This guest column is in response to recently published piece written by American Humane’s Robin Ganzert.
Every reasonable person was horrified by the behind-the-scenes video footage showing that a terrified dog named Hercules was forced into rushing water on the set of “A Dog’s Purpose.” Meanwhile, every person with a vested interest in seeing the film succeed has jumped in at the deep end to defend the footage — including the American Humane Association (AHA), those folks whose “No Animals Were Harmed” disclaimer appears at the bottom of a lot of films, including those for which animals were actually harmed.
AHA’s bread and butter is the use of animals in film and television, and animals are paying with their lives for what many of us believe is an overly cozy relationship with animal trainers. In recent years, 27 animals died on the set of “The Hobbit,” three horses died during the production of HBO’s “Luck,” a giraffe died during the production of “Zookeeper,” a shark died during the production of a Kmart commercial, and a bulldog died during a shoot for a Vicks commercial — and all these productions were supposedly monitored by AHA.
Moviegoers may be surprised to learn that the “No Animals Were Harmed” stamp of approval does not require an on-set AHA monitor — and even more surprised that AHA doesn’t monitor animals off-set, either, including how they are transported to the set, trained beforehand, and kept back at the trainer’s compound. In the case of A Dog’s Purpose, PETA’s recent video exposé of Hollywood animal supplier Birds & Animals Unlimited (BAU) — the reported animal supplier for the film — revealed that animals were denied veterinary care, forced to sleep outdoors in the cold without bedding for warmth, made to live in filthy conditions, and more. A BAU manager even admitted to PETA’s eyewitness that a kangaroo named Lenny had died — unable to eat and apparently suffering from a broken jaw — and that she had falsified a federal document by stating that he had “gone to Texas.”
AHA now claims that additional footage taken on the day that Hercules was forced into the water will somehow change the video evidence of his abuse — which is akin to insisting that nanny-cam footage of a babysitter reading a bedtime story would cancel out footage of her hitting the child.
But audiences aren’t falling for this line, so AHA is trying to shoot the messenger, attacking People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) for the work that it does in some of the most impoverished areas of the U.S. — taking in aggressive, sick, elderly, injured, and feral animals rejected by other shelters for being unadoptable and offering free euthanasia services for families who can’t afford to pay a veterinarian to give their beloved, ailing animal companions a peaceful release.
Meanwhile, AHA has repeatedly taken the side of those who want no restrictions on the use and abuse of animals: It has been a vocal opponent of bans on bullhooks — sharp metal weapons that resemble a fireplace poker with a sharp metal hook on one end, which handlers use to beat elephants into submission and bully them into performing tricks — and it put its stamp of “humane” approval on companies such as Butterball, where workers were caught stomping on, punching, and sexually abusing turkeys.
When Hollywood fully embraces modern computer-generated imagery, AHA will be out of a job. Crocodile tears will be the only ones that are shed.
For dogs like Hercules, that day can’t come soon enough.
Lisa Lange is senior vice president of communications for PETA