A few months ago, screenwriter and author W. Bruce Cameron and the canine star of his new movie, Shelby, spent a day in Kansas City. While the two were living it up at the Bar K, KC’s celebrity dog hang-out, Bruce took a few minutes to talk with me about Shelby, his love of dogs, and his movie, A Dog’s Way Home, now available on BluRay, DVD, and digital.
A real dog on a journey
A Dog’s Way Home tells the story of Bella, a dog who makes a 400-mile journey to rejoin her human, Lucas. Along the way she touches the lives of many, including an orphaned mountain lion club and a homeless veteran.
LH; The journey is an important theme in your books and movies about dogs, and it’s central to A Dog’s Way Home. How is A Dog’s Way Home different from those animal journey epics that have gone before, like The Incredible Journey or Homeward Bound?
WBC: Those books didn’t capture what was going on in the mind of the dogs. The dog in A Dog’s Way Home is a real dog. It can’t talk to animals or people or understand what people are saying. She just wants to be with her human, Lucas.
The human-animal bond
LH: The human/animal bond is another important theme for you. What sparked your interest in the healing bond between veterans and dogs?
WBC: This is a nascent science, and we are not really sure why wounds can be healed so much more quickly when you introduce a dog. I’m less interested in the theories and more interested in the results. There is a change in people when there is a dog in their life. It has always changed me when there is a dog in my life, in terms of changing my idea of what life is for. Dogs live every day with absolute joy and are not aware of the amount of time they will be around. We human beings should try to live our lives like dogs.
LH: We can only aspire to live our lives like our dogs. In an interview with Tracy Beckerman, you said “If I’m right, the only reason our species is still around is because of our relationship with the canines.” Can you elaborate on that? I think the domestication of the dog is the most important human achievement. The domestication of the dog just says more good things about our species than virtually anything else we have managed to do.
WBC: At the point that it occurred, human beings were about to be pushed off the planet. We evolved, therefore, to have a do-dependence on these wonderful animals. It’s one of the natural reasons we love dogs so much.
The impact of dogs on people
LH: We humans like to talk a lot about the way we have domesticated and shaped dogs. But the human brain can also be molded. What sort of an impact do you think that dogs have had on the human psyche over the millenia?
WBC: The initial interaction was undoubtely cooperative in hunting. Then we seized control of their destiny. They have always been interested in supporting us. This has been a long journey, but where we find ourselves today is with a new, and more complex appreciation for dogs. People are less likely to view a dog as a tool or a function of their daily lives. People have brought them into their lives. Dogs open up our soul and hearts
LH: In A dog’s Way Home, Does Bella change the people in her life in significant ways?
WBC: There are so many things that Bella does that touch the lives of people. She helps one very disturbed Vietnam veteran transition out of this life. To a large extent she saves his soul. There are a couple more characters in the movie who don’t have or want dogs but wind up with one because of Bella.
Writing about dogs
LH: We know so little about the ways dogs think and feel. I believe their way of processing the world through the senses and non-verbally must be richer in some ways than our own. Do you ever feel presumptuous in assigning human-like thoughts to your canine characters?
WBC: I am ok with being presumptuous. We humans think with symbols and words. We might assign words but a dog recognizes objects. As a writer, I have a big task. For humans, all the drama requires words. Understand that this is fiction, and I am trying to get into the incredible mind and senses of a dog in order to tell the story.
LH: Do you think there is a risk in giving dogs such a range of human thoughts and emotions? My concern is that it leads pet parents to make unrealistic assumptions about training and a dog’s capacity for independent agency. I’m thinking particularly of the dog shaming movement.
WBC: People pull what they can and want to out of story about a dog who finds its way home. If they come away with the idea that dogs are thinking, sentient beings, then it’s a success. I want them to come away caring more about dogs. What a wonderful gesture it is to rescue a dog!
LH: I think we can both agree on that!
Dogs and Movies
Before you go, I’d like to ask just a couple of fun questions. Has writing and making movies about dogs changed the way you interact with dogs? Does it change the way you interact with movies?
WBC: Definitely. Before I started writing dog books I had a sense of how dogs were. Then I started spending more time at the dog park. Writing changed my mind about what I thought I knew about dogs. Their structure is not as defined; it’s very complex and fluid. I hope it’s a change for anybody who reads A Dog’s Purpose to start focusing more on their dogs.
I am married to a movie director, and I wouldn’t want to watch movies the way she has to watch them. For me the exciting thing about a movie is still the story, and I think movies are magical. I enjoy the story.
LH: I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you a question about Shelby. According to the KC Star, this is Shelby’s first visit to KC. Does she seem to like it? Has she made any new friends here at the Bar K?
WBC: What Shelby likes about KC is that there seems to be a lot of squirrels.
LH: We have quite a few squirrels. How does KC stack up to other cities you have visited recently in terms of dog-friendliness?
WBC: I like that there seem to be few or no breed discriminatory laws. It’s very dog friendly. Everybody stops working and comes over to talk to Shelby wherever we go.
A partnership for Veterans and Dogs
Sony Pictures Entertainment teamed up with the Humane Society of the United States to promote the film, which opened in theaters in January, 2019. Together, they created Operation Hero-Animal Bond, to connect veterans with shelter pets in their communities. This program covers adoption fees and provides an adoption kits with basic pet essentials for qualifying veterans across the US.
Author W. Bruce Cameron is a New York Times Bestselling writer, humorist, and screenwriter. His body of work includes beloved stories that celebrate dogs. A Dog’s Purpose, A Dog’s Way Home, and A Dog’s Journey are among his most popular books. Both A Dog’s Purpose and A Dog’s Way Home are also major motion pictures.