The actress shares how her love for dogs and respect for veterans prepared her for her role in the new movie.
- Posted on Jan 10, 2019
A Dog’s Way Home follows a puppy, Bella, and her relationship with her friend Lucas and his family. After getting separated from her owners, Bella goes on the adventure of a lifetime, making friends with a homeless veteran and mountain lion as she tries to find her way home. Adapted for the screen by W. Bruce Cameron, the author of A Dog’s Purpose, it’s an emotional, uplifting movie, animal lovers and military members will appreciate.
The movie, produced by T.D. Jakes, features Jurassic World actress Bryce Dallas Howard as the voice of Bella. Ashley Judd stars as Terri, a veteran military mom whose son Lucas befriends Bella. Terri struggles with PTSD and spends a lot of time at the local VA (Veterans Affairs). Although she’s not thrilled when Lucas brings Bella home, she soon finds that the pup brings her joy and purpose.
“The movie is about about an extraordinary odyssey taken by a very ordinary dog,” Judd told Guideposts.org.
The journey Bella takes, and her relationship with Terri and the other veterans, give the film depth and staying power.
“I think that the movie brings in really important social themes, like our veterans who have PTSD and need our care, empathy, and access to dental health services,” Judd said. “Then the story of homelessness, as well as the universal theme that we all have a deep need for belonging and community, trust and safety.”
Judd had previously worked with the film’s director, Charles Martin Smith, on Dolphin Tail and Dolphin Tail 2 and appreciated the way he was able to tell emotional stories involving animals. She had firsthand experience with the change a dog can bring. One of her dogs, Shug, who went to heaven in 2017, was a registered psychological support dog.
“I'm an animal lover,” Judd says. “I had my two dogs for 16 and 17 years, respectively, and they were always on set with [me]. By the time I was making A Dog's Way Home, both of them had gone to heaven, so it was in a way a really sweet tribute to them to be able to do such a special movie about a dog.”
During her time on set, Judd got to know two new animal friends, the dogs who played Bella, Shelby and Amber, both rescue dogs.
“The dogs who played Bella had very sweet temperaments,” Judd said. “One was more shy and retiring, and so she was emotionally, temperamentally well suited for certain scenes, and then the other dog who played Bella was a more gregarious and extroverted…They both learned their tricks so well, and they're eager to please, and just delightful to be around.”
For her role as a veteran, Judd also put her knowledge of military trauma to use. In 2013, Judd directed a short film starring Jennifer Hudson as a veteran returning home and struggling to process PTSD.
“I've been able to study a little bit the sorts of complex PTSD that our veterans go through, and in particular our female vets,” Judd said. “They experience the trauma at higher rates, and then because they have the added risk of sexual trauma, their brains are often really shattered when they come home from service.”
The team behind the film partnered with the VA and Humane Society to support a program that pairs veterans with shelter dogs.
“We know that having a pet [helps] health outcomes improve,” Judd said. “Everyone, when they see the movie, supports that program.”
The charity component of the film is just one way the movie can impact people. To Judd, A Dog’s Way Home is about much more than a dog.
“We have a really deep need for belonging, connection, safety, and trust, and we can find that both in our family of origin and the families that we're allowed to create,” Judd said. “Just like Bella takes an extraordinary odyssey to get back to her human…for all of us, the risk of vulnerability, [the] effort of being connected with our love in the end is worth it.”
A Dog’s Way Home is in theaters January 11.