It is not uncommon to see the phrase “No animals were harmed in the making of this film” in movie credits with animal actors. People love their furry friends, so it’s heartbreaking to see them in trouble or distress, be it staged in a film or in real life. Despite how many laws that have been made to protect animals and maintain their safety, some incidents slide through the cracks. The controversy in the new film “A Dog’s Purpose” seems to be the latest infamous case.
On one of the sets of the film, a German Shepherd named Hercules was seen being guided to a pool of raging waters, as he clearly resisted and was clawing the surface. In the video, voices of unidentified crewmembers can be heard with little concern for the dog until a member of the staff ordered to “Cut it!” and then handlers rushed to the dog. The video evidence was posted online by TMZ and spread like wildfire throughout the news media and social networks. Many people became outraged and called for boycotts of the movie, according to Variety. As a result, Universal Pictures cancelled the movie’s intended premiere in Los Angeles that was initially scheduled for Jan. 19.
This is far from the first time questions of animal cruelty have been raised throughout Hollywood’s history, though. While it was far more common in cinema’s early years, there are still a number of incidents that have occurred more recently. According to NY Daily News, the 2012 film adaptation of “Life of Pi” involved the abuse of a tiger, evident in leaked footage of the handler proudly whipping the animal. Other incidents reported by the American Humane Association documented a situation in which one of the dogs in the film “Eight Below” was repeatedly punched in the diaphragm to break up a fight.
However, an older yet more severe set of cases occurred in the Japanese film “A Kitten’s Story,” known in America as “The Adventures of Otis and Milo.” Though many of its cases remain unconfirmed and the film is still approved by The Humane Society of the United States, there are rumors of 20 kittens having died during production. It’s also rumored that one cat’s paw was intentionally broken in order to make it limp on camera, according to A.V. Club.
There also lie many concerns with the film itself, such as the cat character Milo surviving fights against crabs, birds, a snake, and even a huge drop from a cliff, as well as the dog character Otis fighting a bear in one scene. Additionally, rather than having the usual “no animals were harmed” disclaimer, the credits instead state, “The animals used were filmed under strict supervision with the utmost care for their safety and well-being,” which is a far more vague message.
So many existing cases beg the question as to whether or not animals should continue to be filmed in Hollywood films. Are the handlers and trainers acting responsibly? Are most animals truly being treated properly in the industry? Should they continue to be represented in film?
It’s impossible to deny that these cases of animal cruelty in the film industry exist, but there are still many films starring animal actors that are treated appropriately and kindly. Four of the cats who played the character Salem Saberhagen—Elvis, Lucy, Salem, and Witch—in the sitcom “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” were all properly trained and cared for as each cat was used for specific roles, according to executive producer Nell Scovell. Other popular films with animal actors show a lot of behind the scenes footage of how they properly treat their animals. According to the New Zealand Herald, the 2005 film “The Chronicles of Narnia” had ten wolf and wolf-hybrid actors who were carefully trained and tended to.
Unfortunate cases of animal cruelty do still exist, both in real life and in the film industry; but organizations like the American Humane Association have improved their standards for animal safety and have developed proper training strategies over the years. Representatives are now typically on scene to judge whether or not animal actors are in danger. However, some situations are subjective as to whether or not they are classified as abuse, since people today still cannot properly communicate with animals.
Since the controversial footage was posted online, the American Humane Association has completed an investigation on the infamous case in “A Dog’s Purpose,” according to The Verge. On Feb. 4, it was reported that the footage was “deliberately edited for the purpose of misleading the public and stoking outrage,” with two videos being spliced together. Though Hercules showed some signs of distress, he “was not forced to swim in the water at any time.” The American Humane Association agreed that Hercules should have been handled more gently, but claims there were no confirmed incidents of abuse.
No further cases of animal cruelty were reported in “A Dog’s Purpose.” While it is assured that Hercules is in a healthy condition now, there is no further evidence for or against him having been harmed. “A Dog’s Purpose” was released in theaters on Jan. 29, but it seems that the damage has already been done, bringing in a modest earning of $20 million on its opening weekend as well as many people having panned the film with low ratings online.