Pooch has real rags-to-riches Hol­ly­wood story

Shelby, who plays Bella in “A Dog’s Way Home,” was dis­cov­ered in a shel­ter and had lived in a junk­yard.

USA TODAY International Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Bryan Alexan­der

Shelby, the star pooch in “A Dog’s Way Home,” has soul­ful eyes, act­ing chops and a warm nose for her hu­man co-stars.

She also boasts a pow­er­ful rags-toriches Hol­ly­wood story: Film­mak­ers dis­cov­ered her in a shel­ter af­ter she was saved from a filthy, par­a­site-rid­den ex­is­tence in a Ten­nessee garbage dump.

“Shelby is ab­so­lutely ex­tra­or­di­nary in our movie,” says Bryce Dal­las Howard, who voices Shelby’s char­ac­ter, Bella, in the story of a dog try­ing to find her way home through the rugged Colorado moun­tains (in the­aters Fri­day). “But her true story is also ab­so­lutely ex­tra­or­di­nary, just as riv­et­ing as Bella’s tale in ‘A Dog’s Way Home.’ ”

The film­mak­ers were in­tent on choos­ing a res­cue dog to star in the sur­vival tale adap­ta­tion of the novel by W. Bruce Cameron, the same au­thor who wrote the book adapted for 2017’s “A Dog’s Pur­pose.” The search ended at a Ten­nessee no-kill shel­ter, which had res­cued Shelby from a nearby landfill.

Shelby, about 2 years old, seemed thrilled to just have a roof over her head and reg­u­lar meals.

“We don’t know what kind of hu­man con­tact she grew up with. If any,” Cameron says. “For Shelby, the shel­ter was more like a lux­ury spa ho­tel.”

Cameron made the trip with his wife, co-screen­writer Cathryn Mi­chon, and dog trainer Teresa Ann Miller to check Shelby out in per­son. It was cast­ing love at first nuz­zle.

“I knew the sec­ond I knelt down and looked into those eyes,” Cameron says. “I just could see her will­ing­ness to join the life she would have be­ing with peo­ple.” Shelby showed a dogged will­ing­ness to learn moviemak­ing ba­sics. She showed a fierce in­tel­li­gence and an ea­ger­ness to fol­low ba­sic prompts. “It was ob­vi­ous af­ter just an hour of work­ing with her, this was go­ing to be the dog,” Cameron says.

Shelby flew to Hol­ly­wood to live with Miller and start train­ing for her un­likely act­ing de­but.

On the Van­cou­ver set, the cast and crew went to lengths to make sure Shelby and her dou­ble, Am­ber, were treated well. All crew mem­bers were given three num­bers to call if they saw any­thing amiss, and could phone anony­mously to re­port any in­stance of mis­treat­ment – such as those that arose in a hor­ri­fy­ing video shot on the set of “A Dog’s Pur­pose.”

“Every­body was hy­per­vig­i­lant be­cause of ‘A Dog’s Pur­pose.’ It was very clear that the wel­fare of the an­i­mal su­per­seded all other con­sid­er­a­tions,” Cameron says.

Af­ter film­ing, Shelby moved on to hu­man­i­tar­ian work. Adopted by trainer Deb­bie Pearl, the dog is a ther­apy an­i­mal for chil­dren with autism or in the hos­pi­tal, much like Bella, who soothes vet­er­ans in the movie.

“Shelby was once on track to have a re­ally mis­er­able, short life. All of that has changed,” says Cameron, who has pub­lished the book “Shelby’s Story: A Dog’s Way Home Tale” about her life. “She’s more than a movie star – she’s just an amaz­ing dog.”

JAMES DITTIGER/SONY

JAMES DITTIGER/ SONY

Shelby plays Bella in “A Dog's Way Home.”

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