Humane Association Responds Quickly to Animal Cruelty Controversy

After footage surfaced of a dog being mistreated on the set of the film A Dog’s Purpose, the American Humane Association quickly responded, saying it would fully investigate the incident.

The American Humane Association had its work cut out for it this week after a controversial video involving one of its trainers surfaced.

But the association, known for its long-running “No Animals Were Harmed” program that monitors the treatment of animals used in the film industry, acted decisively in the face of a growing controversy over the movie A Dog’s Purpose, after a video appeared on TMZ and other entertainment media sites showing a trainer attempting to force a German shepherd into rushing water. Later the dog was shown nearly drowning, eventually being rescued by trainers.

The incident took place in October 2015 but only came to light in the days before the film’s release. Soon afterward, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) drew attention to Birds & Animals Unlimited, the firm responsible for supplying the animals on set, which the advocacy group has frequently criticized.

The humane association, also known as American Humane, emphasized it was working to figure out exactly what happened and was already taking action:

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.

The group’s move reflects a changing of the tide in response to the film, even from its own crew members. The official premiere of A Dog’s Purpose has been canceled, and actors involved in the film’s production, such as Josh Gad, have spoken out against the incident.

Pushing for Change

Gavin Polone, a producer of the film and an animal rights activist, expressed grave concern over the incident in comments to Deadline.

“I’m horrified by this,” Polone told the website. “The first thing I asked was, ‘Is the dog OK?’ He’s fine. But if I had seen that, I would have stopped it in a minute. People have to be held responsible for this. It was someone’s job to watch out for this kind of thing. Why didn’t they?”

The association, which has navigated criticism of its program before, did have an observer on set at the time who apparently did not step in, something that Polone directly criticized.

“American Humane are supposed to be there supervising,” he said. “That’s their job that someone is paid a lot of money to do. Why wasn’t this stopped?”

Amblin Entertainment and Universal Pictures, the producer and distribution firm behind the film, said they are conducting a review of their own and that the animal in the footage, named Hercules, was safe.

“Amblin and Universal do not want anything to overshadow this film that celebrates the relationship between animals and humans,” the studios said, according to The New York Times.

The film is set to open on January 27.

A still from A Dog's Purpose, starring Dennis Quaid. (Amblin Entertainment/Universal)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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