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Book Review

A Dog’s Way Home by W. Bruce Cameron has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Bella is a dog that was born under a condemned building in Denver. Every couple days, a man feeds Bella, her mom and the feral cats that live with them. One day, however, different humans come to the building. They plan to tear down the building so they can build a new apartment complex. They see one of the cats while they are there and realize they will have to clear the building of the animals before they can start construction.

A few days later, the men throw a smoke bomb into the den below the building, scaring Bella’s mom and most of the cats. They flee. Bella, however, wedges herself into a small crack at the back of the den with one of the cats. When the man who has been feeding them returns, Bella goes to him. He is kind and gentle. He takes her home with him. She discovers that his name is Lucas, and he becomes her person. They live with Lucas’ mom, who is a veteran.

Lucas’ apartment does not allow dogs, so he teaches Bella no barks and how to hide in the bushes beside their apartment entrance until he can let her in when she does go home. Bella doesn’t always understand these games, but does her best so Lucas will think she’s a good girl. She gets scared when Lucas and mom go to work, and sometimes she can’t help barking. When one of Lucas’ neighbors reports him for having a barking dog in the apartment, Lucas realizes he’s going to have to come up with a better plan.

Lucas starts bringing Bella to his job at the VA hospital. Dogs aren’t allowed there either, but one of Lucas’ friends and co-workers, Olivia, helps him hide her in various closets and empty patient rooms. Eventually the veterans and some of the staff find out about Bella. She brings so much comfort to the sick and injured veterans that the staff starts helping Lucas hide Bella.

Meanwhile, the head of the corporation that is building the apartments, a man named Gunter, gets a permit to demolish the building. Lucas has been feeding the few cats still living under the building and tries to convince Gunter to have the cats rescued before the building is torn down. When Gunter refuses, Lucas reports him to the police and animal control. It’s illegal to tear down a building with animals living in it. Gunter comes to Lucas’ apartment to bribe Lucas to withdraw the report and meets Bella. When Lucas refuses to budge, Gunter becomes angry and threatens him.

Gunter then reports that Lucas is keeping a pit bull in his apartment, which is illegal in Denver. He bribes a few corrupt animal control officers to track Bella and confirm that she is a pit bull, despite her being an unknown breed. While Bella and Lucas are out on a walk, they encounter one of these officers, named Chuck, who wants to take Bella into custody and give her a chip that registers her as an illegal pit bull. If a chipped dog is taken in a second time, it is destroyed.

Lucas unclips Bella’s leash and tells her to go home, since the officer cannot confiscate a dog that is on private property. Bella makes it home, but the officer lures her off of the apartment’s porch with a treat. The officer places her in a kennel in his truck and takes her to a holding facility where she is chipped.

Lucas is able to come get Bella the next day, but he is warned that if Bella is seen in Denver again, she will be euthanized. Lucas and his mom begin looking for a new apartment outside of the city limits so Bella will be safe. They also begin walking her late at night, so they won’t risk running into animal control again.

One evening, however, Lucas’ mom takes Bella out for a walk a bit earlier than normal and runs into Chuck. Lucas’ mom tries to send Bella home, but she is too late, and Chuck captures her. The vet on duty at animal control protests that Bella doesn’t look like a pit bull or seem aggressive. She attempts to appeal the euthanasia order.

Lucas is frantic to save Bella and discovers that one of his old high school friends is doing community service at the animal control facility. He pays his friend to help him break Bella out. The friend takes Bella out to the yard where they walk the dogs and lifts her over the fence to Lucas, who is waiting on the other side.

Lucas knows he can’t risk keeping Bella in Denver any longer. He gets in touch with a shelter that can place Bella in a foster home until Lucas can find a new apartment and come get her. A woman from the shelter picks Bella up and drives her to the foster home. Bella is deeply unhappy and doesn’t understand why Lucas has sent her away.

The foster family is kind, but Bella feels a deep need to go home and find Lucas. She manages to jump the family’s backyard fence and starts to head back toward Denver. She travels through a town for a few days, begging at back doors and rummaging through trash cans, and then she enters the forest.

A few days after entering the forest, Bella hears a gunshot. She knows that this sound means that humans are nearby and goes to find them. When she gets closer, however, she finds the dead body of a cougar. It reminds her of the cats she used to live with under the building.

She hears the men approaching and decides they are dangerous, so she runs back into the woods. Bella hears something following her and looks back. She sees a cougar cub following her and realizes the dead cougar was the cub’s mother. Bella decides that Lucas would want her to take care of the animal that she names Big Kitten, just like he took care of the cats under the building.

The two become a pack, with Bella sharing any food she is able to scavenge, and Big Kitten hunting small rodents and deer for them. As they travel through the woods, winter begins to set in, slowing Bella’s progress toward Lucas and making it more difficult for her and Big Kitten to find food. After a long day of traveling through the snow, Bella smells people and another dog. She longs to greet them and see if they have food. She leaves Big Kitten behind in the woods and goes to investigate.

Bella sees a man and a dog walking beneath a snowy overhang, while two other men shout a warning. Suddenly the snow breaks free from the overhang causing an avalanche. Bella and the other dog manage to outrun it, but the man is not so lucky. He is quickly buried. Once the snow settles, the man’s dog begins frantically trying to dig him out. Bella goes to help.

The other men also come to help, and one of them calls the snow patrol. They are able to save the man, and the snow patrol transports him to the nearest hospital, but the patrol can’t take the dog, so the two men decide to take Bella and the other dog, Dutch, to their cabin with them.

The two men, Gavin and Taylor, take Dutch and Bella when they leave the cabin the next day for their own homes. Dutch is distraught at being away from his owner and tries to run away, but Gavin finds him again. When Gavin is able to get in contact with Dutch’s owner, the man doesn’t want him back. Dutch eventually bonds with Gavin and Taylor and is happy to stay with them.

Bella also loves Gavin and Taylor and stays with them for a bit, but she knows that Lucas is still her person. When Gavin and Taylor take the dogs to the cabin the next summer, Bella escapes and continues her journey back to Lucas.

Bella has a harder time finding food without Big Kitten, so she does her best to stay close to towns and campsites. In one of the towns, she encounters a homeless man named Axel, who offers her food. When she gets closer, he puts a leash around her neck, and she is forced to stay with the man for a while. She grows to love him and does her best to provide warmth and comfort. Axel eventually dies of an overdose. Bella mourns him but knows that it is time to go back to Lucas.

After much traveling, Bella is overjoyed when she can smell that she finally made it back to Denver. She runs to Lucas’ apartment and scratches and barks until a woman opens the door. Bella doesn’t recognize the woman, but pushes past her to try to find Lucas. The woman is kind, but when Bella realizes that Lucas isn’t there, she asks to be let back out. The only other thing Bella can think to do is go to work. She heads to the VA hospital.

Once she arrives, Bella finds Olivia. Lucas is not at the hospital, but Olivia calls him to tell him that Bella is back. Lucas is overjoyed and rushes over. Lucas has been looking for Bella for over a year. He found a dog-friendly apartment in Golden, but Bella was already gone when he went to the foster home to pick her up. The veterans are also overjoyed to have Bella back, and since the VA hospital is technically federal land, Bella can come to the hospital to help without breaking Denver’s pit-bull regulations.

Christian Beliefs

Dutch’s original owner complains about having to stay with his sister in Oklahoma while he recovers and go to church with her every Sunday. One man tries to get Axel to come to church so he can shower and get warm, but Axel refuses, saying that it’s not a true church since its message doesn’t travel beyond its doors.

Other Belief Systems


Authority Roles

Lucas and his mom love and respect one another, but they don’t always see eye to eye. Lucas’ mom protests when he brings Bella home. Later she apologizes for forgetting that he is an adult, rather than a child that can’t make his own decisions.

When Lucas’ mom came back from Afghanistan, she became an alcoholic, dabbled in drugs and attempted to commit suicide. His aunt largely raised him. His mother is in group therapy and is doing her best to get better and have a positive relationship with her son. When she sees her ex-boyfriend, she realizes that she has no desire to go back to that life and promises to always be there for Lucas.

Gunter is portrayed as corrupt and unfeeling. He is able to pay off several animal control and law enforcement officers to push his permit through, despite the fact that there are still cats living beneath the building he wants to demolish. He also bribes them so they will capture and destroy Bella.


The story is told from Bella’s perspective, and though she doesn’t understand human conversations, they are recorded word for word. God and Jesus’ names are often taken in vain. H---, d--n, b--tard, b--ch and a-- are used. Other crude words like p---, frickin’, BS and a--wipe also appear.

Two of the workers who first discover the den with Bella’s family and the cats mention either calling an exterminator or poisoning the cats themselves. Bella watches two feral tomcats fight over a female. Lucas speculates that Gunter’s men trapped and destroyed the first group of animals they caught, including Bella’s mom. Gunter wants to either shoot the leftover cats or pull the building down on top of them.

Lucas’ mom’s abusive ex-boyfriend comes to see her while she’s home alone with Bella. He tells her that her son will end up dead behind a liquor store just like her husband. He grabs both of her arms and shakes her. She repeatedly strikes his face before twisting his arm and forcing him to the floor. She breaks his wrist and tells him to leave before he gets hurt again.

The animal control officer threatens to destroy Bella several times, saying she is a vicious animal. One of the animal control volunteers apologizes for muzzling Bella and sarcastically jokes that she is clearly a vicious killer dog that will rip his limbs off. Bella investigates a squashed, dead squirrel in the street. Bella runs into two boys doing target practice in the woods. One of them threatens to shoot her, but the other stops him.

When Bella finds the cougar body, she smells blood and gunpowder. Bella and Big Kitten find dead animals on the side of the road to eat and also kill rodents and small prey. At one point, Bella encounters coyotes. She is filled with an instinct to rip out their throats and kill them. They lunge at Bella, and she bites one of them, drawing blood. Some people hear the commotion and scare the coyotes away before Bella is hurt. Bella and Big Kitten find a dead deer with an arrow in her neck. Bella notices the blood leaking from the wound.

Bella stays with Gavin’s mom, Sylvia, for a bit, and Sylvia enters into an abusive relationship. Bella hears Sylvia and her boyfriend yelling at each other and throwing things. He hits Sylvia once, and Bella lunges at him, barking and snapping. He leaves without further incident.

Bella and Axel have a tent and some supplies for the winter, but a few teenagers try to destroy their camp. Bella feels the man’s fear and distress, and lunges and snaps at the young men. She almost bites one of their faces, but Axel holds her back. When Axel dies, her leash is still tied to him. She is stuck with his dead body for several days before a few boys find him.


Olivia and Lucas begin dating and share a few brief kisses. When Bella returns, they are engaged and living together. Gavin and Taylor are married. They are depicted living together and sharing a bed. Bella notices Sylvia and her boyfriend going to bed together at odd times, and notes that they forget to feed her. Gavin jokes about Taylor having fantasies about forest rangers.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Rule breaking: Several people are depicted as poaching or shooting illegally in Colorado forests. Lucas violates hospital policy and his apartment lease by keeping Bella.

Drugs and drinking: Several characters drink heavily. Lucas’ mom’s drug problem is mentioned briefly, and Axel shoots up with heroin several times and eventually overdoses.

Movie Tie-In: Producers often use a book as a springboard for a movie idea or to earn a specific rating. Because of this, a movie may differ from the novel. To better understand how this book and the movie differ, compare this book review with Plugged In's movie review for A Dog’s Way Home.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

14 and up


W. Bruce Cameron






Record Label



Forge, trademark of Macmillan Publishing Group


On Video

Year Published





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