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The organization that ensures animal safety in film and television productions is investigating whether a frightened dog was forced into churning water during the making of A Dog’s Purpose.
American Humane has suspended its safety representative who worked on the film and is hiring an independent investigator to explore the matter, said Mark Stubis, a spokesman for the organization.
The film’s producer, Amblin Entertainment, and distributor, Universal Pictures, said in a joint statement that they are reviewing footage of the incident that was leaked to TMZ. They said they’re confident “great care and concern was shown” for the dog, a German Shepherd named Hercules.
“There were several days of rehearsal of the water scenes to ensure Hercules was comfortable with all of the stunts,” the statement said. “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.”
The leaked video, however, tells a different story. It shows handlers trying to throw the terrified dog into a large pool of water roiled by propeller blades. At one point, the dog manages to claw its way out of the pool after being shoved in.
The dog is eventually immersed and apparently pulled under water by the current. After the dog’s head disappears, someone yells cut and several men jump into the torrent to save the animal that appears to be drowning.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and other animal rights groups urged dog lovers to boycott the film “to send the message that dogs and other animals should be treated humanely, not as props.” Meanwhile, individual calls for boycotts flooded the internet and at least one theater chain announced it would not screen the film, which was scheduled for release on Jan. 27, after WiG went to press.
A scheduled premiere of the film was canceled, as have all press appearances to promote the movie.
Actor Josh Gad, who lends his voice to a dog in the film, issued a statement on Twitter saying he asked the studio and production team for an explanation of “disturbing images.”
He said while the finished film is “one of the most beautiful love letters to animals I have ever seen,” he was troubled by the video.
“I am shaken and sad to see any animal put in a situation against its will,” Gad wrote. A publicist for the actor confirmed the post was authentic.
Gad wasn’t the only member of the movie’s production to share a reaction. In a series of tweets, film director Lasse Hallström distanced himself from the actions shown in the video and said “the animals’ safety was of utmost priority.”
But TMZ reported Hallström was present during the incident.
A Dog’s Purpose — the book spent a year on The New York Times Bestseller List — follows the multiple incarnations of a dog who carries the lessons learned from each life into the next one. Eventually, the dog comes to realize that until he figures out his purpose, he’ll continue being reincarnated.