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True Love Never Dies

Get out the tissues—the upcoming Hollywood adaptation of A Dog’s Purpose is set to be every bit as moving as the bestselling novel

By: Darcy Matheson

Last Updated:

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Photographed by Joe Lederer

Imagine, if you will, watching your beloved dog pass away (I know, bear with me), only to see her be reincarnated many times over as a new puppy, helping people along their life’s journey—until, finally, she finds her way back to you. Is there a more heart-string-tugging premise? We certainly don’t think so, and neither do dog-loving Hollywood heavyweights Dennis Quaid and Lasse Hallström. Mark your calendars; you’re not going to want to miss this movie…

Growing up in the suburbs of Houston, Texas, Dennis Quaid had a constant companion by his side: Gertrude, a Basset Hound his father brought home when the pup was two years old.

“She just became my shadow,” said the iconic actor, known for his roles in Wyatt Earp, The Big Easy, The Rookie, and the remake of The Parent Trap.

But the short-legged hound took on an even greater meaning in Quaid’s life after his parents divorced and he moved to a new neighbourhood.

“Before I had friends on the block it was just me and Gertrude. She went everywhere with me,” he said, adding that once he was old enough to drive, the devoted pup would even listen for his Ford Fairlane to know when he was returning from high school.

“She could hear me from four blocks away and would go to the gate and wait. We went through a lot together,” he said.

Quaid is getting to relive that unconditional bond in his new film, A Dog’s Purpose.

Based on the 2010 New York Times bestselling novel by W. Bruce Cameron, the film follows a devoted dog as it is reincarnated many times as a new puppy. Along the way, the dog learns the meaning of his own existence through the lives of the many people he teaches to laugh and love.

In the multi-generational film, Quaid plays Ethan, the grown-up version of the boy who was absolutely inseparable from his red retriever, Bailey. In his case, the reincarnated dog finds his way back to him at a time when he is needed most.

Just as Quaid’s childhood Basset Hound eased the pain of his parents’ divorce, his character in the film finds comfort, companionship, and meaning through the pup that wanders onto his farm.

It’s a relationship Quaid believes every dog owner can relate to.

“They give us something to take care of when you get up in the morning. You protect them and they protect you. You become very in touch with them,” he said. “It’s a two-way street.”

The film also follows Hannah, played by Britt Robertson—the teen who is enamoured with young Ethan.

Robertson, who recently starred alongside George Clooney in Tomorrowland and the Nicholas Sparks' adaptation The Longest Ride, said working with dogs comes naturally.

The North Carolinan grew up with "all kinds" of pets, including dogs, cats, hamsters, and even rats.

She says her own two rescue pups, Buddy and Clyde, helped her gain an even deeper connection with animals, and actually inspired her to sign onto the film.

"I have always loved animals but I have a bigger appreciation for their place on earth now. I really respect animals and when I work with them I have a better understanding of their needs," she said.

"I loved being on the set with so many dogs. It kept the set and crew so light and fun."

Quaid agrees, saying having dogs on set improves the mood of a production, adding that working with dogs can sometimes be easier than working with humans.

“They’re always real,” he said. “There is no bad acting with a dog because they’re just being themselves. The dogs that we had were really great at that.”

Though the roles the dogs play in the film are vastly different—a street mutt, police sniffer dog, farm pup, and purebred—there is a common thread: Each one lives in the moment, and lives life to the fullest.

It’s a lesson that A Dog’s Purpose author W. Bruce Cameron, who co-wrote the film screenplay with his wife Cathryn Michon, hopes everyone takes away from watching the family-friendly story.

“A dog will have boundless joy and energy around everything you’re doing and is never concerned about just how short their lifespan is. We need to learn from that and live the way our dogs do. And just be happy,” he said.

The film was shot last summer in Winnipeg, Canada, the set packed with dog lovers—and dogs. More than 70 were used in the film, including Quaid’s own French Bulldogs, Batman and Gidget, who were featured in a shelter scene with dozens of other animals.
The actor said watching his own pups put to work was an educational, if not highly entertaining, on-set experience.

“Batman likes to work. He really wants to have a purpose, but Gidget just likes to lay around and be adored,” he said, laughing.
Animal trainer Mark Forbes (see following page: What It’s Like to be a Hollywood Dog Trainer) moved to Winnipeg months before shooting to set up kennels and start training the dogs that would be used in the film.

The longtime Hollywood animal trainer credits the flexibility of the actors for helping the months of shooting go smoothly.
“If the actors needed to work with the dog before a certain sequence they were all on board with having the dogs tell the story,” said Forbes, who says one of his all-time favourite animal films to work on was Marley & Me.

Indeed, the production team for A Dog’s Purpose was very careful with casting, to ensure everyone involved loved dogs and was comfortable working with them.

One of the biggest animal lovers on set was the film’s director, the Oscar-nominated Lasse Hallström, whose film credits include The Cider House Rules, Chocolat, The 100-Foot Journey, and Hachi: A Dog's Tale.  

Hallström said the longer the actors and crew worked with the dogs on set, something unusual started happening: everyone got “sucked into” thinking about life from a dog’s perspective, and the film’s premise spilled out into real life.

“I can’t see a dog in the street now without thinking ‘what is he thinking?’” he remarks.

“I’m even more affectionate with stranger’s dogs—I’ve started thinking about their inner voices.”

The main narrative that runs through A Dog’s Purpose is the idea that the dogs we rescue can also rescue us. It speaks to the fact that the animals in our lives have a purpose much larger than just being our pet. Cameron says anyone who has had the joy of having a dog will understand.

“It has themes we all know are true: that true love never dies, and that our best friends are always there for us, if we just know where to look,” he said.  

And if the book is any indication, you may want to bring some tissue to the theatre. It’s also a tearjerker.

“I bawled,” Quaid said of reading the novel.

“Even beyond dogs—it’s a story about unconditional love. And there’s something very beautiful about that.


Last Updated:

By: Darcy Matheson
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