A Dog’s Purpose’s producer defends the film following animal abuse video

Last week TMZ posted a disturbing video of a German Shepherd on the set of A Dog’s Purpose being shoved and forced into a pool of churning water by a handler. The film is out this coming weekend and due to the public outcry, including PETA’s call for a boycott, they made the decision to cancel the premiere. They also canceled the entire press junket. That sounds counter productive, because they could have used that opportunity to say they were sorry and that this never should have happened. Instead they issued a somewhat defiant explanation, stating that the German Shepherd, Hercules, was fine, that he had rehearsed that scene multiple times and he just didn’t want to do it that day, and that the scene didn’t end up getting shot at the time. This was a poor excuse after we saw the handler shove Hercules in the water and grab him by the collar despite how much he resisted. Even though they couldn’t shoot the scene they were forceful and cruel to the dog and no one stepped in on Hercules’ behalf. Also, the co-screenwriter of A Dog’s Purpose, W. Bruce Cameron, tried to explain that Hercules just didn’t like that location and that it worked out fine later.

The movie’s producer, Gavin Polone, has a new essay in The Hollywood Reporter. Finally someone associated with the film recognizes that the way Hercules was treated is unacceptable. He opens with the “some of my best friends are dogs/I’m vegan” excuse but he sounds genuine about it. He claims to have viewed the footage, admits that it shouldn’t have happened and says that the Humane society was on set as well. He also apologizes, which is nice:

Last Thursday, I went to Amblin’s office and 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 dog trainer should have stopped trying to get the dog to go in the water as soon as the dog seemed uncomfortable, and the trainers should have had support under the dog as soon as he came to the side of the pool and/or had less turbulence in the water so he never would have gone under. 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.

I also hold myself accountable because, even though I was not present, I knew and had written about how ineffective AHA has been over the years. Its monitors have been present when bad things have happened to animals on sets, not offering enough protection to stop those events and displaying no real protest after they occurred. Though AHA is the standard guarantor of animal safety on all studio productions and I was not consulted when they nor the dog trainers were hired, I should have fought with the studio to come up with alternatives to serve those functions. I didn’t, and there is nothing to mitigate my inaction. I’m deeply sorry about that.

[From THR]

Later in the essay Polone explains Hercules’ reluctance to do that scene, which is consistent with Bruce Cameron’s excuse but in context sounds more apologetic. He says that the dog had rehearsed it without a problem several times and that this time he was made to approach it from the opposite side, which he didn’t like. You can read that on THR’s site, it’s long and it does give context to the clip and sort of explains, but in no way excuses, the fact that the handler was so rough. Then Polone argues that the clip was edited to make it look worse than it was and suggests it’s some kind of plot to make more cash from TMZ and derail the movie. He loses me from this point on, except where he states that the dog jumping into the water in the trailer is a CGI dog and that PETA’s clips against the film are misleading. He also covers PETA’s very questionable moves in the past, which most of you are probably well aware of. He admits that there were “mistakes” made but he downplays it.

That PETA has an impossible agenda and that someone probably tried to make money by making my film look bad, does not excuse the mistakes made 15 months ago, irrespective of the fact that the dog in question was unharmed.

Who decides that the dog was unharmed? Animals can be abused, hell people can be abused, and look and act fine afterwards. Someone acting ok doesn’t mean they were “unharmed.” It’s even harder to judge if animals are ok or not because they can’t tell us. Poline argues that it’s impossible to make a film using only CGI animals because that’s cost prohibitive and would prevent these type of stories from being made. I get that, and overall this essay took responsibility and was apologetic, but it was pretty late coming and could have been much shorter. I don’t think this is going to help much.

Also star Dennis Quaid told Extra that animal abuse did not occur on set. It sounds like he’s stating the official party line and it rings hollow. “We have the Humane Society’s seal of approval. They were there. There was no abuse of animals on that set. I would never work on a set that would abuse animals.” How about “We’re so sorry this happened, it was an isolated incident and we’re all trying to figure it out and make sure it never happens on another set?” He did tell Ellen that the clip made him “angry” and that “I never saw any abuse of any animal. And if there had been, I would have walked.” That’s better.





photos credit A Dog’s Purpose via official trailer

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22 Responses to “A Dog’s Purpose’s producer defends the film following animal abuse video”

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  1. Deedee says:

    Whose a cute baby? You are, that’s who!

  2. Colleen says:

    I clicked on this just to see cute pups. Morning made. Thank you.

  3. Erinn says:

    I get that the dog could have freaked out because things went different than they had rehearsed before – they can be fickle about things when it goes out of the norm. But the solution is never to try to force it. Dogs are SO reward motivated – it sound like they weren’t impressed that the whole thing was taking longer than normal, and they got annoyed and tried to force the scene. And that’s not okay. At all, and I hope this greatly impacts the careers of those involved.

    The first time we took our GSP to the beach it took over an hour to get her to swim. She just wasn’t having it. And Pointers are known to like the water. Her coat is short, dense, and water repellent, and she has webbed feet – she’s built to navigate the water and the field. But she was NOT having any of this ocean crap. We did try to pull her along with us a little – but with a ton of praise, and in ankle deep water. Once we got to that point we tried to distract her with a ball, and move out a little more at a time. At one point she just completely said ‘screw you guys’ and went and laid in the sand watching as we were waiving our hands around, talking in high pitched voices, tossing a ball to try to bribe her back in. My cousin had brought her standard poodle and wheaton mix as well – and eventually she got used to watching them play in the water, and apparently determined that no harm had come to them, so she slowly started running along with them. It was a huge process. But now when we go to the beach, she willingly goes in and paddles around. She doesn’t go deep – which I’m super happy about because if my dog starts struggling – I’m going to be going after her – and the Atlantic ocean isn’t a very warm, friendly place (at least not in Canada). She goes out to about my waist at the deepest, which is perfect. She gets to swim, and gets tired out, and then I have a super well behaved dog for the rest of the day.

    This summer we’re going to go to lakes more. Friends out ours got a duck toller pup last summer, and their family has a camp on a lake about 5 minutes from our house. So they’ll be able to go play in the lake together.

    I just can’t imagine what the people on set were thinking. I know that it’s an animal, not a human, but because of that, they should be more wary. They can’t advocate for themselves the same way a person can. A person can speak up and say “oh hell no, I’m not getting in that water”, but besides behaving the way Hercules did – he’s not going to be able to really do anything about it.

    • Jess says:

      I was picturing your story as I read it and smiling, sounds so cute and the way you handled the situation was perfect. Letting her go at her own pace, love it.

      I’m disappointed because my daughter really wanted to see the movie, and I cry every time I’ve seen the trailer in theaters so I was looking forward to it as well, but I really don’t think I can support this type of treatment.

  4. Sissy says:

    He just didn’t want to do it that day.
    Hercules just didn’t like that location.
    The dog had rehearsed it without a problem several times.
    He approached from the opposite side, which he didn’t like.

    So this poor dog Hercules is abused, it’s on tape … and it’s all his fault. I guess he asked for it.

    • Ruyana says:

      Gee, where have we heard that before? Exactly accurate. I won’t be seeing that movie.

    • smith says:

      I’m also rethinking my donations to the Humane Society. Well, probably not (that’s where I got my beloved cats) but I’m going to send an email. Sure they were on-set, but from what I’ve been reading having them on set doesn’t mean much.

      I feel they’re of the opinion, if there’s clear abuse (as in hard mistreatment, withholding food, striking, etc.) they step in, but for anything else (and a lot of things fall under this category), they turn a blind eye in pursuit of getting the film finished.

      This is not okay. Rodeos, not okay (should be outlawed). Zoos and aquariums also, not okay for me. Whenever I read about a zoo animal losing it (attacking, escaping, banging its head against the glass, etc.), my heart just breaks. Whatever “world” you’ve created for them isn’t their natural habitat, they run out of space and do not like being stared at, taunted and bothered by humans. I know some places are better than others, they often save those heading for extinction and “education!” BUT, I just can’t.

      Animals don’t exist for our entertainment.

      • Elyna says:


        Your last line sums up every thing about our relationship with the animal world…they don’t exist for our entertainment.

        Beautifully written!

      • AmyR says:

        Just to clarify, Dennis Quaid got it wrong. The American Humane Association is NOT the same as the Humane Society of the US.

  5. BJ says:

    Anything can be taken out of context.My cousin recorded a video of her husband giving their dog a bath.He was screaming bloody murder.Yet everyday he jumps in the pool because he loves playing in the pool.But for some reason he hates baths.
    I watched the producer on TMZ and I believe him.He said some things could have been done differently to make the dog more comfortable.
    Why did the person who released the tape wait over a year if they were so concerned about the welfare of the animal?

    • ashley says:

      I agree with this. I was saying the same thing to my fiancé – if someone took a video of us trying to clip our cat’s nails…. *shudder*

    • Colleen says:

      There’s a world of difference between bathing and grooming animals, and forcing a dog into a potentially dangerous situation for your own gain. The former is for their benefit; the latter for your own.

  6. cleveland girl says:

    This just SUCKS. I have read the book many times and was really looking forward to the movie. The book is a very dark tale, with some very heart wrenching moments and I was wondering how they were going to capture it on screen. I hope this all works out because it really is a great story and dog lovers everywhere will love it if it is done right.
    If you love dogs, please please at least read the book before boycotting this whole thing.

  7. Ramona says:

    Its an emotive subject but after reading a few comments by animal behaviorists on reddit and then rewatching the video, I dont think this was abuse. To summarise, the trainer has his hand on both the flat collar and the dogs side at all times. We cant hear him but if you look at his mouth, he is also quietly speaking to the dog. When the dog feaks, he lifts it out of the water. There may have been a treat afterwards but we’ll never know because TMZ did a ninja edit. From what those animal behaviorists were saying, this was exactly what the trainer should be doing. Anyway, theres a very clear camera cut. The next time you see the dog, he is in the water, the audience is invited to insinuate how he got in there. People assumed he was pushed. This is classic TMZ if you ask me. I really doubt that all those people present in an open set are cruel monsters just happy to watch a dog drown for entertainment.

    That aside. I think the bigger problem here is a philosophical one. I really dont think adults should be using children, animals and any being incapable of consent for entertainment. Everytime you see a crying baby in a film, ask yourself how it got to be in that state of distress and what purpose it serves to influct that on a baby. Maybe with CGI, we’ll see a move away from all this. Its a long shot but one can hope.

  8. HoustonGrl says:

    OH PLEASE, to all the people who say this was not abuse, the dog nearly drowned. I saw actual footage from the event where the handlers were screaming and panicking while engaged in a dramatic rescue. Please, do not not say this was taken out of context. This was abuse.

    • Colleen says:

      And someone on the video can clearly be heard urging the trainer, more than once, to just force the dog into the water. The very fact that the dog is surrounded by asshats like these tell me all I need to know.

      We have a responsibility to protect and care for the animals, period. If that pup was not feeling comfortable enough in that moment to get into that water, then that’s that.

      • HoustonGrl says:

        I saw that too, disgusting! I guess their precious budget is more important than a sentient being.

  9. Anon33 says:

    I’m pretty sure the most recent Jungle Book movie was made with ALL CGI animal characters. So they’re lying about that too.

    • pinetree13 says:

      That’s very true.

      Side note, I’m still very angry about that CGI Jungle Book movie. They made it RIDICULOUSLY scary. It gave my son nightmares for weeks and I’m still mad my husband didn’t turn it off after realizing how scary they made it. I don’t know WHAT disney was thinking. Seriously!!!! Who did they make that movie for?!?!?

  10. Jay (the Canadian one) says:

    Doesn’t sound THAT empathetic when he only ever says “the dog” over and over. The dog has a name. Imagine if it had been a person? “The actor this” and “the actor that” instead of “John” or “Mary” and “he” or “she”?