Golden Retriever.
- Adaptation Name Change:
- In the film Bailey thinks his name is "Bailey-Bailey-Bailey" because Ethan kept on repeating it to him as a puppy. In the book, Bailey knows his name is just "Bailey".
- Bear is named "Waffles" in the film.
- Angry Guard Dog: In his life as Max, a Chihuahua/Yorkie mix, Bailey takes on this role: he's particularly aggressive because he wants to show that even though he's tiny, he can still protect his girl.
- Big Eater: The protagonist likes to eat a lot and is food-motivated, with Tino from the film being especially fond of eating.
- Big, Friendly Dog: Most of his incarnations are large breeds. He is a very friendly dog and only becomes kinder and more mature with each reincarnation.
- Bury Your Disabled: Toby gained a paw injury in a fight. The shelter was too crowded, so he was considered unadoptable and gassed.
- Canon Foreigner: The films give Bailey two more incarnations. A Dog's Purpose introduces Tino, a corgi incarnation between his lives as Ellie and Buddy, while A Dog's Journey has Big Dog, a mastiff from between his lives as Molly and Max.
- Career-Ending Injury: As Ellie (in the book), her career as a rescue dog was cut short after an injury during a rescue ruined her sense of smell. She later retired and began working with children and seniors.
- Chaste Hero:
- In the books, being neutered kills all sex drive for him and thus he isn't interested in mating. Because he's neutered quickly and neutered in every life, he doesn't even know what mating is. He thinks it's a "game" and refers to his humans doing it as them "playing".
- Averted in the film. Tino falls for a dog named Roxy. They do, however, have a chaste romance with no sexual interest implied.
- Death by Adaptation: In the book Ellie's first handler Jakob was shot but survived. Ellie died years later of natural causes. In the film Ellie was shot and died.
- Death of a Child: He died as an adolescent in his first life.
- Demoted to Extra: Toby appears for all of five minutes in the film and isn't even named.
- Dies Differently in Adaptation: In the books, Ellie dies of old age. In the film, she's shot in her prime.
- Dog Stereotype: He started life presumably as a mutt, but doesn't display many stereotypes as Toby. As Bailey he is a friendly Golden Retriever, as Ellie he is a heroic German Shepherd, and as Buddy he is a sweet Labrador Retriever. Tino the Corgi sees it as his job to be funny and thus amuse Maya, in keeping with that breed's Plucky Comic Relief image. Max is a snappy Chihuahua/Yorkie, fitting the "yappy aggressive dog" stereotype associated with both breeds.
- Embarrassing Nickname: He dislikes being referred to as "fella" due to bad attachments with the term.
- Fantastic Racism: The protagonist's dislike for cats borders on this. He considesr cats purposeless animals who aren't good for anything. Even when his owner has cats, he never bonds with them and at most just tolerate them.
- Gender Bender: Most of the time, he's male; however, he has had two female reincarnations.
- Heroic Dog:
- As Bailey he helps his owner through the woods when he's lost.
- As Ellie, he's a certified rescue dog.
- Innocent Inaccurate: It's a reoccuring theme. Sometimes, he's inaccurate due to being unexperienced, but other times, it's just because some things are beyond a dog's understanding.
- Love at First Sight: Tino falls for Roxy from the start.
- Mating Season Mayhem:
- In his first life, Toby lives in a compound with several other dogs. One day he notices that he's discovered a new "game" to play with his best friend, a female named Coco. She doesn't like it so much. Toby's annoyed that all the other males also want to play his new "game". As it turns out, Coco was in heat and all the males wanted to mount her. Coco, Toby, and a few other dogs are promptly neutered.
- Three reincarnations in, the protagonist reincarnates into a bitch for the first time. Having always been neutered, Ellie doesn't understand her first heat cycle. She just finds it uncomfortable and smelly. Ellie is promptly spayed after her cycle ends.
- Mister Muffykins: Max is an aggressive Yorkshire Terrier and Chihuahua mix. It's portrayed sympathetically because Max wants to be protective of his human even despite his small size.
- O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Tino loves to eat pizza and junk food. When he suddenly has no interest in pizza, it means something is wrong. He dies a few moments later.
- Parental Substitute: Ellie becomes an unwilling one for Tinkerbell after the other cats die. Ellie at most only tolerates Tinkerbell, but Tinkerbell ends up very attached to her nevertheless.
- Reincarnation Friendship: He has a reincarnation friendship with Ethan. He meets him as a boy when he's Bailey and they meet again when Ethan's a senior as Buddy.
- Running Gag:
- In the book he gets neutered/spayed every reincarnation and gets put into a Cone of Shame.
- In the film he gets needles and complains about them.
- Stock Animal Name: "Bailey" is a popular name for Golden Retrievers and "Buddy" is a popular name for Labs.
- Trademark Favorite Food: The protagonist likes food in general but is especially fond of biscuits, dog biscuits or otherwise.
- Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: As Buddy, he doesn't act like a normal puppy due to being heartsick over being reincarnated again. This causes him to be passed over for long past the norm. As a result, he's less money than the other puppies because he's an "unadoptable" oddity.
- Who Wants to Live Forever?: By his fourth life, he is confused about just why he keeps on getting reincarnated. He ends up acting distant and jaded as a result, which causes him to be overlooked by potential owners.
Major Characters During Toby's Life
"Fast", "Sister", and "Hungry"The protagonist's siblings during his first life.
- Big Eater: Hungry was called such because he suckled more than his siblings.
- Broken Bird: Sister ends up living in the wild on her own for several months. When reunited with her siblings, she's a sickly, anxious mess. Toby decides that all dogs without humans end up beaten down and miserable like her.
- Death of a Child: Hungry died not soon after they began leaving their den.
- Demoted to Extra: They're unnamed in the film and only appear briefly in the prologue.
- Ill Boy: Hungry was constantly hungry and very lethargic. Toby thought he was just lazy, however it turns out Hungry was the runt of the litter. As a result, he died at around three months old.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: We never learn what their names were, if they were ever given any. Their names are simply what Toby refers to them as.
- Sleepy Head: Due to his weakness, Hungry was very sleepy and inactive.
- The Smurfette Principle: Sister was the sole female of the litter, thus her name.
- Strong Family Resemblance: Toby doesn't recognize Sister at first when he sees her for the first time in months. He mistakes her for their mother until he smells her.
"Mother"Toby's mother. A nameless stray dog.
- Broken Bird: Mother is a shy, unsociable dog due to being a stray (or possibly even a feral) dog.
- Demoted to Extra: Mother is all but nonexistent in the film.
- Missing Mom: She disappears early in the book. Toby doesn't particularly mind because he was past the age where mothers leave their young.
- Parental Abandonment: She runs away from Senora's place and is never seen again.
- Unnamed Parent: She is simply known as "Mother".
"Senora"A woman who takes in stray dogs.
- Adapted Out: She's not in the film.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: Toby hears her referred to as "senora" (Spanish for "Ms"/"Mrs") and believes that's her name. By the end of the book, he seems to have learned that "Senora" wasn't her name.
CocoA small, wire-furred female dog who is Toby's best friend.
- Adapted Out: She's not in the film.
- Childhood Friend Romance: Subverted. Toby begins displaying sexual desire towards Coco, but both end up neutered, killing any "romance" (or as close to "romance" as two dogs can get) between them before they can even understand the feelings.
"Top Dog"A large, mastiff-type dog who is the dominant dog in the yard.
- Adapted Out: He's not in the film.
- Dog Stereotype: He's a mastiff mix who, while not overly aggressive, is dominant over the other dogs.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: His real name is unknown. Toby just refers to him as "Top Dog".
RottieThe largest dog in the pack.
SpikeA large, muscular dog implied to be an ex-fighting dog.
Major Characters During Bailey's Life
Ethan MontgomeryThe protagonist's first owner.
- Broken Bird: As an old man, he regrets his life choices and lives by himself on his grandfather's farm. Buddy helps bring him out of his shell.
- Career-Ending Injury: He had a promising future in football. An injury caused by jumping out of his burning room caused an end to that.
- Cheerful Child: As a kid, he was quite plucky.
- Childhood Friend Romance: In the book he met Hannah while at his grandfather's farm during the summer. He had a crush on her even then.
- DecemberDecember Romance: He and Hannah meet as seniors after having drifted apart years ago.
- MayflyDecember Friendship: He has one with Bailey. He met Bailey as a eight-year-old and Bailey lasted until his late teens to early twenties. Later turned around when Bailey's reincarnation Buddy outlives him.
- Official Couple: With Hannah.
- Romancing the Widow: Hannah's husband Matthew died a few years prior.
- Spared by the Adaptation: Zig-zagged. Ethan dies of a stroke at the end of the first book. He doesn't in its film adaptation, but he bites the dust at the end of the second book's film adaptation.
- Domestic Abuse: Implied. Bailey mentions them arguing a lot. They end up divorcing.
- Named by the Adaptation: She's named "Elizabeth" in the film.
- Unnamed Parent: Bailey doesn't know her name.
- Adaptational Jerkass: He's more abusive in the film than in the book and it's made more obvious from the start.
- The Alcoholic: In the film.
- Domestic Abuse: Implied by their arguing. They later end up divorced.
- Named by the Adaptation: He's named "Jim" in the film.
- Standard '50s Father: It's hard to tell when that part of the book takes place, but it's before humans landed on the moon. He acts as Ethan's distant father.
- Unnamed Parent: Bailey doesn't know his name.
HannahA girl who lives nearby Ethan's grandparents farm.
- Childhood Friend Romance: In the book, she met Ethan as kids and they later began dating. They broke up but were reunited years later.
- DecemberDecember Romance: Buddy reunites her with Ethan after they broke up decades prior in high school.
- Demoted to Extra: She meets Ethan as a teen in the film, not as a child, and a lot of her scenes are missing.
- First Girl Wins: Ethan had other lovers, but none of them lasted. Hannah was his first girlfriend and presumably the first girl he ever liked as well.
- Official Couple: With Ethan.
- She's All Grown Up: After not having seen Ethan for years, she appears again. Bailey didn't recognize her until he smelled her.
ToddA boy who moves to the neighborhood.
- Adaptational Nice Guy: He's still a jealous jerk. but the film removed his more troubling behaviors like killing animals and attacking children.
- Bad People Abuse Animals: He attempts to kill Bailey several times, kills Bailey's friend Marshmallow, and is implied to have killed Smokey.
- Demoted to Extra: He meets Ethan later in the film and appears far less often.
- Green-Eyed Monster: He was friends with Ethan for a while, but they grew apart once Ethan noticed how weird Todd's behavior was. Todd is jealous of Ethan, which causes him to try and kill him and his family in a fire.
- Loners Are Freaks: He has no friends due to his odd behavior.
- Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: He displays a lot of troubling behaviors, such as playing with fire, throwing eggs at preschoolers (including his sister), and killing animals. It only gets worse as he gets older.
- We Used to Be Friends: Ethan used to play with him but they stopped hanging out when Ethan became uncomfortable with Todd.
SmokeyA cat that belongs to Ethan's parents.
- Cats Are Mean: Though it's likely due to not understanding cats, Bailey considers Smokey to be good-for-nothing and mean.
- Demoted to Extra: He's a footnote in the film and is only ever called "the cat".
- Karma Houdini: Smokey and Bailey once raided the kitchen while everyone was out. Bailey was the only one blamed, because no one suspected the cat of wrongdoing. That didn't help Bailey's animosity towards Smokey.
Major Characters During Ellie's Life
Jakob/CarlosEllie's handler. He's a jaded and aloof man.
- Adaptation Name Change: Jakob is renamed "Carlos" in the film.
- Broken Bird: He suffers from depression.
- Career-Ending Injury: He had been shot prior to meeting Ellie, but that didn't end his career. In the book, the second time he was shot he had to retire. He ended up becoming a lawyer.
- Composite Character: Carlos is one of Ellie's two handlers: Jakob and Maya. Like Maya he's latino, is a handler to Ellie, and is the one to be with her when she dies, but like Jakob he is depressed and is Ellie's first handler.
- Race Lift: From white to non-white latino.
- The Stoic: Due to his depression, he isn't expressive and isn't very emotionally attached to anything.
MayaIn the book she is a newbie policewoman who becomes Ellie's second partner. In the film she is a college student.
- Adaptational Angst Upgrade: She's much more lonelier in the film.
- Big Eater: In the film she starts off as a lonely college student prone to eating junk food.
- Introverted Cat Person: In the books, she starts off as a loner with several cats.
- Kindhearted Cat Lover: In the book she loves cats and has three already when she brings home Ellie.
- Race Lift: From latino to black.
- Weight Woe: While a normal size in the book, she's not up to par for the type of job she's getting into. She has a hard time losing weight and almost quits due to thinking she's not fit for the job.
Stella, Tinkerbell, and EmmetMaya's three cats.
- Adapted Out: None are present in the film.
- Interspecies Friendship: Tinkerbell has a one-sided one with Ellie.
- In-Series Nickname: "Tinker" for Tinkerbell.
- Shrinking Violet: Tinkerbell is a shy cat.
AlbertA neighbor of Maya's who has a crush on her. In the film, he is a college classmate of hers.
Major Characters From Tino's Life
RoxyA female dog Tino becomes smitten with.
Major Characters During Buddy's Life
WendiBuddy's first owner. In the book her boyfriend brought her a puppy on a whim and in the film she brought Waffles on a whim.
- Adaptational Jerkass: In the film most of her characterization is missing, and she's mixed with her parents. It just appears as if she brought a cute puppy on a whim, attached him to a leash in her yard, and all but ignored him after he started growing too big.
- Affectionate Nickname: She gives Bear a series of cutesy nicknames such as "Cuddle Bear" and "Barry".
- Composite Character: The film mixes characteristics of her and her boyfriend with her parents.
- Demoted to Extra: Most of her dialogue and characterization is missing from the film.
- My Nayme Is: Her name is "Wendy", but with an "i" instead of the more common "y".
- Parental Neglect: She loves Bear, but is woefully unprepared and clueless on how to raise a puppy.
- Adapted Out: His role in the film is replaced with Wendi's boyfriend.
- Alcoholic Parent: He's portrayed as a loud drunkard.
- Bad People Abuse Animals: He's an abusive owner who keeps Bear in subpar conditions. Despite this, he is unable to shoot Bear. He just lets him loose.
- Domestic Abuse: He physically abuses his wife Lisa and they frequently fight.