Animal rights group complaint alleges 'blatant animal cruelty' on A Dog's Purpose film set
Video showing handler forcing German shepherd into churning water surfaced on Wednesday
A national animal welfare group filed a complaint with Manitoba authorities after a video surfaced online showing a dog being forced into churning water during the production of the soon-to-be released film A Dog's Purpose.
The video, allegedly shot on the film's Winnipeg set in November 2015, appears to show a member of a film crew forcing a German shepherd into turbulent water in a pool. The dog is seen resisting entering the water and clawing at the edges of it.
Later in the footage, the dog is shown in the water before being submerged, at which point a voice can be heard yelling, "Cut it," and crew members swim towards the dog.
The film, which stars Dennis Quaid and is set for release on Jan. 27, follows the many lives of a reincarnated dog named Bailey and was directed by Lasse Hallstrom.
Hallstrom and voice actor Josh Gad both tweeted Wednesday they were alarmed by the video and neither had witnessed the incident.
I have been promised that a thorough investigation into this situation is underway and that any wrongdoing will be reported and punished.—@HallstromLasse
A news release from Animal Justice says the video shows "blatant animal cruelty."
The group and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) are urging the public to boycott the film, and others that use real animals.
Dog 'terrified': Animal Justice
"What we're seeing here is an animal who's terrified," said Camille Labchuk, a lawyer and executive director of Animal Justice.
"This German shepherd clearly does not want to go into the water, fears it, is not happy, is distressed, is anxious. In the view of the lawyers who work on this issue, that is illegal animal cruelty, and that's what really means that the filmmakers should be charged."
Labchuk said Animal Justice has filed a formal complaint with the provincial Chief Veterinary Office. She said she was told the office would investigate the issue and forward the matter to police if necessary.
"There's no exemption, there's no loophole that lets Hollywood filmmakers get away with inflicting distress on animals, and they should face the consequences of the law," Labchuk said.
Complaint filed with province
A spokeswoman from the Chief Veterinary Office confirmed the province had received a complaint regarding a movie shot in the province on Wednesday afternoon, but could not provide any further information.
She said the office was not involved with, or consulted on, the film.
Amblin Partners, one of the studios behind the film, and Universal Studios said Wednesday night the production team followed "rigorous protocols to foster an ethical and safe environment for the animals" on the set.
This dog was fearful and not properly trained for this experience.- Javier Schwersensky, Winnipeg Humane Society
"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 [featured in the video], as well as for all of the other dogs featured throughout the production of the film," the joint statement reads.
"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."
Humane Society not consulted for scene
In a written statement, Winnipeg Humane Society CEO Javier Schwersensky said filmmakers consulted the Humane Society about two scenes in the film, but not the one shown in the footage.
"We understand there was an observer on the set of this film who was there to advocate on behalf of the dogs. All animals on a film set should have a qualified person who is there to protect their best interests," Schwersenky said in the statement.
Schwersensky said training for a scene like the one shown in the video should take place weeks or months ahead of time to help the dog get comfortable with the depth and turbulence of the water and ensure the animal won't suffer consequences from the potentially traumatic experience.
"This dog was fearful and not properly trained for this experience," Schwersensky said. "As well, there was no safe exit point for the dog to escape the turbulent water."
A spokesman for the humane society said it was not aware of the video or the alleged abuse until Wednesday.
PETA said the video is "hard to watch," and isn't an uncommon example of how animals are treated on movie sets.
"This incident is just another drop in a very saddening bucket," the organization wrote on its website Wednesday night.
Gad, the voice actor behind Bailey the dog, tweeted Wednesday he was "shaken and sad" to see the video.
With files from Meaghan Ketcheson