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A day after a troubling video revealed a stressed German Shepherd was forced to perform in artificial rapids on the set of the upcoming A Dog’s Promise, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is pushing for further action beyond a previously announced boycott of the film.
Producer Amblin Entertainment and distributor Universal Pictures issued a contrite joint statement on Wednesday. Director Lasse Hallstrom and producer Gavin Polone each shared pained comments of their own, vowing that the production would take responsibility for the situation. Yet PETA wants more.
“We’re asking Polone and Hallstrom to not only pledge to never use animals in films again but to rescue the dogs from BAU,” explains rep Lisa Lange, referencing Birds & Animals Unlimited, the training and handling facility said to be the provider of the canines. (The Hollywood Reporter wrote about alleged federal Animal Welfare Act violations at the company’s Acton, Calif., headquarters on July 11.)
Hallstrom did not return a request for comment. Polone, however, was forceful in a conversation with THR (for which he regularly writes opinion columns about industry issues). A prominent Hollywood vegan and animal rights activist, he contends “PETA wants to fire up its base and it’s not productive. It’s also kind of crazy — I’m the person they should be strong-arming? This is a movie about promoting the idea of animals as sentient and deserving of empathy and rights.”
Polone went on to note that he’d worked with PETA in the past, but disagreed with its contention that no animals should be used in production. The organization has argued that CGI should solely be employed, but others in the industry insist that such technology would be cost-prohibitive. “It’s naïve and untenable and will never happen — we all know that,” the producer says. “What’s needed is a replacement for the [American Humane Association],” the non-profit monitoring group financed by producers that’s tasked with on-set animal oversight. (It’s known for its “No Animals Were Harmed” accreditation.) He continued, “There’s a person there all the time and clearly they are ineffective. That’s the issue and that’s what needs to be corrected.”
For its part, PETA has written to the AHA to ask for a complete copy of a report that the monitoring group claimed on Wednesday it had initiated as soon as it saw the footage, bringing in an independent investigator to spearhead. (It also placed the on-set AHA safety representative on administrative leave.) “We’re hearing that the monitor did not report [the incident] to her supervisors but the AHA gave the movie an acceptable rating anyway,” says Lange. “We don’t know if that is true, but we’re asking.”
When contacted by THR, the AHA declined to address PETA’s request. In 2013, THR exposed a history of complicity, internal cover-ups and failed investigative work at the monitoring group.
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