'A Dog's Purpose' Writer Says On-Set Video "Mischaracterizes What Happened"

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Author and co-screenwriter W. Bruce Cameron questions the legitimacy of the footage, which has prompted the cancellation of the Universal film's premiere.

Two days after a disturbing video was released of a stressed German shepherd performing a stunt on the set of A Dog's Purpose, and less than 24 hours following the cancellation of the film's premiere after a boycott call by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the author of the eponymous book the film is based on is speaking out.

W. Bruce Cameron, also a co-screenwriter on the upcoming Universal project, released a statement describing the video as "shocking," but casting doubt on the motivation of "the people who shot and edited" the footage, since if "something was wrong, why did they wait 15 months to do anything about it, instead of immediately going to the authorities?"

He went on to parse that it was a "mistake" to attempt to "dip the dog in the water to show him it was OK," while remarking that, overall, "the water wasn't his issue, it was the location that was the issue, and the dog happily did the stunt when he was allowed to return to his original spot."

PETA spokeswoman Lisa Lange responded: "It takes a cold heart not to find this footage disturbing, so PETA asks whether A Dog's Purpose was written from the heart or just to make a buck. Whistleblowers invariably fear for their jobs, but this footage was bravely made public after PETA exposed cruelty to animals at the film's reported dog supplier. If additional footage exists, it should be made public, but it won't change the footage of a terrified dog forced into churning water any more than nanny-cam footage of a bedtime story changes footage of a caregiver hitting a child."

The Montreal Humane Society on its Facebook page backed the film's boycott, urging filmgoers to "choose entertainment or recreation activities that do not involve the exploitation of animals."

The Toronto-based animal-rights group Animal Justice has filed complaints with the Winnipeg Humane Society, the Chief Veterinary Office of Manitoba, a government agency and the Winnipeg Police, alleging violations of federal and provincial animal-protection laws.

A Dog's Purpose producer Gavin Polone, director Lasse Hallstrom and voice star Josh Gad each have released their own statements of pain and contrition over the situation.

Read the full Cameron statement below.

First I want to thank everyone—and there have been literally thousands of you—who have written to express support. Your words and thoughts mean the world to us. 

I found the video we’ve all seen to be shocking because when I was on set, the ethic of everyone was the safety and comfort of the dogs. 

If the people who shot and edited the video thought something was wrong, why did they wait fifteen months to do anything about it, instead of immediately going to the authorities? 

I have since viewed footage taken of the day in question, when I wasn’t there, and it paints an entirely different picture.

The written commentary accompanying the edited video mischaracterizes what happened. The dog was not terrified and not thrown in the water—I’ve seen footage of Hercules earlier that day joyfully jumping in the pool. When he was asked to perform the stunt from the other side of the pool, which was not how he had been doing it all day, he balked. The mistake was trying to dip the dog in the water to show him it was okay—the water wasn’t his issue, it was the location that was the issue, and the dog happily did the stunt when he was allowed to return to his original spot. 

I also didn’t like it when Hercules’s head briefly went under water, but there was a scuba diver and a trainer in the pool to protect him. He loves the water, wasn’t in danger, and wasn’t upset.

On a movie where the mantra was the safety and comfort of the dogs, mistakes were made, and everything needs to be done to make sure those errors are not repeated. But the reason American Humane certifies that no animals were harmed during the making of the film is that no animals were harmed during the making of the film.

I celebrate animal rescue and am proud of the values that show up in A Dog’s Purpose.

Jan. 20, 4:30 p.m. Updated with response from PETA.

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