UPDATE: An investigation by American Humane, which oversees animal safety in Hollywood, has determined that the leaked video "mischaracterized" production, and that “no animals were harmed in those scenes and numerous preventative safety measures were in place.” [The original story follows]
The phrase is a familiar one to movie lovers: No animals were harmed in the making of this film. There is an unfortunate history of animal abuse and mistreatment in Hollywood, and because of this, protections have been created for the animals who appear on screen. Even bugs are closely watched and looked after. Now, it seems to be a rare event when an animal is hurt while making a film - and, as such, a big deal.
Unfortunately, it seems to have happened recently. A video surfaced from the set of A Dog's Purpose showing a dog being lowered against its will into rushing water, followed by animal handlers yelling and rushing to save the animal after it goes under. The animals in A Dog's Purpose were provided and handled by Birds & Animals Unlimited. Their website went down and has remained down for several hours.
According to Deadline, the film's producer Gavin Polone, an animal rights activist, has released a statement:
“I’m horrified by this. The first thing I asked was, ‘Is the dog OK?’ He’s fine. But if I had seen that, I would have stopped it in a minute. People have to be held responsible for this. It was someone’s job to watch out for this kind of thing. Why didn’t they? This is something I’ve written about before, whether it be circus animals or animals on set. American Humane are supposed to be there supervising. That’s their job that someone is paid a lot of money to do. Why wasn’t this stopped? There needs to be a better system than this. That’s what I’ve called for in the past. I agree with PETA that they not only need to make sure animals are treated properly on set, but they also need to find out where the animals are kept outside of the set. To make sure they are treated properly at all times.”
According to Polone, this incident occurred in October 2015, but he was not informed and there was not an immediate investigation. He added, "Who waited a year and three months to call attention to this? That’s wrong in itself.” Polone stated he was on set for "about 70 percent" of the production, and detailed other efforts A Dog's Purpose took to make sure all animals on set were comfortable.
The American Humane Association, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring the wellbeing of animals, has also released a statement:
“American Humane has reviewed the video and we are disturbed and concerned by the footage. When the dog showed signs of resistance to jumping in the water, the scene should have been stopped. We are placing the safety representative who was on the set on administrative leave immediately and are bringing in an independent third party to conduct an investigation into this matter.”
No one from Birds & Animals Unlimited has spoken publicly, but Amblin Entertainment - the production company behind A Dog's Purpose - released an official statement as well:
“Amblin production team followed rigorous protocols to foster an ethical and safe environment for the animals. While we continue to review the circumstances shown in the edited footage, Amblin is confident that great care and concern was shown for the German Shepherd Hercules, as well as for all of the other dogs featured throughout the production of the film. There were several days of rehearsal of the water scenes to ensure Hercules was comfortable with all of the stunts. On the day of the shoot, Hercules did not want to perform the stunt portrayed on the tape so the Amblin production team did not proceed with filming that shot. Hercules is happy and healthy.”
PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), for their part, have called for a boycott of A Dog's Purpose in the wake of the video from the set. They released a statement:
PETA released a video expose of Hollywood animal supplier Birds & Animals Unlimited (BAU), which claimed to a PETA eyewitness they provided dogs used in the film A Dog’s Purpose, new footage shows a terrified dog who is forced into churning water on set. At one point, a dog who is in danger of drowning has to be rescued. PETA is calling on dog lovers to boycott the film in order to send the message that dogs and other animals should be treated humanely, not as movie props. PETA’s investigation at BAU revealed that animals are denied veterinary care, forced to sleep outdoors in the cold without bedding for warmth, made to live in filthy conditions, and more.
Despite Polone and Amblin's assurances that the majority of the production for A Dog's Purpose created a safe and comfortable environment for the animals on set, it's unlikely the film will recover from this news - especially so close to its January 27th release date. That said, perhaps the outcry surrounding this video will motivate those in Hollywood to be more careful about how animals are treated on set.
We’ll keep you updated on this story as more information becomes available.