Many of us at Flow are firm believers that, as French writer Anatole France said, “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” Which is why working on generating publicity for upcoming Sony movie A Dog’s Way Home is truly a labour of love. Other colleagues just look on bemusedly as pictures of dogs, cats and the occasional hamster are shared, but the animal lovers among us just ignore them.
Luckily, it’s the animal-loving contingent that’s working on publicity for A Dog’s Way Home, which, according to the production notes, chronicles the heart-warming adventure of Bella, a dog who embarks on an epic 650km journey home after she is separated from her beloved human, Lucas, an aspiring medical student and military veterans’ hospital volunteer. Bella touches the lives of many during her unwavering quest; from an orphaned mountain lion cub to a homeless veteran down on his luck, Bella brings joy and comfort to everyone she meets with her unique spirit and faith.
The notes go on to say: “Based on the bestselling novel by the beloved author of A Dog’s Purpose, A Dog’s Way Home is an emotionally charged and uplifting spiritual odyssey that follows one dog’s journey home [and] highlights the power of unconditional love between a dog and her owner.” Or, in the words of Chuma Siswana, the lucky Flowstar who got to go to the preview: “What a good dog.”
Even more inspiring than the story of Bella is the story of Shelby, the brilliant dog who plays Bella (voiced by Bryce Dallas Howard). “Though Howard would provide Bella’s voice, the first and most important challenge in producing the movie, says producer Gavin Polone, was casting the role for the on-screen performance. From the beginning, Polone was committed to finding a rescue dog,” the production notes say.
“I wanted to advocate for dogs being adopted from shelters,” the notes quote Polone as saying. “When you buy a dog, you’re feeding money into a cycle that leads to more animal death. In the United States, there are about four million cats and dogs put to death every year. If you truly care about animals, it’s a huge waste and an awful thing. Animals are sentient beings and they are worthy of respect, so I don’t think treating them like designer objects – which is really what dog breeding is about – is the right way to go.”
After looking online at thousands of dogs in shelters and rescue centres, the search paid off in Tennessee, at the Cheatham County Animal Control Centre, where Bella was cast – Shelby won the part. Later, the production would also rescue Amber, Shelby’s stand-in, from another facility in South Carolina.
What a good dog/cat/rabbit/hamster …
Inspired by the movie, we asked some Flowstars to tell us their stories of the times that they have said: “What a good dog/cat/rabbit.”
Some of them (see above) said: “I have no pets to speak of.” But the other contingent took the opportunity to wax lyrical.
Christelle de Beer shared a video of her Boston terrier George’s hysterical reaction to her sanding machine. She says she loves George and his sister Sadie because they are awesome, cute, have larger-than-life personalities, and they love her and her kids unconditionally.
Carla Lynn, in our Cape Town office, shared her memories of Delilah, now sadly crossed over the rainbow bridge: “Delilah was my sweetheart and when people say dogs resemble owners, I hope it’s not in the literal sense as she kind of resembled a toad.
“She might not have been a beauty but she was a lady in every sense of the word. She did not tolerate criticism (she’d storm out of the room if you dared use air freshener after she’d disgraced herself). She also refused point blank to walk on a leash, but she adored wearing the harness (every girl loves their accessories!),” recalls Carla.
“For all her strange personality traits, she was, more than anything, a great friend. She excelled at practising hockey with me in the backyard and she could sit for ages staring into your eyes as you spoke to her about your troubles. Mostly, she stared at you hoping for treats (she had a particular liking for peaches). But I miss our conversations dearly.”
Writer Willem Steenkamp relates: “We acquired our rescue kitten, Casper, about a week before our beloved cat George died of old age. Casper was a sickly little thing and our vet suspected he had feline infectious peritonitis, which would have meant immediate euthanasia, or some other dread disease.
“After many tests – and many rands – it turned out that Casper had a life-threatening gut infection, but it was successfully treated and he returned home to a grateful family that was still mourning George. Today he’s a beautiful, silky beast who’s a brother from another mother to our dog Rufus; their relationship is delightful (and sometimes a little weird – Casper loves it when Rufus sits on him and gently gnaws on his ears …).”
Willem adds a poignant postscript: “We’ve discovered that pitch-black cats like Casper are less and less popular these days, because they don’t make for good Instagramming. We think that’s just an awful reason to not pick a cat, and we wouldn’t swap Casper for any moggy out there. But it really is difficult to take a good pic of him …”
Edwina van der Burg, head of our content team, also has cats.
“Peanut Butter, Salem and Cinder – I love that each has a very distinct personality. At 17 years old (how much is that in cat years?), Peanut is definitely the matriarch of the bunch and has no qualms about ensuring that she gets preferential treatment. Salem sitting on someone’s lap? Peanut will come and sit on top of her until she leaves. Cinder lying in a sunny spot? Peanut will make sure she inches her out.
“Salem is a literal fur ball and loves to be loved, while Cinder is haughty and very picky about who gets to show her affection (luckily, l have managed to crack the nod).”
Writer Christine Marot from our Durban office has two dogs, a black rescue called Shadow and a fox terror (yes, terror) called Lulu. She also has a cat called Cleopatrick (they thought he was a she).
She says that all three have very different personalities, quirks and traits, but she chose to showcase Shadow (aka Shadsy-Woo, Shadow Dancing Dog), whose morning ritual involves collecting the Mercury newspaper from the top of the driveway and delivering it to the man of the house, for which he (Shadow, that is) gets to enjoy an extra-comfy snooze on the bed.
“Shadow is very efficient at making his daily delivery, unless the front door is still closed, upon which he ‘takes revenge’ by digging a random hole in my flower beds and burying the newspaper. This means that our gardener often comes upon week-old, earth-encrusted newspapers that he proudly hands over with a big grin,” says Christine.
Allison MacDonald from PR says: “Walter, my bull terrier, is as stubborn as he is handsome; as ridiculous as he is loyal; as charming as he is manipulative; and as loyal as he is my very best friend.
“I love him because he gets me. He knows how I’m feeling. On evenings when I get home from work exhausted and miserable, he comes and puts his great, big head on my lap and stares down the stress and tension of another day either won or lost on the corporate battlefield. On days when I’m buoyant and energised and happy, Walter bounces along next to me, wagging his tail, acting the fool, inviting me to play and putting my happiness on steroids,” says Allison.
“He knows when I’m sick and I swear that if he could, he would bring me ibuprofen and chicken soup. He’s the closest thing I’ve ever had to a soulmate. I love him more, I’m sure, than a human being ought to love an animal. He’s not only in my heart. He is it.”
And then there’s my Roberta, aka the lady of the lake. Roberta spent three years in a no-kill dog shelter before coming to live with me – I don’t know how she got so unlucky, but it’s definitely been lucky for me. She is just the right mix of naughty (she loves to toss and catch my underwear while I’m trying to get dressed in the morning) and loving (she makes little grunts of delight when I am hugging and stroking her). Unfailingly, she is happy to see me and the joy with which she greets me, even after a five-minute absence, makes my heart glow.
All in all, we can’t wait for A Dog’s Way Home to be released in South African cinemas because it celebrates the 14 200-year-old relationship humans have enjoyed with dogs – and it’s a damn fine movie.