Study Guide

A Dog's Purpose What's Up With the Epigraph?

By W. Bruce Cameron

What's Up With the Epigraph?

Not All Dogs go to Heaven

Bailey serves as a loyal companion to Ethan until he dies. Before he fades away, with Ethan at his side, he knows he's fulfilled his purpose.

He's wrong.

He's totally reincarnated once more, which throws him into another paws-istential crisis. "Could a dog have more than one purpose?" (18.30), he wonders. During his life as Ellie, he finds people and saves them using some of the tricks and techniques he picked up in his previous lives. He realizes he wouldn't be the effective police dog he is without all this past knowledge: "As I lay in a patch of sun, pondering this, I realized that I had spent my life as a good dog. What I had learned from my first mother had led me to Ethan, and what I had learned from Ethan had enabled me to dive into those black waters and find Geoffrey" (24.59).

So, once again, the dog believes his purpose has been fulfilled as he dies. And once again, he's dead wrong.

It's his last life in the book that is the true test, the final exam after his multiple-course existence. This time, the dog must deal with a difficult early life, stuck in an apartment without much food, exercise, or affection. He thinks, "I felt guilty and sad. I had no purpose, no direction" (27.38).

Are direction and purpose the same thing?

When the dog picks up Ethan's scent, he is led in Ethan's direction. However, once Ethan takes him in, and once things are almost back to the way they used to be many years ago, the dog realizes that a purpose is more than just finding the end of a road. "That's when it occurred to me that my purpose in this world had never been just to Find; it had been to save. Tracking down the boy was just part of the equation" (31.21).

Ultimately, this dog's purpose is how he initially viewed it—to make a human happy. In his first life, he just had the wrong human. In two lives, the dog serves Ethan and acts as a loyal companion to bring him joy and comfort.

Is that every dog's purpose? The title of the book isn't All Dogs' Purpose, but it isn't This Dog's Purpose, either. The article "a" makes us wonder if the book is telling us about the purpose of this singular dog, or if it's leading us to believe that all dogs exist for the same purpose—to provide unconditional love that even other humans cannot.

Until dogs talk, we'll never know for sure.