'A Dog's Journey' explores dogs' incredible ability to detect cancer

Cathryn Michon, screenwriter of 'A Dog's Journey,' and her dog, Tucker, in Los Angeles, May 4, 2019.
Cathryn Michon, screenwriter of "A Dog's Journey," and her dog, Tucker, in Los Angeles, May 4, 2019. | The Christian Post

LOS ANGELES — “A Dog’s Journey” hit theaters this month and the movie sheds light on a dog's amazing ability to sniff cancer during its early stages.

The sequel to the global hit “A Dog’s Purpose” once again shares the journey of beloved dog Bailey who is given a new purpose for the second installment.

In a sit-down interview with The Christian Post, co-screenwriter Cathryn Michon and her husband, W. Bruce Cameron, author of A Dog’s Purpose and A Dog's Journey, revealed why they included cancer sniffing dogs in their film.

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“It's a real thing and this woman, Dina Zaphiris, a dog trainer [and] a friend of ours, when he was writing the book, she was telling me about it,” Michon told CP.

Zaphiris served as a “technical adviser” for the writing. According to her website, she has trained dogs for scent detection in two federally funded studies. In 2003, she aided in training five dogs to detect early-stage lung and breast cancer with “99% accuracy (sensitivity).”

“They're running clinical trials at UC Davis right now,” Michon said. “It's amazing; dogs can detect cancer at stage zero.”

Canine cancer detection is an approach meant to use the remarkable olfactory ability of dogs to detect cancer in one's urine or breath. Dogs can reportedly smell collections of the alkanes and aromatic composites generated by malignant tumors.

This year, Florida’s BioScentDx conducted a study of canine cancer detection at Experimental Biology, a life sciences and biomedical research conference.

Researchers used “clicker training” to teach four beagles to distinguish between healthy blood and samples taken from people with malignant lung cancer. reported that three of the four dogs averaged a “96.7 percent accuracy” at identifying lung cancer.

“A Dog’s Journey” is not centered around cancer but the subject is explored in the film.

In the movie, Bailey (voiced again by Josh Gad) continues “living the good life on the Michigan farm of his ‘boy,’ Ethan (Dennis Quaid) and Ethan’s wife, Hannah (Marg Helgenberger). He even has a new playmate: Ethan and Hannah’s granddaughter, CJ. The problem is that CJ’s mom, Gloria (Betty Gilpin), decides to take CJ away. As Bailey’s soul prepares to leave this life for a new one, he makes a promise to Ethan to find CJ and protect her at any cost. Thus begins Bailey’s adventure through multiple lives filled with love, friendship and devotion as he, CJ (Kathryn Prescott), and CJ’s best friend, Trent (Henry Lau), experience joy and heartbreak, music and laughter, and few really good belly rubs,” the film’s synopsis reads.

“A Dog’s Journey” had an $8 million opening this past weekend, placing fourth at the box office. Directed by Emmy winner Gail Mancuso (“Modern Family”) and produced by Gavin Polone (“A Dog’s Purpose”), the Universal Pictures movie was written by professing Christians W. Bruce Cameron and Cathryn Michon, along with Maya Forbes and Wally Wolodarsky.

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