The Amblin Entertainment film A Dog's Purpose has received massive public backlash against allegations of animal abuse on-set.
(Author's note: producer Gavin Polone has offered context of the on-set events)
TMZ released footage on January 18 of a German Shepherd named Hercules resisting entering turbulent waters on set of the film, quickly submerging before handlers rushed to retrieve the dog. The video is online for viewing (warning: content may be disturbing to many).
Public outcry was swift, with PETA calling to boycott the film, alleging animal abuse. The organization also demanded that Lasse Hallstrom (director) and Gavin Polone (producer) rescue the dogs from Birds & Animals Unlimited, the training and handling facility that provided the canines such as Hercules, and pledge to never use animals in film again.
Birds & Animals Unlimited gave Oz Magazine the following statement, in response to the allegations:
"This video distorts the extensive safety measures put in place by both the production company and our experienced trainers during filming of the scene in question. BAU trainers spent months preparing the animal actor, Hercules, for the shoot and had every confidence in his ability to safely perform the stunt, as he had done on previous occasions. Safety protocol was strictly followed before, during and after filming of the scene, and Hercules continues to enjoy an active lifestyle both in and out of the water. BAU trainers have several decades of experience, affording them extensive knowledge and skill working with animal actors in a safe manner in the motion picture industry. BAU trainers have a personal commitment to the safety and wellbeing of their animal actor partners which is fostered by the loving relationships they build with each animal. We understand the public concern and we are confident that further examination will demonstrate our unwavering commitment to the stewardship of the animals in our care."
Hallstrom offered the following via his Twitter account:
"I am very disturbed by the video released today from the set of my film A dog's purpose [sic]...I did not witness these actions. We were all 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...I have been a lifelong animal lover and A DOG’S PURPOSE is my third film about dogs. The animals’ safety was of utmost priority...We were all committed to providing a loving, respectful and safe environment for all the animals in the film."
American Human Society spokesman Mark Stubis told the AP they had suspended its safety representative who worked on the film and they are hiring an independent investigator to explore the matter.
Amblin and Universal cancelled the weekend premiere and press junket amidst the negative publicity, offering the following statement:
"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 humans and animals. Since the emergence of the footage, Amblin has engaged with many associated with the production of the film, including safety personnel, trainers and stunt coordinators as part of their in-depth review. While we are all disheartened by the appearance of an animal in distress, everyone has assured us that Hercules the German Shepherd was not harmed throughout the filmmaking."
At the time of this article, A Dog's Purpose is currently still slated for January 27 wide release. Activists have vowed to protest its release.