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Family friendly films centering around cuddly canines aren’t the likes that typically become embroiled in controversy. Yet, early Wednesday, reports surfaced of alleged animal abuse that may have taken place during filming of A Dog’s Purpose, a new film from Lasse Hallstrom (The Cider House Rules) opening on January 27th from Universal Pictures and Amblin Partners. The film centers around a pooch discovering his purpose over the course of many lifetimes and through various owners – as innocuous as a film premise could be.
It was TMZ that was the first cover this story in posting a video (you can watch it here – warning, however, it is unsettling) of a German Shepherd taking part in a sequence in the film. (The footage, reportedly, was from a filming location just outside Winnipeg, in November of 2015.) The sequence involved the dog swimming through rough waters and as caught on camera, the dog was highly resistant to the churning waters and likely from the eight outboard motors that were used to achieve the effect. The video also showcases a trainer seemingly attempting to force the German Shepherd into the water. Following the TMZ reveal, Universal and Amblin released a statement, “Fostering a safe environment and ensuring the ethical treatment of our animal actors was of the utmost importance to those involved in making this film and we will look into the circumstances surrounding this video.”
In response, PETA is spearheading a boycott of the film. The animal rights group also revealed to The Hollywood Reporter that the German Shepherd was supplied by Birds and Animals Unlimited, a facility that has already taken fire for animal cruelty charges in the past. The American Humane Association (who supply the famous “no animals were harmed” caption during the end credits of feature films) also weighed in – “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 brining in an independent third party to conduct an investigation into this matter.” That organization, too, however has taken heat in the past for lack of monitoring for the safety of animals on film sets.
Amblin and Universal’s full statement 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.
We shall see how this continues to unfold. A Dog’s Purpose, for the time being, is still slated to open on January 27th.