The Creative Collar Is Loose, But There’s Still Plenty to Wag About


You may occasionally need a Kleenex while watching Dog Gone, which debuts on Netflix on January 13, but the film about a young man and his father searching for a beloved canine on the Appalachian Trail won’t leave you decimated the way some dog films have—hello, Marley and Me. Kudos to that.

Oh, how we love our pets. And we’d do most anything to ensure their safety. That’s one of the main takeaways from Dog Gone. The film is based on the 2016 non-fiction book by Pauls Toutonghi. Dripping in feel-good, warm-heartedness, think of it as a yummy human snack for the entire family to savor during the winter months. The main star: a lovable lab named Gonker. Try as you might, you can’t help but love the fella. (Cue Kleenex Run No. 1.)


Dog Gone stars Rob Lowe (9-1-1: Lone Star, Code Black, St. Elmo’s Fire), who also serves as executive producer. Tik Tok star Johnny Berchtold, Kimberly Williams-Paisley (Nashville, According to Jim) and Nick Peine (A.P. Bio) are also on board in an outing written by Nick Santora (Preacher, Scorpion). Wearing the director’s hat is Stephen Herek, known for his diverse directing work—from 101 Dalmatians and Mr. Holland’s Opus to The Mighty Ducks and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

A Heartwarming Tale

Pauls Toutonghi’s book, “Dog Gone: A Lost Pet’s Extraordinary Journey and the Family Who Brought Him Home,” was apparently that good that Netflix came knocking. Washington Post wrote that Toutonghi’s story was, “full of twists that keep the reader engaged until the very end.” Dog Gone may not have the same creative inertia as Toutonghi’s read, but it manages to really hook you in midway through. If you can overlook Lowe morphing into a Mike Brady by way of latter-day Jack Pearson a la This Is Us, you’ll be just fine. Full disclosure: I haven’t read Toutonghi’s book, but I imagine the father-isms we experience in the Netflix film illuminate what went down in real life. In that respect, kudos to Lowe’s character, John, who, like the Mike Brady and Jack Pearson we’ve all come to love, embodies the quintessential get-things-done Alpha Male without the overt “alpha” dysfunctions.

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John’s son Fielding (Berchtold) graduates from college and brings home the devoted lab that helped him get through school. We’re given plenty to nosh on before that happens—how Fielding and Gonker met, how they bonded, and why the two are a good pair. Back home, with nary a job offer in sight, father John is concerned about his son. Plus, now he and wife Ginny (Williams-Paisley), must adjust to having a dog around the house. Adjust they do. In fact, flashforward a few weeks, and now the entire family adores lovable Gonker. The dog has a few health issues, though, and requires medication. Without it, his life is in jeopardy.

Enter Fielding’s seemingly innocent hike along the Appalachian Trail with college pal (Peine), and we’ve got the makings of some trouble ahead. On the hike, Fielding ruminates about his life path… just enough to allow a few seconds longer to pass by than normal. He loses sight of Gonker. Try as they might, the dog won’t answer to the guys’ calls. (Cue Kleenex Run No. 2.)

Dog Gone, It’s Hard Not to Like This Movie


The movie works best when we find father and son embarking on a desperate search for Gonker. Time is of the essence. The dog needs medication, and they have limited time to find him. While covering a lot of ground, John and Fielding attempt to make deeper connections with each other and the script does a fine job to that end, however predictable it sometimes feels between all the “yes, we’re bonding, now,” and “wait, you really don’t understand me at all!”

The scenery is part of the cast, too, and the filmmakers capture the Appalachian Trail—its beauty, its challenges—effectively. They offer a real sense of the dangers that a lost pet—even humans—could face out in the wilderness. There’s also a bit of other drama Fielding must endure, but it’s best to leave that for viewers to discover on their own.

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More unique, perhaps, is the character of Ginny (Williams-Paisley). Through flashback, the audience suddenly understands why she’s become so passionate, borderline obsessed, about finding Gonker—pinboards, flyers, and phone calls, oh my! But it’s here that the director and writer seem to work in unison to create a cohesive package that successfully conveys the inexplicable hold our pets have on our psyche and our lives. They are, after all, living, breathing, “beings.” What wouldn’t we do for them? And, don’t these pets somehow bring us together as a family? That’s what the film hopes to say.

The last 15 minutes of the movie offers a few twists. A curious if not refreshing—especially during these jaded times—throughline in the film is Santora’s way of connecting people and showcasing the basic good in humanity. Maybe it’s always been there all along, the film more than suggests, despite what the majority of media outlets report.

Bottom line: Dog Gone’s creative collar may often feel loose, but there’s plenty of everyday heroism and relatable humanity here to keep tails wagging for the entire family.

Dog Gone arrives on Netflix on January 13.

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