The Stray

Some­times one dog can change ev­ery­thing


Some­times one dog can change ev­ery­thing.

It’s a story so many of us can re­late to—work­ing too hard, try­ing to bal­ance a job and a fam­ily (and of­ten­times get­ting it wrong) and, for dog peo­ple, find­ing the dog you res­cued has, in fact, ac­tu­ally saved you. All of this is at the heart of a new movie, based on a re­mark­able true story, called The Stray. We had the good for­tune to meet with the movie’s charis­matic co-writer and di­rec­tor, Mitch Davis, whose real life ex­pe­ri­ences in­spired the film. We sat down with him to ask him what’s it’s like to re­live a re­ally im­por­tant pe­riod of your life and about the dog that quite lit­er­ally saved his life.

When Mitch’s youngest son came to him with the idea to turn their fam­ily story into a movie, he was dead set against it. “My ini­tial re­ac­tion was no,” Mitch says. “When he handed a draft to me, the truth is, it took over two weeks to even pick it up be­cause I didn’t want to dis­ap­point him.”

Mitch hap­pens to be the writer and co-di­rec­tor be­hind movies such as Dis­ney’s Win­drun­ner and The Other Side of Heaven, so he knows what makes a good movie. But he was re­luc­tant. “This story has been in our fam­ily for 25 years,” Mitch says. “And it’s al­ways sort of been a sa­cred story, you know. We didn’t go to the news­pa­pers. It was an emo­tional, poignant ex­pe­ri­ence for all of us, in­clud­ing the other two boys not in our fam­ily. We just laid low and kept it to our­selves. But when I fi­nally did read the draft script, it was so beau­ti­fully ren­dered that I saw the movie. There’s this com­mon hu­man­ity—we were a fam­ily in cri­sis and this dog showed up from out of nowhere and set about solv­ing our prob­lems. When I fig­ured that out, I re­al­ized it re­ally is uni­ver­sal.”

“The tag line I’ve started to think about,” Mitch con­tin­ues, “is when you save a stray dog, the life you save might ac­tu­ally be your own. And in my case that was psy­cho­log­i­cally true and phys­i­cally true.”

Con­vinced, Mitch set about mak­ing The Stray, a fam­ily movie at heart and from the ground up. Mitch is the co-writer—along with his youngest son—as well as the di­rec­tor, and sub­ject of the movie, “which is re­ally kind a strange cir­cle of re­spon­si­bil­i­ties,” he notes. His old­est son com­posed the score of the movie and his third son was the edi­tor. “It’s a real fam­ily af­fair,” Mitch says with pride.

Cer­tainly cast­ing takes on new weight when it’s your own fam­ily mem­bers that are be­ing rep­re­sented. “I had re­ally strict in­struc­tions from my wife that who­ever played her had to be re­ally beau­ti­ful,” Mitch laughs. They cast Sarah Lan­caster from the TV se­ries Chuck, Ever­wood, and Saved by the Bell. “I re­ally feel like she in­hab­ited my wife’s beau­ti­ful ma­ter­nal soul. She gave the movie a real sense of fam­ily.”

Mitch’s son who wrote the script had a lot of sug­ges­tions on the ac­tor front. “He kept send­ing me sug­ges­tions of re­ally ugly co­me­di­ans to play me and I was like, Parker, are you try­ing to tell me some­thing?,” Mitch laughs. “And he said, ‘Dad, you’ve got this goofy side and I want the goofy to come out in film.’ And I’m like, yeah, not that goofy!”

They ended up cast­ing Michael Cas­sidy, who had just got­ten off of Bat­man vs Su­per­man, to play Mitch, a de­ci­sion every­one was re­ally happy with. “I just love what he brought to the role,” Mitch says. “Both Sarah and Michael have small young fam­i­lies and they both love their fam­i­lies and highly pri­or­i­tize them and they both brought that sense to the movie.”

And it all re­ally hap­pened. “The light­en­ing strike is by far the most dra­matic thing that’s ever hap­pened to me, ob­vi­ously. It burnt a hole in my shirt. I still have the shirt. It hit me lit­er­ally right in the heart. No ques­tion I would have died if Pluto had not been in the tent—the doc­tors later told me there’s no ques­tion he saved my life and prob­a­bly some of the boys as well.”

Pluto is not only the real star of the movie but the in­spi­ra­tion be­hind it. “This movie is spe­cial to me be­cause I feel a real debt to my dog,” Mitch states sim­ply. “It was a chap­ter in my fam­ily’s life that was kind of mag­i­cal. Re­ally, ev­ery­thing in the movie is true. I was work­ing too hard—at Dis­ney stu­dios as a Ju­nior Ex­ec­u­tive— and just didn’t have time to breathe, didn’t have enough money to make rent, and didn’t have enough time to be any kind of fa­ther or hus­band. And I sug­gested to my wife one day, you know I think we should get a dog. My wife just laughed. She said, ‘the last thing in the world I need is another mouth to feed! Over my dead body are we get­ting a dog.’ But then she stopped and said, ‘but, you know, I read an ar­ti­cle the other day that said the best way to get a dog is to get a stray; it’s kind of like liv­ing to­gether be­fore you get mar­ried—you don’t have any firm com­mit­ment to each other you get to try each other out.’ So she said, ‘if a stray dog shows up, I’ll con­sider get­ting a dog—but there’s no way I’m get­ting one on pur­pose.’ And I’ll be darned if within a week, this stray dog, Pluto, showed up at our house—fol­lowed our old­est son home from school. And that was it. Pluto was an an­gel in our fam­ily’s life. He showed up dur­ing a re­ally stress­ful time and just per­formed a lot of kind­nesses for all of us, re­ally.”

As one can imag­ine, it was heavy watch­ing key moments from the past reen­acted.

“At times I got very emo­tional,” Mitch ad­mits. “It’s been al­most 30 years and I still just get re­ally choked up think­ing about how much we just loved that dog and felt in­debted to him be­cause we all knew he had saved our lives. Search­ing through those fam­ily videos you see at the end of the film and com­ing across some of those gems, it just re­minded me of how hec­tic but also how won­der­ful that time was.”

As for the mes­sage he'd like every­one to take away from the movie?

“Get one,” he laughs, re­fer­ring to dogs. “I’m a big fan. I would strongly ad­vo­cate for adopt­ing a stray—I think some­times dogs seem to know that you’ve res­cued them, that you’ve saved them from a sad fate. And Pluto seemed to treat us that way. He was just a fel­low trav­eler and he was al­ways grate­ful that we gave him a home and we're so grate­ful to him for the things he brought us.”

Co-writer and di­rec­tor Mitch Davis with the film's ca­nine star, Pluto.

Michael Cas­sidy as Mitch Davis

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