Woodruff: Animal actors deserve better treatment

Beth Woodruff

The upcoming movie “A Dog’s Purpose” recently garnered media attention, but for all the wrong reasons. In recently leaked footage of on-set filming, a German shepherd is seen being physically forced into briskly moving water and continuously dragged back after its many attempts to escape the situation.

In the leaked video, onlookers can be heard laughing and saying comments such as “just throw him in.” All while the German shepherd, named Hercules, struggles to get away from his trainer.

When one of Hercules’ feet touches the water the dog quickly climbs back out of the water and his trainer drags him back by his collar, attempting to push him back into the water.

Once Hercules is in the water, he is quickly pulled under by the swift current. He is seen under the water for a few seconds before someone off screen finally yells to cut the scene. The upsetting video has caused an outcry — people have begun questioning the treatment of animal actors — so large that the premier of “A Dog’s Purpose” has been cancelled.

The American Humane Association Film and Television Unit (AHA), famous for its “no animals were harmed” certification at the end of movies, is responsible for providing protection to animals in films. The AHA has a certified Animal Safety Representative on set for every scene involving an animal. Since the leaked footage, the representative on the set of “A Dog’s Purpose” has been placed on leave while an investigation takes place.

People magazine received a statement from the AHA regarding the leaked footage. “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.” 

The AHA has a list of many strict guidelines that films with animals must meet to get AHA approval.

Regarding scenes filmed with water, the AHA specifically states that “The force of the water must not be so great as to endanger the animals in the water.” In the leaked video, it is clear the force of the water is far too strong for Hercules to compete with, as he is quickly pulled under water by the current. 

The AHA requirements also state that any signs of stress in the animal would be closely monitored. But it is very clear in the film that Hercules demonstrated massive amounts of stress, yet no one attempted to stop the filming until he was drowning. 

Unfortunately, the treatment Hercules received is not uncommon for animal actors; in fact, it can happen quite frequently. An eyewitness had documented the living conditions of the animals that came from the same supply company as Hercules.

The enclosures of the animals were filthy and sick, and injured animals did not receive the veterinary care they needed. The company has also been known to starve animals as a “motivation” to learn tricks and meet expectations. Over the course of a few days, two cats lost 5 percent of their body weight due to this practice.  

Many training facilities also have horrendous conditions after the filming has finished. The animals are kept in warehouses, similar to the way store inventory is stashed. They are often stuffed into confined cells or sold to zoos that can’t accommodate their needs.

While the AHA serves a very valuable purpose in protecting animals, it isn’t able to control what happens to the animals offset. Requirements need to be established regarding the treatment of animal actors outside of filming, and punishments need to be stricter for films that don’t meet AHA standards.

With the technology humans have now developed it, is important to use Computer Generated Imagery capabilities. Animals in films either need to be eliminated completely or at the very least need to be superimposed into the film when the stunts may be too dangerous, or uncomfortable for the animal. It is important to stop the unethical treatment of animals when other viable options are available.