The Case for Not Calling Animals 'Props' (Guest Column)
A former American Humane Association on-set monitor explains why the categorization "makes it much easier for animals' needs to be dismissed."
Uggie, the Jack Russell terrier from The Artist; Crystal, the capuchin monkey from The Hangover; and Finders Key, the thoroughbred from War Horse all have the same thing in common. Although they're spoken of as "animal actors" to the public, on set they're not. They're labeled, just like all animals in Hollywood, as props.
The American Humane Association's own official guidelines say they shouldn't be treated as such, but that's not what people see on the call sheet, and that sets a tone. Labels matter because they crystallize perception. Props are interchangeable, and they are at the bottom of the totem pole. The same, unfortunately, is too often true with animals on productions.
Categorizing animals as props, along with inanimate objects like lamps and couches, conveys a lack of respect, of being lesser than. It makes it much easier for animals' needs to be dismissed.
We can do better by our animal actors. Let's reclassify them on the call sheet. It's a start to giving them more proper, sensitive accommodation on a production.
Until November, Carlson had worked for five years as an American Humane Association certified animal safety representative based in the Northeast. Her monitoring résumé has ranged from 30 Rock and Law & Order to Grown-Ups, Zookeeper, W.E. and Sex and the City 2. She is now the director of animal education nonprofit Tails to Teach.