One need not love domestic animals to be touched by “A Dog’s Way Home’. But you do need to like action/adventure films that even young ones can enjoy.
You also need to like a story that’s well-told, complete with bad guys who’d happily finish off every stray animal they can find, and good guys, like Lucas, a young psychiatric intern who becomes the dog’s best friend.
Granted it’s told from the dog’s point of view. Bella (Bryce Dallas Howard), the orphaned mix-breed mutt speaks on her own behalf. But as she’s a dog who travels 400 miles to find her way home, the film is filled of scenic views of some of the most beautiful lands in the US.
Just to see her making the perilous journey from Farmington, New Mexico on the southwest side of the States all the way across the Rocky Mountains to Denver, Colorado makes this film as much a beautiful travel documentary as a film about love and the indelible bond between an animal and a human being.
Yet the film, which premiered in January, might be too much for anyone with super-sensitivities to bear since the story has many heart-wrenching moments. Bella meets all kinds of individuals in her three-year trek, including one homeless beggar who chains her like a slave so she can elicit sympathy and cash from passers-by.
Bella also meets a pack marauding stray dogs whom she initially links up with who teach her how to survive on the street.
She meets another far more dangerous pack of wild dogs who nearly tear her to shreds. But she is miraculously saved by a cougar cat whom she met right after its mother was killed by human hunters who almost shot the cougar kitten and Bella as well. The baby cougar and Bella became bosom buddies. But they are pulled apart by two guys who run from the cougar but grab Bella to take her home as their own. They treat her well, but the mutt misses her first master, so she gets back on the road. Her only road map is in her heart.
Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King) had also come to Bella’s rescue when she was still very young. She’d been orphaned but by the time the film begins, she’s found a ram-shackled hide-out where she’s ‘adopted’ by a mother cat and her kitten family.
Since the property is condemned, it’s about to be bulldozed when Lucas arrives and saves the mutt puppy. In the process, he incurs the enmity of the property owner who gets an Animal Control man (John Cassini) to go after Lucas and his pup.
In certain cities in the States, stray dogs, particularly pit-bulls, get euthanized regularly. So despite Bella clearly being a mixed-breed, the AC man deems her a pit-bull and says the next time she’s caught on the street, she’s dead.
To protect her, Lucas sends her to stay with friends in New Mexico. But that’s where her journey begins. Lucas had taught her many games, one of which was to ‘Go Home’. It’s the one Bella takes to heart as she decides to find her way back to Denver.
Adding interest to the tale is Ashley Judd who plays Lucas’ mother Terri, a war veteran who like many vets had been traumatized by war. Before Bella gets grabbed by the AC man, she had become a comfort to all the emotionally-damaged veterans with whom Terri communes. It is they who ultimately band together to save Bella once and for all.
‘A Dog’s Way Home’ is literally a touching tale of the underdogs finally getting their way.