In both film and television, animals portray some of the most beloved characters. From Lassie the Rough Collie to Babe the pig, animals have embodied some of the most iconic characters in popular culture.
It is crucial to ensure that these animals are always treated with care and respect.
On January 18, 2017, a video from the set of the recently released film A Dog’s Purpose was leaked by TMZ; it showed a German Shepherd resisting to enter a pool of turbulent water. After finally being coerced into the waves, the dog struggles to stay afloat and submerges below the waves at the end of the video. At this point, the crew presumably rushes over to remove the dog from the water.
The video instantly went viral, with several allegations of animal abuse levelled against the filmmakers. Ultimately, a third-party investigation concluded that there was no harm done to the animal actor. Star Dennis Quaid, producer Gavin Polone, and the author of the film’s source material W. Bruce Cameron had all denied having witnessed any form of animal mistreatment and claimed that the video had been taken out of context. Additionally, there was speculation that it was rather suspicious that the video, which was filmed in 2015, was leaked immediately prior to the film’s release.
Nonetheless, the video managed to renew conversations about the treatment that animals face on film sets. In recent years, several incidences of animal cruelty in the entertainment industry have been publicized.
A video released in 2015 showed animal trainer Michael Hackenberger whipping a Bengal tiger and proclaiming his enjoyment for intimidating the animals.
Hackenberger had served as an animal trainer on the set of Life of Pi, the film that was the subject of an email by the American Humane Association (AHA) — a group that supervises the safety of animals during production — which revealed that a tiger on set had almost drowned in a water tank. Despite these incidents, the film was still labelled with the AHA’s ‘No Animals Were Harmed’ disclaimer.
During filming for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, it was reported that 27 animals, including sheep and goats, had perished due to causes including exhaustion, dehydration, or drowning in gullies, even while under the supervision of New Zealand trainers during a filming hiatus.
The disclaimer that the film received was worded carefully: “[The AHA] monitored all of the significant animal action. No animals were harmed during such action.”
This isn’t to say that all films that use animal actors inevitably place them in dangerous situations. Many films using animals boast a clean record. But despite the AHA’s presence on film sets, incidents of animal cruelty can still occur, especially if precautions are insufficient.
Other organizations, such as the Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (DSPCA), have also stepped in to provide further support on film sets, and ensure the safety of animal use in international media. The DSPCA provides guidelines for the ethical treatment of animals, consultation services, and onsite representatives to oversee animal training and film shoots, in addition to the services provided by the AHA.
CGI technology is also becoming a popular option for filmmakers. Its ability to produce realistic images makes it an option for replacing an animal actor when a scene involves a dangerous or risky stunt.
CGI has even been used to replace animal actors altogether when necessary, not only to cut expenses, but also to avoid the dangers that come with overseeing and training animals that may be difficult to tame. CGI may also enable animal characters to perform actions they are not naturally capable of.
Fortunately, the harm done to animals tends to decrease when awareness is raised surrounding this issue. In fact, since the AHA has become involved with film production, the number of reports of animal abuse caused by film production has dropped significantly. While the problem of animal mistreatment in the entertainment industry has not been eradicated as of yet, public discussion of this problem can only continue to find solutions.