It was marketed with the tagline “The ones we rescue, rescue us.” The upcoming film A Dog’s Purpose seemed guaranteed to be a box office success as animal rescuers organized screenings, bought out theaters, and posted the tear-jerking trailer to Facebook groups in anticipation. The social media seas changed abruptly Wednesday after TMZ released disturbing video of one of the movie’s canine actors struggling in a pool of simulated white water. Animal rights groups, rescue organizations, and individual dog lovers called for a boycott of the film, in some cases using the same Facebook accounts that had previously posted enthusiastic plans for screenings.
“It’s disappointing because many people — myself included — were looking forward to seeing the film,” Zana Moss, founder of Paws of Love Animal Rescue in Melbourne, Australia tells Dogster.
Her organization had planned three screenings of the film as part of a fundraiser. Now, the volunteer-run rescue must deal with the administrative task of refunding 300 tickets to a movie, which opens Jan. 27, it can no longer support.
“It’s a minor inconvenience compared to what that dog went through, but it’s a huge amount of work,” Moss explains.
A fan of the book of the same name the movie is based on, Moss says she was sickened by TMZ’s on-set footage of Hercules, a German Shepherd, struggling to stay out of a pool of churning water as a handler attempts to push him in. The second shot captures the dog swimming in the choppy pool. He sinks under the water before a voice yells “cut it!”
In response to TMZ’s release of the tape, Amblin Entertainment and Universal Pictures released a statement noting that “great care and concern was shown for the German Shepherd Hercules, as well as for all of the other dogs featured throughout the production of the film.”
Dr. Wendy McClelland of Vets To Go in Calgary, Canada, disagrees. Her company had planned a private screening of the film as a customer appreciation event, but cancelled it immediately upon seeing the TMZ clip. She notes the uncaring commentary of those poolside shows a lack of respect and care for the canine performer.
“There was no empathy there,” she said Thursday morning. “You could see how scared that dog was. He was absolutely terrified, and then watching him go under like that — there’s just no excuse for it. There’s no way any part of that was acceptable, especially when you can digitally do everything these days. To put a dog through that to get a shot is not right in any way.”
The customer appreciation event has been postponed indefinitely. Like Moss, McClelland believes the film should be boycotted, but not every moviegoer is so sure. Some screening organizers are choosing to wait for more information before cancelling plans, echoing a Facebook statement posted late Wednesday by W. Bruce Cameron, the author of the book the movie is based on. The post reads, in part:
I have asked the studio for an explanation and have been assured they are reviewing every single frame of footage shot that day and interviewing the people who were there. (I wasn’t.) I want all the facts at my disposal before I pronounce judgement or issue an opinion.
For some dog lovers, no explanation will be enough. Moss says she is now questioning the end-credit stamp of approval given to films and TV shows by the American Humane Association. The organization has reportedly reviewed the video, concluded the scene should have been stopped, and suspended the representative who was on the A Dog’s Purpose set.
“How can we trust any Hollywood film?” Moss asks. “Just because the animal isn’t dead doesn’t mean it wasn’t harmed.”
The joint statement from Amblin Entertainment and Universal Pictures concludes, “Hercules is happy and healthy.”
What do you think? Are you still planning to see A Dog’s Purpose?