By Stephen Young Magruder
Despite what movie producers might want you to believe, The Humane Party would like to remind you that it is not a dog’s purpose to perform frightening and dangerous stunts to entertain humans.
After footage of a German Shepherd trying desperately to avoid rushing water during the filming of a movie scene was made public Wednesday, the American Humane Association suspended its safety representative who worked on the soon-to-be-released movie A Dog’s Purpose and vowed to investigate what happened.
Amblin Entertainment and Universal Pictures also decided to cancel the film’s premiere and press junket but still plan to release A Dog’s Purpose nationwide Jan. 27.
The official trailer for the movie shows a German Shepherd—supposedly the reincarnated spirit of another dog named Bailey—working as a police dog, jumping into rushing water to rescue a woman.
In the leaked video that caused widespread public outcry, a man in front of a blue background holds onto the collar of a German Shepherd named Hercules, as the visibly frightened dog struggles multiple times to avoid being put in the fast-moving water in front of them.
The dog tries to run away from the man but is restrained. The man, who is still holding the dog’s collar with his right hand, then scoops his left hand around the dog’s waist, then around his tail as he begins to lower the still-frightened animal into the water. Hercules puts his front paws on the padded blue bank to try to hold on for a few moments before his right paw slips down. The man then pulls the dog out of the water.
The second scene in the video shows what appears to be the same dog in the water as a person in a wetsuit nearby calls out “Here! Here, boy!” The dog struggles to keep his head above water as the force of the current moves the animal toward a wall at the end of the simulated rapids. The dog’s head then slips under the surface, and people quickly begin moving toward the dog: one standing over the animal and two in wetsuits swimming to him.
The AHA said it was “disturbed and concerned” by the video.
Hercules the German Shepherd was one of several non-human animals provided to movie producers by the company Birds & Animals Unlimited.
The company issued a statement on its website Friday, claiming the video “distorts the extensive safety measures put in place . . . trainers spent months preparing the animal actor, Hercules, for the shoot and had every confidence in his ability to perform the stunt, as he had done on previous occasions.”
PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) filed an unrelated complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Dec. 28. regarding alleged Animal Welfare Act violations by Birds & Animals Unlimited in 2016.
Following the video’s release Wednesday, PETA called for a boycott of A Dog’s Purpose, as well as for movie director Lasse Hallstrom and producer Gavin Polone never to use (non-human) animals in films again.
Polone, who spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about the incident and PETA’s response, was quoted as saying, “What’s needed is a replacement for the (AHA) . . . . There’s a person there all the time, and clearly they are ineffective. That’s the issue, and that’s what needs to be corrected.”
An important question arises in the wake of this disturbing video: What does it mean to be ‘humane’?
If you’re talking about The Humane Party, America’s first political party committed to rights for all animals—not just the human kind—‘humane’ means working to end the slavery and involuntary servitude of any animal within the United States or subject to its jurisdiction.
If you’re talking about the American Humane Association, ‘humane’ quickly loses its meaning when it includes a media production industry designed to exploit animals for profit.
The AHA, perhaps best-known for its trademarked “No Animals Were Harmed” certification appearing at the end of movies and TV shows, is the only organization allowed to monitor Hollywood sets and media productions using non-human animals because of its union deal contract with the Screen Actors Guild.
In its “Guidelines for the Safe Use of Animals in Filmed Media”, The American Humane Association’s fifth of 10 basic principles states that the association “will not allow any animal to be treated inhumanely to elicit a performance.”
It goes on to define ‘humane’ as “marked by an emphasis on humanistic values and concerns; characterized by kindness, mercy or compassion.”
A similar publication put out by the AHA advertising the merits of its “No Animals Were Harmed” certification makes the following claim: “While the characters animals play on screen may appear to be in danger or under duress, our end-credit certification is a reassurance for moviegoers and television viewers that what they are seeing is nothing more than movie magic at work.”
The pamphlet later states that “all animal action poses risk,” yet it seems more concerned with the risk of lawsuits aimed at producers. “Don’t expose yourself to risk. Contact our office to hire one of our fully insured Certified Animal Safety Representatives for your set.”
If you believe that animals are not meant to be exploited, join The Humane Party and help spread the message. Our purpose is compassion for all animals.