Updated 6:29 PM with statement from Amblin (below): Gavin Polone, the producer of A Dog’s Purpose who is also an animal rights activist and has actually written publicly about making sure animals are treated properly in the entertainment field, told Deadline today that he was “horrified” about what happened in a second unit shoot on the set of his upcoming Universal film.
PETA is asking moviegoers to boycott A Dog’s Purpose (read its statement below) after video emerged on TMZ from the set of the film that clearly shows a German Shepherd being forced into rushing water and then in a later clip) going under and handlers screaming as they rush to save it from drowning and someone yelling “cut it! cut it! cut it!” The animal-rights group is targeting a specific animal supplier — Acton, CA-based Birds & Animals Unlimited.
According to PETA, a manager at BAU told its undercover investigator that they provided all the dogs for the film and Deadline confirmed this evening that BAU handled the dog in the video.
BAU’s website has been offline for several hours. The company is an outfit PETA has been trying to expose for some time. BAU has rented out animals on hundreds of productions including for The Hangover, Marley & Me, Game Of Thrones, and Pirates Of The Caribbean.
Amblin/Walden Media’s A Dog’s Purpose is based on the bestselling book of the same name by W. Bruce Cameron. It centers on a dog who realizes the meaning of his life after being re-incarnated, which puts him into the lives of many owners. The family film, which comes out in two weeks, stars Dennis Quaid, Peggy Lipton and Britt Robertson. Josh Gad is the voice of the dog.
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom, the pic was produced by Polone and executive produced by Alan Blomquist.
“This movie is directed towards those who love dogs and, clearly, this is not a dog’s purpose,”said Lisa Lange, PETA’s SVP.
An official from BAU did not get back to Deadline after repeated requests. Hallstrom’s agent and lawyer were unavailable at press time. Universal did not return repeated requests for comment; Walden Media referred calls to Amblin who released the following statement Wednesday night:
“Amblin production team followed rigorous protocols to foster an ethical and safe environment for the animals. While we continue to review the circumstances shown in the edited footage, Amblin is confident that great care and concern was shown for the German Shepherd Hercules, as well as for all of the other dogs featured throughout the production of the film. There were several days of rehearsal of the water scenes to ensure Hercules was comfortable with all of the stunts. On the day of the shoot, Hercules did not want to perform the stunt portrayed on the tape so the Amblin production team did not proceed with filming that shot. Hercules is happy and healthy.”
But Polone is speaking up and loudly, angry that this happened on his film, given his animal activism.
“I’m horrified by this,” said Polone. “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? This is something I’ve written about before, whether it be circus animals or animals on set. American Humane are supposed to be there supervising. That’s their job that someone is paid a lot of money to do. Why wasn’t this stopped? There needs to be a better system than this. That’s what I’ve called for in the past. I agree with PETA that they not only need to make sure animals are treated properly on set, but they also need to find out where the animals are kept outside of the set. To make sure they are treated properly at all times.”
American Humane 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.”
Polone said he was concerned about the treatment of animals on set even before the beginning of the film. He asked specifically about a scene with a cat in it (Polone owns a dog and has owned cats). “I was on the first unit for about 70% of the time. I asked about a cat scene because I was concerned about that, but everything I saw on set was quite appropriate,” said Polone. “There is one scene with a dog and fire in it but it (the fire) was done digitally so it never stressed out the dog. There is a scene with a dog and a cat that was composited, too.”
“In the time I was on set, I never saw, in any way, the animal handlers stressing out the animal,” he continued. “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.”
Added Palone: “And by the way, this happened in October of 2015 and not only did none of us hear of it, this should have been investigated immediately. Who waited a year and three months to call attention to this? That’s wrong in itself.”
Lange agreed with Polone. And, although the producer said he never saw Birds & Animals Unlimited on the call sheet, Lange said PETA’s undercover eyewitness was given the information that they supplied all the dogs. BAU was the animal handler on that video, it was confirmed to Deadline Wednesday night.
“Our undercover investigation (into BAU) lasted from January 2016 through the end of October,” said Lange. “We saw the footage like everyone else did. It’s the same scene used in the trailer. We had investigated both Florida and Los Angeles compounds of BAU, and we found horrible neglect of the animals. The training is done in a closed-off and secretive location. They wouldn’t allow anyone around that. The animals themselves lived in total filth, the owl we were told was used in the Harry Potter film, his cage wasn’t cleaned for six weeks. It’s not only cruel, it’s illegal. We found a kangaroo who had been denied vet care and subsequently died. BAU in documents filed with the USDA claimed animal was transferred to Texas when, in fact, it was dead. This is all from our eyewitness.”
The trailer for A Dog’s Purpose does, as Lange states, have a German Shepherd dog trying to swim through rushing water. The dog in the video posted by TMZ today is clearly scrambling to not go into the rushing water and tried to climb out after being pushed in. In a later shot, the dog goes under water and handlers start screaming to get to him.
PETA has filed several complaints against BAU over the past two weeks to the federal, state and county level for various violations, Lange said. They said they found that BAU adopted dogs from shelters — one was ‘a German Shepherd-type dog’ and did not tell the shelters how the dog would live or be, in this case, used.
Here is PETA’s statement:
PETA released a video expose of Hollywood animal supplier Birds & Animals Unlimited (BAU), which claimed to a PETA eyewitness they provided dogs used in the film A Dog’s Purpose, new footage shows a terrified dog who is forced into churning water on set. At one point, a dog who is in danger of drowning has to be rescued. PETA is calling on dog lovers to boycott the film in order to send the message that dogs and other animals should be treated humanely, not as movie props. PETA’s investigation at BAU revealed that animals are denied veterinary care, forced to sleep outdoors in the cold without bedding for warmth, made to live in filthy conditions, and more.
Here is PETA’s video on BAU: