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How a Novelist’s Canine Companions Spawned a Prolific Movie Franchise

Bruce Cameron's lifelong love for dogs provided the inspiration for A Dog's Way Home, his second book to be adapted for the big screen.

W. Bruce Cameron’s novels were supposed to be filled with white-knuckle suspense and international intrigue, not cute and cuddly canines.

But as with many authors, financial success dictated a change of course, and Cameron found inspiration from his lifelong love for dogs. The latest of his books to be told from a pooch’s perspective, A Dog’s Way Home, is his second to be adapted for the big screen.

“I thought I was going to write thrillers, and that would be my career. It’s not that I didn’t write them — it’s just that I never sold them, because they were probably terrible,” Cameron said during a recent stop in Dallas. “When it came time to try to bring a unique perspective to the things I wanted to say, picking the voice and view of an optimistic, cheerful creature like any dog was the way to go. It’s opened a whole new art form for me.”

The story is told from the point of view of a mixed-breed puppy named Bella, rescued as a stray by Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King), a Denver VA therapist, along with her mother (Ashley Judd) and a co-worker (Alexandra Shipp). Lucas and Bella form a close bond before being separated, prompting the pooch (whose internal monologue is voiced by Bryce Dallas Howard) to journey several hundred miles in hopes of reuniting.

“She has a very female view of the world,” said Cameron’s wife and co-screenwriter, Cathryn Michon. “Bella is so about motherhood. It’s a really core value to her.”

Cameron got his first dog, a Labrador puppy, at age 8 and has always been around them. When he was growing up in Kansas, his family always had three dogs at a time.

These days, he and Michon share the companionship of an adopted mixed-breed dog at home. Likewise, Bella is played by Shelby, who was once rescued from a Tennessee junkyard.

“Dogs are defined by their experiences and their purpose,” Cameron said. “Dogs have similar personalities, but they’re also distinct creatures. Bella has a true love of cats, and is immediately and permanently bonded to her person.”

Michon said their screenplay for A Dog’s Way Home managed to remain truer to the plot lines and themes of the book than their prior film, A Dog’s Purpose, which they also adapted. But the couple is pleased with both movies.

“You’re sitting at the same keyboard and writing the same words, but it’s a very collaborative world,” Cameron said about screenwriting. “When I’m charting my own course with a novel, I have editors and take their feedback, but I can say no. In the movies, the screenwriter doesn’t get to say no. You’re a completely replaceable part of the process.”

Cameron’s other works include a longtime syndicated humor column, as well as the nonfiction book that provided the inspiration for the sitcom “8 Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter.”

But he’s recognized most for his books saluting the bond between humans and canines. A Dog’s Way Home is separate from the series that began with A Dog’s Purpose, and continued with A Dog’s Journey, for which the movie version — penned by Cameron and Michon — will be released this spring. Cameron is working on another sequel, A Dog’s Promise, which should be published soon.

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