A Dog’s Purpose: What do you know about animal actors in movies?


Still image from the TMZ video of German Shepherd Hercules being forced into a body of water on the set of the production of “A Dog’s Purpose”

by Ethan Hart, Reporter

In modern film, Hollywood animal welfare standards have gone to the dogs.

The film A Dog’s Purpose has received  backlash from the public after a disturbing video of a dog being unwillingly pushed into a moving body of water was leaked the week of the movie’s release.

The featured German Shepherd, Hercules, clearly resists going into the water but is constantly forced by an assisting handler on the set. At one point, the dog attempts to run away and is picked up by the handler. The man tries to drop the dog into the water, but the dog resists and clings to the wall. The dog is eventually dropped into the rushing water.

The unsettling video has angered many animal rights activists, and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has called for a boycott of the film.

Actors on the set reported mixed emotions.  Josh Gad, a narrator for the German Shepherd, tweeted out that he is “shaken and sad to see any animal put in a situation against its will.”

Animal abuse, as defined by veterinarian of Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital Dr. Charlie Scoggin, is, “Any instance in which the health or welfare of an animal is being compromised for another entity’s short or long-term gain.” Although Dr. Scoggin says that movie sets work diligently to protect animals and that the utmost care is provided, questions have been raised about A Dog’s Purpose and other recent films.

A Dog’s Purpose was released on January 27th and made $22 million in the first week, amid the animal abuse controversy.  This may be a leading factor in the movies’ 42% gross drop from the first to the second weekend.

Third party investigators, such as the Animal Humane Association (AHA), have released statements that representatives and experts were on set for the filming of the movie. The results were that “no animals were harmed in those scenes, and numerous preventative safety measures were in place”.The AHA does recognize that “The handling of the dog in the first scene in the video should have been gentler and signs of stress recognized earlier.” They gave the movie their stamp of approval, in the form of their No Animals were Harmed label in the closing credits.

The AHA gives this same safety label to films that have reported animal deaths, which makes the “approval” questionable.

An investigation launched by The Hollywood Reporter explains that the AHA’s signature label is only in effect when animals aren’t substantially harmed during the filming of the movie or television show.

The oversight of animals in film is constantly in question by the public, and can be traced back to the organizations that are allegedly not always doing their job. While these organizations have lost public trust, government intervention has become a possibility.

It may be the only thing that can ensure the safety of these animals.

The government keeps their interference with animals in entertainment at a minimum. The only law that provides structure for the treatment of animals in exhibition and entertainment is the Animal Welfare Act, which was passed as a law in 1966. This law only covers house pets such as dogs, monkeys, rabbits, cats, guinea pigs, and hamsters. This largely ignores exotic animals mentioned above that are used for film.

The Animal Welfare Act has become out of date, and domestic animals are only loosely protected. Exotic animals have no protected rights in film. New laws need to be created to establish a secure and strict advisory for all animals in film, and certainly entertainment as a whole. Steps must be taken by the government to provide proper care and individualized treatment for all of these animals.

In another case of possible animal actor abuse, former AHA employee Barbara Casey sued HBO, AHA, and Stewart Productions in 2013 for allowing the abuse of horses featured in the now-canceled horse racing show Luck. The AHA’s approval on movies has lost all credibility, and animal lives are at stake.

This same organization, responsible for protecting animal safety in film, has overlooked and given their thumbs up to movies such as The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, where The Huffington Post reported that 27 sheep and goats died due to lack of water and food. Regardless, the movie still was awarded the “No Animals were Harmed” branding in the closing credits.

The fierce Bengal tiger “Richard Parker” from the four time Academy Award-winning film The Life of Pi was reported to almost drowned on set. 

The children’s movie Zookeeper starring Kevin James grossed $171 million after its debut in 2011. Even though it had AHA approval, a PETA blog reports that a giraffe died on the set, and there was alleged abuse of elephants.

As an owner of a dog, I treat my dog like my best friend. Dr. Charlie Scoggin said that trust is a “two-way street and needs to be reciprocated to form a trusting bond.” In America, our pets aren’t just a lowly group of animals . They are treated as lifelong companions and are given the same care as humans.

If a child was being unwillingly forced into a body of water, mirroring the actions of the dog Hercules in the filming of A Dog’s Purpose, I can promise you of the surplus of allegations, charges, boycotting, and public outcry that would follow and be levied on the persons responsible.

For this reason, I urge you the reader to educate yourself about animal abuse and support the protection of these beings in film and entertainment.  Learn more at the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and the Animal Legal Defense Funds.