‘A Dog’s Purpose’ Controversy: Producer Defends Film in Passionate Essay After PETA Reveals Protest Plans

Gavin Polone, a producer of A Dog’s Purpose, is defending the film after PETA announced its plan to protest the movie. The controversy started last week, when TMZ posted a video that appears to show a scared German shepherd being forced into a pool and later submerged underwater during filming.

PETA’s senior vice president Lisa Lange told Us Weekly in a statement on Monday, January 23, that the organization is calling on animal advocates to picket outside movie theaters and screenings of the movie, and people in more than 25 cities have pledged to carry out these protests. “As the TMZ video of a terrified dog being forced into churning water shows, animals do not belong on set as if they were props, and there is no way to ensure their safety,” the statement read. "PETA is calling on moviegoers to boycott A Dog’s Purpose and, along with concerned dog lovers and other animal-welfare organizations, will be protesting screenings nationwide to remind compassionate people never to support films that use animals for entertainment."

Dennis Quaid
Dennis Quaid bonds with Buddy in “A Dog’s Purpose.” Joe Lederer/Universal Studios

In response, Polone wrote an essay for The Hollywood Reporter explaining what really happened on set. Although he wasn’t present when the scene in question was shot, he said he was on set for about 70 percent of the time. “Not once did I perceive any animal caused any discomfort or put in danger,” he wrote. “Seeing that distraught dog in the video did not comport with what I had observed in the prior weeks of production.”

Polone, who also helped pay for and write the film, conducted his own investigation into the incident. "Last Thursday, I went to [the film studio] 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,” he wrote. "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."

A Dog’s Purpose
Bailey in “A Dog’s Purpose.” Universal Studios

Polone says the TMZ video was “misleading," though. “In footage of the rehearsal for the scene, you can see the dog not only unafraid of the water but desperate to jump in. In fact, he had to be held back by the trainer from going in too soon,” Polone wrote. "The dog did the scene in rehearsal without problem, though it was from the left side of the pool, not the right side, which is where the dog is in the TMZ video. Also, in the rehearsal footage, it’s clear that there is a safety diver and a trainer in the pool to protect the dog in case of a problem, as well as two trainers, a stunt coordinator and a safety officer on the deck, and that there are platforms built into the pool where the dog can swim to and stand, if need be."

Before the first take, the trainers were asked to have the dog jump in from the right side of the pool instead. "That, evidentially, is what caused him to be spooked. When the dog didn’t want to do the scene from the new position, they cut, though not soon enough, and then went back to the original position. The dog was comfortable and went in on his own and they shot the scene,” Polone continued. "You can also see, at the end of the scene, the dog going underwater for four seconds, which never should have happened, and then the diver and handlers lifting the dog out of the pool. The dog then shook off and trotted around the pool, unharmed and unfazed. They only did one take of the full scene and then ended for the day. TMZ’s edited version intentionally gives the impression that the dog was thrown in and eventually drowned, since the two parts seem to be connected. You never see him pulled out and OK.”

A Dog’s Purpose
Juliet Rylance and Bryce Gheisar in “A Dog’s Purpose.” Joe Lederer/Universal Studios

Polone also questions the motives of the person who shot the video. “Why did he hold onto the video for a year and three months before releasing it? If he wanted to protect animals, wouldn’t he want whoever did wrong stopped from doing the same on other productions immediately? Of course, editing the scene as he did and waiting until 8 days before the movie's Jan. 27 release date, when the studio was spending money creating awareness of the film, would yield a bigger sale to TMZ.”

Finally, Polone slammed PETA for the way it has handled the incident. “It has called for a boycott of the movie and, unlike any other major animal welfare group, has been fomenting negative publicity around these events with great energy,” he wrote. "Not only have they been circulating the TMZ video, which portrays an inaccurate picture of what happened, but they have included a clip from our trailer where you see the dog jumping into a treacherous rushing wall of water. But THAT ISN’T A REAL DOG, it is a computer-generated dog leaping into the water. Isn’t that the definition of 'fake news'? In another post, they show a German shepherd in a dismal steel cage, which isn’t our dog. Again, misleading.” 

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