“A Dog’s Purpose,” based on the international best-selling novel by W. Bruce Cameron, is a film that follows a dog’s life through multiple reincarnations and how he attempts to find a purpose through each re-embodiment. Each new life provides him with a new owner which in turn gives him a new best friend that provides him with love and affection. The trailer of the film is enough to make any animal lover become overwhelmed with emotion and hold their furry friends close.
However, for a film that embodies that idea of a beautiful relationship between human and animal, it is receiving quite a bit of backlash for the way dogs were apparently handled on set. TMZ leaked a video of one handler attempting to put a terrified German shepherd named Hercules into rushing water. In the video, Hercules was clearly too scared to get into the water, but the handler continuously attempted to get his paws wet and force him in. The video then cut to a quick snippet of Hercules being submerged under water, cast swimming towards where he was seen going under and someone could be heard screaming, “Cut it! Cut It!”
The edited video has caused controversy over whether this is considered animal abuse or whether the trainer did the right thing by attempting to get Hercules used to the water. PETA asked on their website, “Please, pledge to avoid contributing to this cruel practice by not buying tickets to ‘A Dog’s Purpose’ or any other movies that use live animals.” PETA’s site also informed readers of Birds & Animals Unlimited (BAU) which is the company that supplied the dogs to act in the film.
BAU is operated by Gary Gero, a Hollywood animal trainer. The company provides animals for use in many different media outlets such as film, television, commercial and more. BAU has been known to rent out animals to famous productions such as “The Hangover,” “Game of Thrones” and “Marley & Me.” Anonymous sources have reported to PETA about the terrible conditions that BAU keeps its animals in, although no other proof has come from that source at this time.
The video has caused quite a stir among celebrities and moviegoers who are now taking to social media to support boycotting the film.
On Thursday, January 19, Universal and Amblin stated to TheWrap, “Because Amblin’s review into the edited video released yesterday is still ongoing, distributor Universal Pictures has decided it is in the best interest of ‘A Dog’s Purpose’ to cancel this weekend’s premiere and press junket. Amblin and Universal do not want anything to overshadow this film that celebrates the relationship between animals and humans.”
Amblin also stated, “Everyone has assured us that Hercules the German Shepherd was not harmed throughout the filmmaking. We continue to support this film, are incredibly proud of it and will release it for audiences nationwide next Friday.”
The American Humane Association (AHA) is a nonprofit organization that assures the wellness, safety and welfare of animals. AHA had a staff member on site to ensure that all animals on set were being handled the right way while on set; however, many are speculating as to how this constituted as the right way to handle Hercules’ well-being. In response, AHA issued the following statement, “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. We are placing the safety representative who was on the set on administrative leave immediately and are bringing in an independent third party to conduct an investigation into this matter.”
Josh Gad, one of the many famous actors in the film, shared a lengthy post on his Facebook page stating, “I signed onto a film that truly stands out as one of the most beautiful love letters to animals I have ever seen.” He continues, “Today, however, I saw a disturbing video that appears to show a scared German Shepherd being forced to perform a stunt on the set of this film.” The 35-year-old actor assured his fans that he wasn’t aware of all the details, but did state, “I am shaken and sad to see any animal put in a situation against its will.”
Lasse Hallström, the film’s director, was just as upset. He tweeted, “I am very disturbed by the video released today from the set of my film ‘A Dog’s Purpose.’” He added, “I did not witness these actions. We were all very committed to providing a loving and safe environment for all the animals in the film. I have been promised that a thorough investigation into this situation is underway and that any wrongdoing will be reported and punished.”
The producer of the film, Gavin Polone, is a longtime animal rights activist and stated that he was “horrified” by the video just like everybody else. Polone estimated he was on the first unit of the film approximately 70 percent of the time and that he never saw the animal handlers stressing out the animals. He added, “But I wasn’t there for the second unit. If I had been, I would have stopped it. All I can say is that I hope that bringing this out leads to better treatment of animals. I know the studio is outraged and investigating this.”
“A Dog’s Purpose” is scheduled to release Friday, January 27. Despite the awful videos that have surfaced, Universal and Amblin stand by their film based on the love between animal and human and they hope you do too.