The team behind A Dog’s Purpose, a film about a pup who is reincarnated as different breeds with several owners throughout his lifetime, released a statement responding to a controversial video that appeared to show a terrified German shepherd being forced to perform a stunt during filming.
On Wednesday, January 18, TMZ posted the video of a handler trying to put a German shepherd into a pool of rushing water, as the distressed pooch scrambles to stay on land and repeatedly tries to jump out of the pool. “He wants to get away, just throw him in,” a voice in the background says.
After the clip was released, the film faced intense backlash on social media, and animal rights organization PETA called for a boycott “in order to send the message that dogs and other animals should be treated humanely, not as movie props,” the organization said in a statement to Us Weekly.
A Dog’s Purpose production company Amblin Entertainment and distributor Universal Pictures told CNN in a statement that the dog in question, Hercules, had several days of rehearsal of the water scenes to ensure he was comfortable with the stunt.
“While we continue to review the circumstances shown in the edited footage, Amblin is confident that great care and concern was shown for the German Shepherd Hercules, as well as all of the other dogs featured throughout the production of the film,” 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. Hercules is happy and healthy.”
Several other people involved with the film voiced their disapproval of Hercules’ treatment. Actor Josh Gad, who voices the titular dogs in the movie, posted a message on Twitter on Tuesday. “I signed on to a film that truly stands out as one of the most beautiful love letters to animals I have ever seen. Today, however, I saw a disturbing video that appears to show a scared German Shepard being forced to perform a stunt on the set of the film. While I do not know all of the details and cannot speak to the level of care and caution that went into this moment (as I was never on set for the making of this film), I am shaken and sad to see any animal put in a situation against its will. As the proud owner of a rescue dog and a fervent supporter of organizations like PETA, I have reached out to the production team and studio to ask for an explanation for these disturbing images.”
The director, Lasse Hallstrom, also took to Twitter to say he was “very disturbed” by the video. “I did not witness these actions. We were all committed to providing a loving and safe environment for all the animals in the film,” he wrote in a series of tweets on Tuesday. “I have been promised that a thorough investigation into this situation is underway and that any wrongdoing will be reported and punished.”
The American Humane Association representative who was responsible for enforcing safety rules for animals on set, has been suspended following the release of the tape. “American Humane has reviewed the video and we are disturbed and concerned by the footage,” the organization told Us Weekly in a statement. “When the dog showed signs of resistance to jumping in the water, the scene should have been stopped. We are placing the safety representative who was on the set on administrative leave immediately and are bringing in an independent third party to conduct an investigation into this matter.”