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Literature / A Dog's Way Home

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A Dog's Way Home by W. Bruce Cameron is a novel about a dog trying to find her way home.

Born underneath an abandoned house in Denver and raised by cats, Bella's life changed dramatically when she met her first human. Bella is taken in by Lucas and his mother Terri as a puppy. However, run-ins with a corrupt businessman combined with the regulations concerning dogs lead to Bella being taken away from her human family. After being temporarily put in foster care until her owners can find a new place to live, Bella decides the best course of action is to find her way back home on her own. Stuck on her own, Bella must learn to live like a stray as she tries to get back to Lucas.

A film adaptation of the book was released in 2019 starring Bryce Dallas Howard as the voice of Bella, Ashley Judd as Terri Ray, and Edward James Olmos as Axel.

A Dog's Way Home provides examples of:

  • Adapted Out: Axel's cop friend Tom (save for in two deleted scenes) and some young men who beat him up for kicks are all omitted from the film.
  • Adaptation Species Change: Not quite species, but in the film adaptation Bella is depicted as a beagle rather than the breed she is in the book.
  • The Alcoholic:
    • Axel, one of Bella's temporary owners, is a mentally ill veteran who lives on the streets. He abuses drugs and alcohol. He ends up dying due to an overdose.
    • Sylvia's ex-boyfriend Mike was an alcoholic, but she didn't like how he acted when he was drunk.
  • Alcoholic Parent:
    • Terri is a recovering drug and alcohol addict. She's an American soldier who returned from Afghanistan and turned to drugs to cope.
    • Lucas' unnamed father died as a result of his alcoholism.
    • Gavin's mother Sylvia is a Lady Drunk who spends her time drinking a lot. She used to date another heavy drinker but dumped him when it turned out he was a violent sort of alcoholic.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: It's never mentioned what's wrong with Axel or whether his mental illness is due to his heroin abuse, his experiences as a soldier, or a combination of both. He's delusional and very paranoid of others. He refuses to stay in one place because he thinks people are tracking everyone, but if he's homeless then they can't track him properly. Axel suffers from frequent nightmares as well.
  • Artistic License – Animal Care: A lot of characters let Bella snack on foods that dogs shouldn't eat. Likewise, Bella eats a lot of food she shouldn't while on her own, simply because she must eat what she can find. Most of it doesn't do much harm to Bella, but she gets stomach issues after eating a cooked chicken she stole from a grocery store.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: Kurch, Dutch's first owner, is a lousy fellow who, while not physically abusive, is implied to have not been the best owner. Dutch, however, adores Kurch and it takes a while to get over him.
  • Big Damn Heroes: While being hunted by the coyotes, Bella tries fighting against them. Suddenly, Big Kitten (now a fully grown cougar) arrives to save her foster mother from the coyotes.
  • Big Friendly Dog: Bella is a large mutt and a very friendly dog. She loves making people happy and giving comfort to sad humans, which makes her an excellent therapy dog. The problem comes when a mean shelter worker decides that she's a pit bull (despite looking nothing like one) and it's decided she must either leave the city or be killed.
  • Comfort Food: Cheese to Bella. In her case, it's less about the actual food and more about the meaning behind it. Bella's owner Lucas plays a game with her where he holds out a piece of cheese, waits for Bella to concentrate on it, and gives it to her. As a result, Bella really misses playing "Tiny Piece Of Cheese" with Lucas.
  • Cone of Shame: Bella gets put into one after being spayed.
  • Covers Always Lie: One cover for the book depicts Bella as a pit bull. Throughout the book, it's mentioned that she isn't a pit bull-looking dog.
  • Crotch-Glance Sex Check: When Lucas first sees Bella, he picks her up and is about to say "boy" until he takes a quick glance between her legs and says "girl" instead.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Bella seems to cross this twice, first being chained to a dying homeless veteran and the second being when she realizes that Lucas moved away. But when two boys free her and when she sees Mother Cat for the first time in years, she gets her resolve back.
  • Diabolical Dog Catcher: Chuck the dog catcher wants to capture and euthanize Bella in accordance to Denver city laws that say that pit bulls are to be destroyed, even if Bella does not even looks like a pit bull. Most of the drama of the plot begins when he gives Mack the option to take Bella out of town to never return and the story's climax revolves around Chuck seeing Bella enter the city and relentlessly pursues her to catch her, even threatening to lay siege to a VA center that took Bella in if they don't hand over the dog. The rest of the Denver police (and Chuck's supervisor) arriving to see what the ruckus is about decide Chuck is overstepping his bounds as an animal control officer (something he has apparently been doing often) and demote him.
  • Dog Stereotype: Discussed and used in-universe. Pitbull breeds are banned city-wide for being "dangerous", but several characters recognize that most Pit bulls aren't a threat. Big Friendly Dog Bella gets labeled a "pit bull" and is almost put down as a result.
  • Domestic Abuse: Bella comes across two abusive men - Terri's former friend (or likely lover) Brad and Sylvia's ex-boyfriend Mike - that change her opinion on men. While she doesn't hate men, she feels protective towards people who are attacked by angry men.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • It's mentioned that Terri attempted suicide in the past.
    • Mack is a troubled veteran dealing with unspecified mental illness, but Bella helps him cope. At the end of the book, he's in solitary due to suicidal ideation. Being reunited with Bella, along with some encouraging words from his friends, helps him at that moment.
  • Free-Range Pets: In one town, Bella meets a group of dogs who hang around in the afternoon begging for food from restaurants before returning home at night.
  • From Stray to Pet: Mother Cat ends up taken care of by a woman in her old age. However, being a feral cat, she's not truly a pet. Mother Cat refuses to be petted and won't enter the woman's house. She does, however, eat the food that's left for her.
  • Innocent Inaccurate: Being a dog, there's much Bella doesn't understand. The entire plot is kicked off by a misunderstanding: Bella doesn't realize that Lucas is returning the next day, so she tries to go home herself and ends up lost.
  • Interspecies Adoption:
    • After Bella's mother and siblings were taken by humans, Bella was raised by a female cat she dubbed "Mother Cat". Bella even nursed alongside her kittens. Even months after being separated, Mother Cat still recognizes Bella as her surrogate child.
    • After poachers kill a mother cougar, Bella finds herself attached to her cub. Bella refers to the cougar cub as "Big Kitten". They travel together and bond. Even as she grows into adulthood, Big Kitten still sees Bella as her companion. Unfortunately, the two cannot live together with Lucas so they part ways in the end.
  • Junkie Parent: Terri was addicted to drugs throughout Lucas' childhood. She still feels apologetic about it, but Lucas tries his best not to think about it too much.
  • Live-Action Adaptation: A film adaptation was released in January 2019.
  • Living Emotional Crutch: Both Bella and Dutch fall into a depression from being away from "their persons". Bella goes through hell trying to get back to Lucas, no matter the cost.
  • Love at First Sight: A platonic version occurs between Bella, Audrey, and Lucas. From the first time they meet Bella finds herself inexplicably attached to Audrey and Lucas. It's implied that dogs have a natural desire to be around humans.
  • Mature Animal Story: A Dog's Way Home is about a dog named Bella as she journeys back home. It has some adult-aimed elements to it. She's a seizure dog to a former Junkie Parent, on her journey she is taken in by a homeless, mentally ill drug addict who dies of an overdose, and a character attempts suicide in the final chapters.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Three hikers who protect Bella from wolves and try to return her to Lucas take off her collar to look at the phone number more clearly in the dark. However, Bella then runs off and the absence of that collar delays her reunion with Lucas by over a year.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted with Slyvia's ex-boyfriend and one of her previous cats. Both are called "Mike". It causes no small amount of confusion for Gavin and Taylor, especially when Sylvia mentions Mike (the cat) was hit by a car.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname:
    • Big Kitten presumably doesn't have a name. We only know her by what Bella calls her in her head.
    • Mother Cat was presumably an unnamed stray for most of the book, but the woman who gives her food named her "Daisy".
  • Parental Neglect:
    • Terri neglected Lucas as a child. Lucas has mostly forgiven her, but Terri is still bitter over it.
    • Dutch's original owner was a jerkass who dumped Dutch without much thought because he couldn't take care of him anymore.
  • Perky Goth: Lucas' girlfriend Olivia is described as being "sort of Goth". She's sarcastic but well-meaning and nice. This is not seen so much in the movie version.
  • A Pet into the Wild: Bella was born a stray but was taken in at an early age. She ends up getting lost after Lucas sends her to a foster home temporarily and she runs away, trying to get back home herself.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The head of police at the end of the movie. Being a veteran himself, he at first tries to let the police take Bella, but when realizing that the veteran rehabilitation center isn't really owned by the city of Denver, he lets them go, even demoting the bullying officer.
  • Scavengers Are Scum: Subverted. Though coyotes are a reoccurring antagonist, they're not demonized. The coyotes simply see Bella as another prey animal.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Several characters, including "Mom" (Lucas' mother Terri) and Axel. Terri goes to a group for veterans.
  • Smells of Death: When Axel dies, Bella notes that his body slowly started changing scents throughout the night.
  • Spiritual Successor: To Cameron's previous success, A Dog's Purpose. Both are from the POV of dogs born as strays, but A Dog's Purpose stars a dog as it goes through several reincarnations, while A Dog's Way Home is more grounded in reality and focuses on one dog's life (though she still goes through many owners as she tries to get back to Lucas).
  • This Is Gonna Suck: The wolves all slink back a bit when they see Big Kitten about to attack them to defend Bella.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The trailer for the film adaptation goes through Bella's entire story from first being adopted by Lucas, their life together (though the trailer presents it as Bella getting lost chasing a squirrel via Manipulative Editing), her adventures through the wild, and then finally getting back to Lucas. Detractors have noted that the spoiling is so blatant and comprehensive that it makes for a free, compressed version of the actual film and decreases the likelihood of people paying for and watching the full product.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Dutch saved Kurch from an avalanche, but Kurch couldn’t take care of him, blamed him for the avalanche, and finally abandons him.
  • Vague Age: Mother Cat's age in her final appearance is hard to decipher. She's raggedy looking and hasn't nursed in a while, implying she's a senior. However, feral cats don't usually live for over five years. Given she's being taken care of, that could be why she's still (relatively) healthy and alive.
  • Vocal Dissonance:
    • In the film, Bella has her adult voice even in puppy scenes.
    • Big Friendly Dog Bella has a chipper voice fitting her personality but not her looks.
  • Younger Than They Look:
    • Bella was a big puppy who resembled a full-grown dog by eight months.
    • Bella initially mistakes Big Kitten for an adult because she's never seen such a huge cat. Big Kitten is almost her size when they first meet.

Alternative Title(s): A Dogs Way Home