Update: A Dog's Purpose Producer Responds To Accusations Of Animal Abuse

Photo: Universal Pictures
PETA Senior Vice President Lisa Lange has released a statement in response to A Dog's Purpose producer Gavin Polone's essay in The Hollywood Reporter:

"The disturbing footage from the set of A Dog's Purpose came just days after PETA's investigation of Birds & Animals Unlimited—the company that supplied dogs for the film—revealed that dogs were kept in barren kennels and forced to sleep outside in the cold, animals were denied adequate food so that they would be hungry while being trained to do tricks, and other animals were denied adequate veterinary care and made to live in filthy conditions..."

"It doesn't matter whether there was a diver in the pool to rescue the dog when he went under. It's irrelevant that he's now reportedly safe. What matters is that, according even to Polone, this dog made his feelings known, loud and clear, about being forced into rushing water to produce a swimming scene and attempted to escape—yet into the water he was made to go. Perhaps it's easy to dismiss being submerged underwater when you're not the one desperate for air, but for the dog, it was undeniably a terrifying experience. Blaming the whistleblower who filmed the ugly incident is a cheap and cowardly response. TMZ did a public service by releasing the footage."

This article was originally published at 4:05 p.m.
Last week, TMZ released a behind-the-scenes video from the set of A Dog's Purpose that appears to show a German shepherd being forced into turbulent water for a scene. Animal lovers were outraged, and PETA called for a boycott of the film. Now, a producer on the movie is speaking out about what really happened on set that day. Producer Gavin Polone penned a column for The Hollywood Reporter responding to the allegations of abuse and pointing out potential bias in the TMZ video.

In the essay, Polone stated that he is a "lover and defender of animals and their welfare," and that "the idea that I’m connected to an accusation of the abuse of a dog is, to understate it, painful." Polone also wrote that the events depicted in the video did not match up with what he witnessed during his weeks on set, when he saw animals being treated ethically and kindly.

However, Polone did admit that he believes some wrongdoing occurred.

"[I] watched all the film shot on the day in question, as well as saw video from the trainers and still photographs. As with the TMZ video that you saw, two things were evident: 1) the dog handler tries to force the dog, for 35 to 40 seconds, into the water when, clearly, he didn’t want to go in; and 2) in a separate take filmed sometime later, the dog did go into the water, on his own, and, at the end, his head is submerged for about 4 seconds. These two things are absolutely INEXCUSABLE and should NEVER have happened... The American Humane Association (AHA) representative who is paid by the production to 'ensure the safety and humane treatment of animal actors,' as its website states, should have also intervened immediately on both of those parts of the filming. So should have whomever was running the set. Those individuals should be held accountable and never used again by that studio or its affiliates."

While not everything on the set of A Dog's Purpose was okay with Polone, he did not think that the TMZ video was edited in a way that fairly depicted the situation. In his essay for THR, Polone wrote that the dog actor, whose name is Hercules, struggled with the scene not because of the water, but because of the point in which he was supposed to enter it. Polone stated that Hercules was "desperate to get in [the water]" in rehearsals, but was apprehensive when the trainer switched from one side of the pool to the other.

"From a front angle, when they shot the scene, you can see that there is a calmer path in the artificial water turbulence for the dog to move through. This is not visible in the TMZ video. You can also see, at the end of the scene, the dog going underwater for four seconds, which never should have happened, and then the diver and handlers lifting the dog out of the pool. The dog then shook off and trotted around the pool, unharmed and unfazed. They only did one take of the full scene and then ended for the day."

A statement from Birds & Animals Unlimited, Inc., who were used as trainers on A Dog's Purpose, also clarified the context of the video.

"The shot that Hercules performed began with his jumping from the end of the pool into the water as he’d been conditioned to do, then swimming out to a stunt actor and pulling her to safety. After many successful takes throughout the day, a request was made to have Hercules perform the same behavior, but changing the point from which he was to enter the pool. As the camera started rolling, the trainer in the water began to call the dog. It quickly became apparent that Hercules did not want to enter the pool from this location. After less that one minute of Hercules insisting on getting back to his original starting point, this plan was abandoned and he was brought to the end of the pool from which he’d been conditioned to enter, and he did so happily."

Whether A Dog's Purpose truly misstepped in its treatment of Hercules or the alleged abuse depicted in the video was merely the work of clever editing, the controversy is already affecting how animal lovers perceive this film.
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