PETA Calls for Boycott of 'A Dog’s Purpose' After On-Set Video Surfaces

Screengrab/TMZ

The canine seen in TMZ's disturbing video posted earlier on Wednesday came from Birds & Animals Unlimited, says the animal rights' group.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is calling for a boycott of the upcoming film A Dog’s Purpose after a video was leaked to TMZ showing a German shepherd being forced into rushing water allegedly during production. The animal rights' group tells The Hollywood Reporter that the dog was owned and supplied by Birds & Animals Unlimited, the same facility it previously accused of a variety of federal Animal Welfare Act violations.

In a statement late Wednesday, the film's producer Amblin Entertainment and distributor Universal Pictures said that while they were reviewing the footage, "great care and concern" were shown the dogs used in the movie; that while the stunt had been rehearsed so the dog Hercules would be comfortable with the water, "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"; and that "Hercules is happy and healthy."

BAU was the subject of a PETA complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture that relied on the testimony of an undercover activist who posed as an employee. “Our eyewitness [now] says that when she asked the BAU manager if any of the dogs in A Dog’s Purpose came from BAU the response was ‘all of them,’” PETA rep Lisa Lange tells THR. BAU did not return a request for comment.

The animal rights’ organization later added in a statement: “PETA is calling on dog lovers to boycott the film 'A Dog’s Purpose' 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."

TMZ describes the incident as a scene shot in a pool outside Winnipeg, Canada, in November 2015, in which a trainer forcibly pushed the German shepherd, one of at least five canines supposedly utilized for the production, into the artificial rapids as the dog scratched and clawed to remain on land. (A shot in the the film's trailer appears to be drawn from the same action sequence.) 

The American Humane Association, which monitored action on the production, said it had reviewed the video and was "disturbed and concerned" about 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." (The AHA's "No Animals Were Harmed" on-set monitoring program has its own checkered history of oversight.)

THR was the first to detail PETA’s allegations on Jan. 11. They included pigs with overgrown hooves, goats deprived of food for training purposes and a kangaroo named Lenny who died after being unable to eat due to an untreated broken jaw.

BAU called PETA’s exposé “misleading” and factually specious. Bob Ferber, a retired L.A. City Attorney’s Office prosecutor who founded its Animal Protection Unit and reviewed the allegations, as well as BAU’s response at THR’s request, called the situation “shocking.”

The film's director, Lasse Hallström, released a statement on Facebook late Wednesday, saying he was "very disturbed" by the video. "I did not witness these actions, which are unacceptable and would never happen with my knowledge. We were all committed to providing a loving, respectful 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."

Amblin and Universal's full statement is below. 

"A Dog's Purpose, produced by Amblin Entertainment and distributed by Universal Pictures, is a celebration of the special connection between humans and their dogs," reads the statement. "And in the spirit of this relationship, the 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."

Josh Gad, who provided the voice of the featured dog in the film, also tweeted out his response after seeing the video on Wednesday, saying that he has reached out to the production for an explanation of the events, adding that he was "shaken and sad to see any animal put in a situation against its will." 

5:52 p.m. Updated with comment from the American Humane Association.
6:20 p.m. Updated with Amblin and Universal's statement. 
7:15 p.m. Updated with director statement. 

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