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.
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 filthy, 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 find 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 filmmakers 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 landfill.
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 first 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 fierce 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 flew 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 It was very clear that the welfare of the animal superseded all other considerations,” Cameron says.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 filming, 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.”
Shelby plays Bella in “A Dog's Way Home.”