The filmmakers of A Dog’s Way Home had two very specific requirements for their canine star. She had to be a Pit Bull mix as in the novel by W. Bruce Cameron, and she had to be a rescue pup.
Cameron and his wife discovered the perfect pooch in a Tennessee shelter. Despite her rough start, 2-year-old Shelby had everything they were looking for to play the lead role of “Bella”.
“Shelby is absolutely extraordinary in our movie,” Actress Bryce Dallas Howard, who lends her voice to “Bella,” tells USA Today. “But her true story is also absolutely extraordinary, just as riveting as Bella’s tale in A Dog’s Way Home.”
Shelby’s Hollywood rags-to-riches story began in a Tennessee landfill where she scrounged for food before being rescued and taken to a local no-kill shelter. Cameron says the pup seemed thrilled just to have steady meals and a roof over her head.
“We don’t know what kind of human contact she grew up with. If any. For Shelby, the shelter was more like a luxury spa hotel – regular food, they bathed her, took care of her parasites. She would have been happy to stay there.”
Cameron instantly fell in love with her soulful eyes and outgoing personality. Dog trainer, Teresa Ann Miller was also on board with the choice after watching Shelby ace a number of basic training tests. The dog was intelligent, fearless, and eager to learn.
“It was obvious after just an hour of working with her, this was going to be the dog,” Cameron said.
From there it was on to Hollywood to live with Miller and begin her training. The movie follows “Bella” through a series of heroic and harrowing adventures as she tries to find her way home through the Colorado mountains. Shelby learned to dig, jump, knock over trash cans, and even slide down a playground slide in preparation for filming.
In the wake of the controversial video of canine actor, Hercules in the 2017 film, A Dog’s Purpose, the filmmakers took extra precautions to ensure Shelby and her doggy double, Amber stayed safe on set. The cast and crew were also given three numbers to call anonymously if they suspected mistreatment.
Although the cameras have stopped rolling, Shelby’s story is far from over. She was adopted by dog trainer, Debbie Pearl, and now serves as a therapy dog visiting hospitals and children with autism. Her soothing presence is a trait Shelby has in common with her movie character, Bella. In the film she is shown comforting veterans.
“Shelby was once on track to have a really miserable, short life. All of that has changed,” says Cameron. “She’s more than a movie star – she’s just an amazing dog.”
A Dog’s Way Home premiers in theaters Friday January 11. You can also pick up Cameron’s latest book “Shelby’s Story: A Dog’s Way Home Tale” to learn more about the pup who went from junkyard stray to Hollywood star!
H/T to USA Today
Featured Image via Facebook/A Dog’s Way Home