W. Bruce Cameron

A Dog’s Purpose

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A Dog’s Purpose Summary

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“A novel for humans,” W. Bruce Cameron’s A Dog’s Purpose (2010) is the heartwarming and life-affirming story of a dog, who, through a series of reincarnations, explores the mysteries, joys, and challenges of life on his quest to find his ultimate purpose. Middle-grade, high school, and adult readers enjoy A Dog’s Purpose, as well its sequel, A Dog’s Journey (2012).

The book introduces Toby, a feral puppy. As a young pup, his mother nurses him, and he generally leads a hardscrabble life, which includes exploring and searching for food in the forest with his canine siblings, Fast, Hungry, and Sister. One day, men enter the forest and capture Toby and his family, taking them to the Yard, a home for abandoned dogs run by Señora, a kindly elderly woman. A number of other dogs live at the Yard, and Toby must adjust to his strange new environment. As he settles in, the people who run the Yard take him and some of the other new arrivals to a veterinarian, leaving him feeling unsettled again. Shortly after his vet visit, Toby and the others contend with the latest resident of the Yard, Spike, a mean and belligerent dog. Before long, animal control officers descend upon the Yard. They have orders to close the facility because of unhealthy sanitation practices and the questionable care the dogs receive there. They euthanize most of the dogs, including Toby, and his first life on Earth ends.

In his next incarnation, Toby comes back as a golden retriever. For the first days of his life, Toby and his canine siblings nurse from their mother and spend most of their time in a cage. A few weeks later, their owner lets them out of the cage to play and explore. Toby manages to scramble onto a tabletop and get his jaws around a doorknob, opening a gate in the process. He pushes through the open gate and embarks on an adventure in the outside world.

Toby trots along on the side of the road, where a truck driver notices him, stops, and scoops him up. The trucker decides to name him Fella and subsequently goes to a nearby bar, leaving Fella in the cab of the vehicle. However, the day is sweltering, and with the trucker gone for several hours, Fella suffers from heat exhaustion.

A woman finds Fella in the truck and shatters the window to retrieve him. She gives him water and brings him back around before taking him home with her. There, she presents Fella to her son, Ethan, and they rename him, Bailey. Thrilled to have a new puppy, boy and dog forge a strong relationship. Bailey learns all of Ethan’s daily routines, and every summer, they go to Ethan’s grandparents’ farm in Michigan. However, Bailey has a strong personality and is naturally playful, so wherever Bailey goes, mischief is sure to follow. Nevertheless, this doesn’t prevent Bailey from being a devoted companion to Ethan throughout the boy’s childhood. The two share a deep bond, and Bailey supports Ethan through life’s challenges, such as the time Ethan injures his leg, ending any hope of an athletic career.

Things are not good between Ethan’s parents. He eventually moves to his grandparents’ farm for his last year of high school. His parents divorce, and he and his girlfriend, Hannah, break up. After his senior year, Ethan goes off to college, leaving Bailey feeling lost without his best friend. Seeing Ethan only on holidays, Bailey becomes ill and withdrawn. As he weakens, he spends most of his days sleeping. Ethan’s mother and grandparents know that Bailey is in pain, so they make the difficult decision to put him to sleep. The vet euthanizes Bailey, thereby ending his second experience of life.

When he wakes up, Bailey is a female German shepherd. Jakob, a policeman, adopts her and names her Ellie. Ellie undergoes training to work as a search and rescue canine. She and Jakob are partners in fighting crime. On one mission, Ellie leads Jakob to a girl who has been kidnapped. While arresting the kidnapper, the kidnapper shoots Jakob, seriously injuring him, to the point that he must step away from active duty. Maya, one of Jakob’s coworkers, takes Ellie in and cares for her until Ellie’s death from old age.

Ellie comes back as a male black Labrador retriever. Wendi adopts him and names him Bear. However, he cannot stay with Wendy because her apartment does not allow dogs. Crushed, Wendi gives Bear to her mother, whose live-in boyfriend is a neglectful alcoholic. After receiving a letter saying that he needs to provide a better home environment for Bear, the boyfriend drives Bear to a remote country road and abandons him.

However, Bear knows this stretch of road. In his life as Bailey, he was once on this road with Ethan. Moreover, in his life as Ellie, he learned how to follow a scent, so he utilizes this skill to trace a scent he recognizes back to a farm. It is the farm where Ethan, who is now an old man, lives. Ethan discovers Bear and decides to keep him, renaming him Buddy.

A Dog’s Purpose was made into a major motion picture in 2017. Directed by Lasse Hallström, it stars Josh Gad as the voice of the dogs and Dennis Quaid as the adult Ethan. A sequel was released in 2019.