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A Dog's Purpose
by W. Bruce Cameron
Hardcover : 320 pages
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This is the remarkable story of one endearing dog's search for his purpose over the course of several lives. More than just another charming dog story, A Dog's Purpose touches on the universal quest for an answer to life's most basic question: Why are we here?
Surprised to find himself reborn as a rambunctious golden-haired puppy after a tragically short life as a stray mutt, Bailey's search for his new life's meaning leads him into the loving arms of 8-year-old Ethan. During their countless adventures Bailey joyously discovers how to be a good dog.
But this life as a beloved family pet is not the end of Bailey's journey. Reborn as a puppy yet again, Bailey wonders--will he ever find his purpose?
Heartwarming, insightful, and often laugh-out-loud funny, A Dog's Purpose is not only the emotional and hilarious story of a dog's many lives, but also a dog's-eye commentary on human relationships and the unbreakable bonds between man and man's best friend. This moving and beautifully crafted story teaches us that love never dies, that our true friends are always with us, and that every creature on earth is born with a purpose.
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Discussion Questions1. W. Bruce Cameron is a humorist, and Bailey’s sense of humor is a constant, and pleasant, surprise throughout the book. What part does humor play in A Dog’s Purpose? Why does human behavior so often seem so funny when described from a dog’s point of view? Do you believe that animals can have a sense of humor? Has a pet ever made you laugh at yourself?
2. Love is talked about often in A Dog’s Purpose, typically as the emotion that brings Bailey the greatest joy. Do you believe that animals feel love in some of the ways that we do? Do the types of love expressed in the book recall broader, more transcendent definitions of love?
3. A Dog’s Purpose is written from an animal’s first-person point of view. How do you think that this book would have been different if its narrator had been human? As the book unfolded, did you feel drawn into experiencing the world through a dog’s senses? Was it an enjoyable, or uncomfortable, process? Did it surprise you, and if so, at what points?
4. At the beginning of A Dog’s Purpose, we see immediately how unique the personalities are of Toby and his siblings—Hungry, Sister, and Fast. Is personality hard-wired at birth? Does it help to determine one’s purpose in life?
5. What does it mean for Bailey to wish, throughout his life, to be a “good dog”? Do all the animals in the story seem to have a similar wish? Do all humans? Do concepts like evil, or sin, apply in Bailey’s world?
6. W. Bruce Cameron portrays the world through the lens of an animal’s reasoning. How does Bailey, in all his incarnations, process what happens to and around him? How does he set priorities and make decisions? What do you admire, or dislike, about the way in which he understands the world? How does it differ from your own understanding?
7. Bailey talks often about the fundamental relationship of dogs to humans. How does he describe that relationship? What does each group gain from it, and what obligations does it place on them? How have you experienced that relationship with your own dog, or another animal?
8. Bailey’s sharpest sense is smell, and either through that sense alone or via a combination of senses, he is also acutely and specifically aware of human emotions—Jakob’s grief, Ethan’s sadness, Todd’s rage. Are pets this sensitive to human feelings—perhaps more so than humans themselves, at times? Have you had an experience in which a pet seemed to intuitively understand something that you didn’t think you were outwardly expressing? How did that pet’s response make you feel, in that moment?
9. As the nickname “man’s best friend” implies, dogs have long been known for qualities of loyalty and devotion. How does Bailey’s sense of purpose intersect with those qualities? Is devotion in animals different than in human beings? How does Bailey demonstrate his purpose in his relationships with humans? How do devotion and purpose play out in your own life, and your relationships?
10. When Bailey first returns in his final incarnation, as Buddy, he finds himself living what he calls “this crazy, purposeless life as Bear” first with Wendy, and then with her mother and Victor. What are the qualities of a purposeless life, besides a basic sense of direction? Where does the idea of a home fit into the notion of purpose? What relationships, activities, or routines, are necessary for us to feel purposeful?
11. One of the most compelling arcs of the novel is the way in which Bailey’s understanding of his purpose—from being able to survive in the world outside the Yard, to being able to love and care for the boy, to ultimately being able to save people—evolves over time. Does our sense of purpose in life evolve in this way? Do the purposes themselves evolve—do we have different purposes as children and adolescents than as adults, or elders? Have you seen your own purpose change during your lifetime?
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