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‘A Dog’s Purpose’ Dog Supplier & Handler Issues Statement As Tracking For Film Stalls; PETA Responds – Update

Deadline logo Deadline 1/23/2017 Anita Busch
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UPDATED, 1:23 PM:PETA has released a statement in response to producer Gavin Polone’s explanation about the treatment of animals during filming of A Dog’s Purpose, saying: “The disturbing footage from the set of A Dog’s Purpose came just days after PETA’s investigation of Birds & Animals Unlimited — the company that supplied dogs for the film — revealed that dogs were kept in barren kennels and forced to sleep outside in the cold, animals were denied adequate food so that they would be hungry while being trained to do tricks, and other animals were denied adequate veterinary care and made to live in filthy conditions,” PETA SVP Lisa Lange said. “Those who made the movie want it to succeed, but even the film’s producer, Gavin Polone, admitted that the incident should not have occurred, so for him to offer alternative facts about what countless people have now watched and condemned is a form of spin that even the best filmmaker couldn’t pull off.” Read her full statement below.

PREVIOUSLY, 12:11 PM: Birds & Animals Unlimited, which has come under attack by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and was hired by Amblin Entertainment on the set of A Dog’s Purpose came out with its own statement today. That comes as Deadline hears that the tracking for the film which will be released this weekend “has started to stall.” PETA called for a boycott of the film after TMZ released a videotape of a man forcing a German Shepard into the water and another clip (edited together) of the dog slipping under the water. Producer Gavin Polone, who admitted that mistakes were made, but had safety personnel and safety people on either side and was not harmed. Today, Polone said in a published report the dog was submerged for 4 seconds underwater.

A Dog’s Purpose was on a good trajectory on tracking studies but after the call for a boycott of the film by PETA, “has started to stall” said one tracker. The family film from Universal is right now is looking like a mid-teen to $20M opening, according to the latest tracking results which is what it kinda looked like prior to the call for a boycott. The film quality and its reviews will certain impact word-of-mouth on the film so it’s going to be hard to quantify how the boycott has impacted the film.

The Acton, Ca-based Birds & Animals Unlimited have worked with the motion picture, TV and ad industry for over 50 years in not only supplying animals but also providing handlers/trainers. Here is Birds & Animals Unlimited Statement:

Last week a falsely edited video was released to the media. It portrayed a dog being forced to enter a pool against its will and suggested that the dog was traumatized as a result. No such thing occurred, nor would it ever occur under the supervision of our animal trainers.

In one sequence, the videotape shows our animal actor Hercules appearing resistant to being placed in the pool. A voice can be heard saying “Just gotta throw him in.” Next, Hercules can be seen in the water, the false implications being that Hercules was actually placed in the water against his will and that the voice that can be heard belongs to someone supervising Hercules.

Here is what actually occurred:

Hercules, a two-year old German Shepherd, had been in training for  months to perform the swimming scenes for this film. He was chosen for the film based on his love of the water. The shot that Hercules performed began with his jumping from the end of the pool into the water as he’d been conditioned to do, then swimming out to a stunt actor and pulling her to safety.

After many successful takes throughout the day, a request was made to have Hercules perform the same behavior, but changing the point from which he was to enter the pool. As the camera started rolling, the trainer in the water began to call the dog. It quickly became apparent that Hercules did not want to enter the pool from this location.

After less that one minute of Hercules insisting on getting back to his original starting point, this plan was abandoned and he was brought to the end of the pool from which he’d been conditioned to enter, and he did so happily.

We cannot identify the voice that appears on the videotape saying “Just gotta throw him in,” but there were many people on the film set and it was not anyone with any authority over Hercules’ welfare as some of the news coverage implied.

In the next shot, Hercules entered the pool from his rehearsed location. While swimming across the pool, the current carried him closer to the wall at end of the pool than it had in previous takes. When the dog reached the wall, he was briefly submerged at which point the diver an trainer immediately pushed him to the surface. Trainers poolside then pulled him out of the water. Hercules shook the water off and wagged his tail.

During the filming, an American Humane Representative was present at all times, approving and documenting every shot. Whenever Hercules was in the water there were two trainers poolside, one trainer in the water, a safety diver, as well as stunt personnel.

The day before the scene was filmed, Hercules and his trainers did a comprehensive rehearsal at the pool location with safety and stunt teams to make certain that safety measures were in place to insure that the dog was not put in any danger.

These safety measures that were put in place worked flawlessly to ensure that no harm came to the dog (or the people) who were in the water during filming that day.

Birds and Animals Unlimited is currently reviewing available footage of these scenes and is evaluating its legal options. In the meantime, we strongly encourage the news media that receive such disturbing, defamatory and maliciously edited videotapes to exercise caution in their broadcast and characterization.

Here is the full statement from PETA today:

The disturbing footage from the set of A Dog’s Purpose came just days after PETA’s investigation of Birds & Animals Unlimited—the company that supplied dogs for the film—revealed that dogs were kept in barren kennels and forced to sleep outside in the cold, animals were denied adequate food so that they would be hungry while being trained to do tricks, and other animals were denied adequate veterinary care and made to live in filthy conditions. Those who made the movie want it to succeed, but even the film’s producer, Gavin Polone, admitted that the incident should not have occurred, so for him to offer alternative facts about what countless people have now watched and condemned is a form of spin that even the best filmmaker couldn’t pull off.

It doesn’t matter whether there was a diver in the pool to rescue the dog when he went under. It’s irrelevant that he’s now reportedly safe. What matters is that, according even to Polone, this dog made his feelings known, loud and clear, about being forced into rushing water to produce a swimming scene and attempted to escape—yet into the water he was made to go. Perhaps it’s easy to dismiss being submerged underwater when you’re not the one desperate for air, but for the dog, it was undeniably a terrifying experience. Blaming the whistleblower who filmed the ugly incident is a cheap and cowardly response. TMZ did a public service by releasing the footage.

The fact that a producer like Polone—someone who genuinely cares about animals—failed to prevent cruel training techniques, failed to ensure that animals aren’t living in squalor, and failed to stop a dog from being terrorized during shooting exemplifies just how deeply entrenched the problems are in this business.

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